Making a difference

Making a difference

Tolen, Elaine

Some young agents enter the insurance industry because it’s “a family thing.” Others fall into it on the way to another career. Alan Hedrick, CIC, chose to leave a successful job in another industry to become an independent insurance agent 13 years ago. Since making that decision, Alan has not only made his mark in the insurance industry but has also made an impact in his community.

Before joining County Wide Insurance Agency, Dexter, Missouri, in January 1990, Alan was thriving as a food broker, having graduated from Southwest Missouri State University with a degree in agribusiness. “I loved my job,” Alan recalls, “but not the time it required me to be away from my family and community.”

New career path

With no prior insurance experience, Alan “took a chance” and by the beginning of his second year with County Wide had surpassed $2 million in premium. He achieved this success in spite of a five-month absence from the agency in late 1991 when he served with the Army Reserve in Kuwait during the Gulf War. Alan credits small town values and his parents for instilling in him the belief that “with hard work and determination, the sky’s the limit.”

When Alan joined County Wide, the agency’s two principals-Bill Settles and Jim Tate-were beginning to plan for the agency’s perpetuation. Their hope was that Alan would eventually buy part or all of the agency. In 1999, Jim Tate retired and Alan bought half of the agency’s stock, becoming a full partner.

Alan has found that teh privilege of ownership has its price. “Prior to becoming a principal, I would say that ownership was an ultimate goal. But ownership changes many aspects of a producer’s job, especially related to sales. I have found myself more involved in personnel management, improving automation and developing workflow efficiencies, and less involved with sales activity.”

Alan credits both Jim and Bill for mentoring him in the insurance business. “Jim has an enormous amount of knowledge and provided a lot of insight into commercial insurance. He shared much of what he learned at The Hartford Producer Development School with me, which was a great help to a youngr producer,” Alan says.

“And Bill is simply a success at whatever he endeavors,” Alan continues. “He has that special gift of knowing, feeling and doing the right things to make a business work well. He has passed along much wisdom gained from past experience.”

Moving into the future

The challenges of an increasingly technology-dependent industry inspire Alan. “I like to find advancements and efficiencies,” he states. “I want to think of ways of doing business in our industry that preserve our delivery system by being innovative and creative with the use of technology.

“I like the challenge of figuring out how to do something better. Whatever the Best Practices are in a particular area, we need to do them more efficiently and faster. I ask, ‘Why do we do what we do? Why do something in 10 steps when it can be done in three?'”

When Alan began working at County Wide in 1990, the agency had yet to incorporate an agency management system. “The agency’s roots go back to 1924, and for about 70 years the processes they used had served them well.” However, he knew that to progress, the agency needed to make the jump to computers and technology, so he began studying agency management systems.

He explains: “I wanted to be sure that I knew everything possible, so I went to trade shows and stood in every booth that had management systems, asking questions and playing devil’s advocate.” Change is difficult, especially technological change, Alan acknowledges, and it took until 2000 before the agency got its first agency management system, the InStar Management System.

One problem Alan and Bill encountered in bringing County Wide into the age of automation was that high-speed Internet access wasn’t available in Dexter. Alan explains: “I found a businessman in St. Louis who owned a high-speed Internet service. He said he’d open in Dexter if I could find 10 people who wanted the service.” Alan did, and the area in and around Dexter now has high-speed Internet access.

When Alan became a principal, County Wide had about a dozen employees. “We all did everything. We were good at everything but not great at anything,” he says. By making simple changes such as creating departments, the agency’s efficiency improved. Even though employees have areas of specialty, the agency still operates as a team, Alan points out. “No one holds on to their position. Everyone does whatever is necessary.” The agency now employs 24 people, seven of whom are producers.

Thinking outside the box

“I see a great parallel between our industry today and the family farm of yesteryear. Small family farms were sold because they lacked a perpetuation plan and couldn’t meet the demands to remain profitable. In order to keep pace with the future, agency owners will have to build alliances and move toward larger, more efficient business models,” Alan says. “Back-office work will be consolidated in these larger agencies while sales and service can be accomplished in the outlying locations of an agency. Those who embrace the changes that technology offers will succeed.”

With that in mind, Alan and Bill, with Charles Moffitt and other associates from the Morse Harwell and Jiles Insurance Agency in nearby Poplar Bluff, recently developed a type of joint venture arrangement in which they set up a limited liability corporation (LLC). While each agency remains separate, common operations are joined. The goal of the LLC is to reduce operating expenses and increase relationships with companies.

“For instance, we needed a full-time computer technician. Now with several agencies sharing the person, the cost to each agency is much less than it would have been,” Alan explains. “We hope to add more agencies to the LLC. A selling point is that we can support your back-office work so you can focus on selling.

“We hope to expand outside southern Missouri,” Alan continues. “Companies like to spread risk, and we’re confident that the LLC will increase our leverage and accessibility with them.”

Serving the industry

Alan’s passion for progress led him to involvement in regional and statewide insurance organizations. He has been very involved in the SEMO (Southeast Missouri) Agents group, as well as the Missouri Association of Insurance Agents (MAIA) where he was recently installed on the Executive Board as secretary/treasurer. He is also active in MAIA’s Young Agents Committee (YAC), having served as YAC chairperson in 1999. In 2000, Alan was named Missouri Young Agent of the Year.

Considering Alan’s interest in agency technology, it’s not surprising that he helped plan the annual Midwest Tech Conference, which includes the nearby states of Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Arkansas. He also founded the InStar Management System Midwest Users Group as well as the Annual Midwest Users Conference. And most recently, Alan was appointed to IIABA’s Agents Council for Technology (ACT).

Priorities

Alan will tell you that his greatest accomplishments are not in the insurance arena, but in community work and church ministry. “Volunteering has given me great rewards,” Alan explains. “I believe wholeheartedly that when you give-you too shall receive.”

A sports lover, Alan has coached his sons Zach and Morgan in Little League football, baseball and basketball. He is one of three founders of the Dexter Bearcat Booster Club, and served on its board for eight years. When the local radio station stopped broadcasting the high school football team’s games, Alan and a friend were instrumental in finding another venue. “I know you don’t normally find sports on a Christian radio station,” Alan says, “but why not?”

Alan is very active in First Baptist Church (FBC) of Dexter, having served in several church ministries as well as a youth leader. He has taken four two-week trips to Haiti with others from FBC, which he describes as “a reality check.” The trips have included building a church, and infirmary for an orphanage. “It took 18 hours to go 180 miles in an old bus along rough, dusty roads,” Alan recalls. “Haiti is such a poor country. If you don’t appreciate decent roads, good hygiene and air conditioning before you go, you certainly will when you return!”

Support system

Alan points to family, friends and God as stabilizers in his life. “In the midst of the chaos that my schedule brings, my wife of 15 years, Tracy, is my rock,” Alan says. “In addition, she works as a physical therapist and is a full-time mom to our 12- and 10-year-old boys. We have made a commitment never to take what we have for granted.”

Alan has also found mentors and support through his involvement in MAIA. “I have been privileged to meet some of the most knowledgeable industry leaders,” Alan says. “And none greater than Larry Case (MAIA’s EVP) who has been a fount of information and a pleasure to learn from. Carol Dulle (MAIA’s vice president of operations) has also pushed me into a deeper understanding of our industry.”

The secret to success

The bottom line to success, Alan says, are the beliefs that his parents instilled in him years ago: Help others; stay focused; work hard.

Copyright Rough Notes Co., Inc. Oct 2003

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved.