Business is brewing in Michigan

Business is brewing in Michigan

Tolen, Elaine

A bit of the old country provides new opportunities for Greg Rummel

The 4,900-population town of Frankenmuth is known as “Michigan’s Little Bavaria.” It’s not hard to understand why. Around the town are signs of the town’s rich German heritage: the Bavarian Inn Restaurant, Bavarian Inn Lodge, Bavarian Belle Riverboat, Bavarian Mall, the Edelweiss restaurant, a woodcarvers guild, the Schuhplattlers musical group, breweries and brew pubs-to name a few. Five large festivals (such as the Bavarian Festival, World Expo of Beer and Oktoberfest) are held there every year. All of this attracts more than three million tourists annually to Frankenmuth.

It is amid this vibrant cultural backdrop that Greg Rummel, CIC, has built his career at Emil Rummel Agency, Inc., based in Frankenmuth. His forebears were among the founders of Frankenmuth in 1845. His mother’s side of the family founded a brewery in 1874 that is still in existence. It’s not surprising then that one of Greg’s specialties is microbreweries and brew pubs. “I always wanted to brew,” Greg quips, “but I had to pay the bills.”

Actually, microbreweries/brew pubs is part of a larger niche in which Rummel Agency specializes. Being one of Michigan’s top tourist attractions, hospitality is big business in Frankenmuth. As vice president of sales and marketing at the agency his grandfather founded in 1950, Greg handles a variety of hospitality-related risks in addition to breweries and pubs, such as hotels, festivals and special events. He also represents schools and churches.

One of the churches that the agency insures is St. Lorenz Lutheran Church, one of the oldest Lutheran churches in Michigan. “There are 4,900 people in Frankenmuth and 5,000 in that one church’s congregation,” he observes.

Family tradition

With his father, Gary Rummel, being agency president, Greg grew up around the independent insurance industry. “In 1979, Dad was president of PIA Michigan. We tagged along to various meetings; it looked like fun,” says Greg. When he entered college, Greg wasn’t sure that insurance was the career path he wanted to follow but was encouraged by his father to “give it a chance.” As a college sophomore, Greg earned his P&C license.

Greg joined the Emil Rummel Agency, Inc., in 1990, after graduating with honors from Michigan State University. “The first two years were not much fun,” Greg remembers. “The learning curve was pretty steep. But things started to fall into place as I put into practice the things I was learning.” Greg earned the CIC designation and a life, accident and health license in 1992.

Greg’s father-in-law, Mike Larges, is also a partner in the Rummel Agency, and with a full-time of staff of 29, Greg says the agency is really like a family. “Especially on larger accounts, we all step in and work together,” he explains.

The agency specializes in five niches: hospitality, schools, churches, contractors and farms. Virtually all of the business is within Michigan, with about 43% in personal lines and 49% in commercial lines; the rest in life and health, and financial services. The Rummel Agency insures approximately 600 farms across the state; the agency also works with select manufacturers and small contractors. Greg worked in personal lines until 1995, and since then has concentrated on commercial lines.

According to Greg, two of the country’s 10 largest individually owned restaurants are in Frankenmuth, and Rummel Agency insures both. The agency also insures the Frankenmuth Brewery, owned and operated for 112 years as Geyer’s Brewery (Greg’s mother’s family). “It is the second oldest microbrewery in the U.S.,” explains Greg. “In 1986, a businessman from Dusseldorf, Germany, purchased it and changed the name. Then in 1996, a tornado destroyed the brewery as well as the brewhouse. It is now being rebuilt at the same location where it began in 1874.”

Greg calls his immediate boss-Tom Zuellig, vice president of commercial lines-“the Commercial Lines Guru.” Says Greg, “Tom has been at the agency since the early 1970s, and he has really been my mentor in commercial lines.” “I have learned much over the years by watching him handle larger accounts and self-insured accounts. I learned a lot of practical sales skills from Tom.”

Ambassador of gemutlichkeit

If the level and variety of activity in one’s community is a reflection of his or her affection, then Greg Rummel really loves Frankenmuth. He has been involved in the Jaycees since 1989, serving as president, and chairman of the Volkslaufe (“People’s Race”). He has served the city on such committees as the Frankenmuth 2000 Hospitality Plan, parks and recreation, Junior Chamber of Commerce, Frankenmuth-Gunzenhausen Sister-City, and Frankenmuth Willkommen Club.

Greg’s experiences with Jaycees has been especially noteworthy. Greg explains, “Being involved with the Jaycees has been critical in building leadership skills for business, civic and YAC-related dealings. The final line of the Jaycee creed has been an important personal motto for me: ‘Service to humanity is the best work of life.'”

In 1994, as part of an exchange program, Greg worked for six weeks at Victoria Versicherung A.G., Munich, Germany, in Frankenmuth’s sister city of Gunzenhausen. “Feuer, Sturm, Hagel, Blitzschlag, Vandalismus, Einbruch, Diebstahl und Leitungswasser, (Fire, Storm, Hail, Lightning, Vandalism, Break-in, Theft and Water damage) were just about all that was covered,” says Greg. “Their P&C insurance system is rudimentary compared to ours. Additionally, there were no independent agents; rather, each agent was married to a company as a captive agent or direct writer. Despite the differences in their system, it was a great experience.”

In 1997, Greg was chairman of the Bavarian Festival, Michigan’s oldest German fest. According to Greg, chairmanship of the event was like a second job. “My tenure on the board was rewarding, but not one I would want to repeat-actually I think that was my wife who said that!” The Bavarian Festival is one of four major festivals in Frankenmuth and the only one that is run completely by volunteers. Proceeds go back into the community to benefit worthy causes.

This year, Greg was chairman of the World Expo of Beer, which attracts about 8,000 people and 50 breweries from five continents. Prior to this year’s event, the World Expo of Beer had been under the control of the Frankenmuth Chamber of Commerce and, for one year, a private concern; however, lackluster profits threatened the event’s future as a major Frankenmuth event. Then the Chamber approached Greg to lead the event. “I wasn’t about to let a Beer Expo-an event near and dear to my heart-fall off the Frankenmuth event screen. We’ve been making beer in this town for 150 years, so I thought it was worthy of one final concerted effort to become profitable.”

Through his local Jaycee chapter, Greg formed a committee of beer admirers to spearhead various departments within the project, including marketing, beer judging, vendors, concessionaires & entertainment, admissions, sponsorships and volunteers. “The chairpersons for each emphasis have expertise in their given area, so the project has really clicked with everyone’s leadership,” he explains.

When he’s not leading a civic event or teaching as a Junior Achievement instructor, Greg may be found singing in the St. Lorenz Lutheran Church’s male chorus or performing with the Frankenmuth Schuhplattlers, which performs about 50 shows annually throughout the Midwest.

Career growth

Greg’s civic energy and commitment extend to the insurance industry as well. He first became involved in the Michigan Association of Insurance Agents (MAIA) in 1994, when he attended a young agents’ conference. Greg remembers, “About 25 young agents attended. There were a few speakers and a boat ride. I thought, ‘This is great, but without better numbers, it’s a waste of time.'”

In 1998, following his Bavarian Festival commitments, Greg attended another MAIA young agents’ conference on Michigan’s beautiful Mackinac Island. “It was isolated, you couldn’t just get in a car [cars aren’t allowed on the island] and go somewhere. We were really like a family.” During the conference, a friend (and local company field rep) of Greg urged him to run for the MAIA young agents’ board. He served on the board until June 2003, as a director, vice-chairman, chairman and now as past chairman.

By 2001, the MAIA Young Agents’ Council (YAC) was attracting 250 attendees at the spring conference on Mackinac Island. Explaining that YAC growth began around 1997, Greg says, “I can’t take credit for all of this growth; I continued to build on a good foundation laid before me. I have gotten more out of serving on the YAC board than I put in. It was a great experience.”

In recognition of his achievements, Greg was named “Young Agent of the Year” in 2000 by the Michigan Association of Insurance Agents.

Also active in the industry locally, Greg is involved in Tri-County Independent Insurance Agents Association. He was president in 1999-00.

Greg is currently Michigan’s state (AgentPAC) and national (InsurPAC) PAC chairman. “I really hope to build up the state and national numbers,” he says. “I’ve always been intrigued by the political process. For better or for worse, the system generally works. Since my days of ‘School House Rock,’ politics is still more like cartoons than reality!”

Being involved in the industry-specifically with the young agents group-has many benefits, according to Greg. “Rarely are we in direct competition,” he explains, “so we can help each other work through the same challenges. The networking with other young agents has been invaluable. Being involved also opens the doors to company people and vendors.”

In his spare time, Greg is working on the ARM and CPCU designations.

Looking at the future

From working with youth as a Junior Achievement instructor, Greg observes that the insurance industry is a misunderstood one. “Nobody grows up thinking they want to be an insurance agent. When college students consider an insurance career, they think company, not agency.” To encourage young producers, Greg said that MAIA funds an internship program called MI Future that helps young agents get practical, hands-on experience in an agency.

As the youngest principal at the Rummel Agency, Greg says, “I’m a little more aggressive, willing to try some different things…. We have two avenues of growth: equipping producers to do their jobs better, and acquiring agencies to expand our market. We’ll be at $20 million premium by year-end; I want to be at $25 million by 2005.”

Greg sees technology as continuing to be a challenge as well as a benefit to the insurance industry. “Technology has been great for carriers,” Greg comments. “They have a proprietary system and want us to go to their Web site to ‘expedite’ the process. But we work with 12 companies, which makes for duplicate effort on our part. Transformation Station may make SEMCI attainable sometime, but for now,” he laughs, “the best way to get quotes is to walk over to the fax machine.”

One of Greg’s goals is to spend more time with family: his wife, Stephanie, and their two children, Jacob and Danielle. “My wife and I encourage each other to do things that we enjoy. It is a continual challenge to balance all of my commitments,” Greg admits. “I just love doing all the stuff I do!” And it shows.

Copyright Rough Notes Co., Inc. Jun 2003

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