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The Rough Notes Company Inc.



April 29
12:24 2022


Texas-based agency wins Rough Notes 2021 Community Service Award

By Alice Ashby Roettger

This year’s winner of the coveted Rough Notes Community Service Award has taken a unique approach to giving back to its community—one that finds its genesis in an agency CEO’s childhood experiences.

But first, let’s consider the backstory of the service award itself. In his many travels throughout the country, independent agent Bob Kretzmer began to observe a pattern among his peers—a pattern of independent insurance agencies giving back to their communities in a wide variety of innovative ways. He observed that these agencies acted not out of a desire for credit, but to achieve an end result for a community need.

Bob began to ponder how he might help bolster the industry’s public image while honoring those agencies that engage deeply with their communities and give back generously to those who helped them become successful.

Approaching Walt Gdowski, owner and CEO of The Rough Notes Company, which among other things publishes Rough Notes magazine, Bob suggested that the Rough Notes Company establish a Community Service Award to honor the charitable activities of independent agents, agencies and brokers. Long story short, Walt jumped at the suggestion.

During the 20-plus years of the award’s existence, the variety of honored services has become staggering. Many agents/agencies have gone beyond sup-porting organizations that already exist to creating new ones that reflect a personal interest or to recognize a local or even a statewide need.

Life experiences

This year’s honoree is a unique amalgam of many of these elements. Higginbotham, headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas, is being honored for its Higginbotham Community Fund, which was conceived of by CEO Rusty Reid. The fact that he was named president and CEO of the agency at age 27 points to his being an idea person who thinks creatively and “gets the ball rolling.” As a matter of fact, among his many honors, Rusty was named one of the 25 Most Innovative Agents in America by the National Alliance for Insurance Education & Research.



“We are famil
y to our employees, accountable to our clients, teammates to our carriers, and generous to our communities. Those values inform all our decisions.”

—Rusty Reid
Chairman and CEO



During his childhood, Rusty absorbed the charitable impulses of his grand-parents, whom he visited on a regular basis. “My life experience was around nonprofit and difficult circumstances regarding handicapped children,” says Rusty. For example, no stranger to tragedy, his grandmother moved beyond misfortune into the foster care of children, one of whom was autistic. It wasn’t long before she founded the Autism Treatment Center.

Fast forward to Rusty’s transition to Higginbotham. “An early client of ours was a landscaper who was involved with an MS [multiple sclerosis] organization. He asked me to be on the board and head a fundraiser. I thought, ‘Wow, this was fun to do, and the net result was wonderful.’ I wanted servicing to be part of our philosophy.”

That philosophy is based on four core values that Rusty cited in an article naming Higginbotham the best agency to work for in south central Texas. “We are family to our employees, accountable to our clients, teammates to our carriers, and generous to our communities. Those values inform all our decisions,” he said.

Higginbotham was certainly generous to its surrounding community through the years, “but it was fragmented and sporadic,” Rusty observes. In addition, as he began to address that problem, a colleague pointed out that it was frustrating to give to organizations that determined to whom the monies were to be distributed with no input from Higginbotham.

Rusty began mulling over a way by which he could pull the disparate elements together while encouraging employee participation. The result: In 2011, with a starting corporate donation of $50,000,the Higginbotham Community Fund was born. Higginbotham would gather the monies and determine itself how they were to be distributed. Even more interesting is the fact that the endeavor is funded by employees, who can designate what organization they would like to support, and sometimes in which they might have a vested interest.

Because Higginbotham is one of the largest independent insurance, financial and HR service providers in the nation, its 76 offices are scattered geographically across the lower half of the United States. Each office is somewhat autonomous in the sense that it can be aware of and sensitive to the desires of its employees and the needs of its surrounding community. These perspectives help inform disbursement decisions, which are in the hands of the Fund.

A side benefit of this corporate/employee charitable giving is a sense of comradeship among the employees of all Higginbotham’s entities.



“[During the pandemic,] ‘Higginbotham Helps’ … provide[d] our hometown heroes working on the frontlines with delicious meals
while supporting our local restaurants.”

—Rose Bradshaw
President and CEO
North Texas Community Foundation



Beyond the fund

Although the Higginbotham Community Fund is the agency’s major charitable thrust, other efforts are not neglected. For example, quick to recognize the “time and talent” element of community service, Higg, as the firm is sometimes called, formed F.O.R.C.E., or Family of Responsible Caring Employees. F.O.R.C.E. is an outreach mechanism for employees who desire to work face to face with a group that is near to their hearts.

According to Rose Bradshaw, president and CEO of the North Texas Community Foundation, “The best part is, it’s never ‘one and done.’ In true Higgfashion, [employees] give it everything they have—providing valuable leader-ship on nonprofit boards, volunteering in soup kitchens, [and] mentoring youth … .”

In addition, the organization is able to react immediately to disasters. When Hurricane Harvey hit, and because Fund policy prohibits contribution to individual employees, Higginbotham created a GoFundMe page that solicited funds to directly aid employees who had been impacted by the storm.

Another innovative response to a disaster occurred more recently. Rose shares: “As COVID dragged on, the impacts on our frontline workers were profound. The physical exposure and mental fatigue were taking a toll. At the same time, our local restaurants struggled to keep their doors open.

“In response, the Higginbotham team launched ‘Higginbotham Helps,’ a brilliant way to provide our hometown heroes working on the frontlines with delicious meals while supporting our local restaurants. Every Friday, meals from the best local restaurants showed up in hospital emergency rooms, domes-tic violence shelters, and Boys & Girls Clubs, just to name a few.

“For our restaurants, those weekly Higginbotham orders were a lifeline that helped make ends meet. For front-line workers, they expressed our community’s deep appreciation for our unsung heroes. As one recipient expressed, ‘We were expecting sandwiches, and a four-star meal showed up. It meant the world to us.’” More than 14,000 meals have been handed out.

Rose continues: “[T]hey keep at it, day after day, year after year. Higginbotham producers show up wherever and when-ever they are needed. Since 2011, the firm’s employees have contributed $5.1 million for local charities.” And ac-cording to Rusty, “Last year, exclusively from the Higginbotham Fund, we contributed almost $800,000 to various nonprofits our employees wanted to support through-out our footprint. In addition, Higginbotham made contributions outside our Fund, which pushed our total combined gifts to various charities and pledges to almost $2 million—an annual record.

“Higginbotham [is a] shining example of the difference that one company can make across the industry,” Rose concludes. Rusty would add one observation: “It’s not the credit; it’s the end result.”


For more information:

The author
Alice Ashby Roettger is a freelance writer based in Indianapolis, Indiana. She also serves as an editorial assistant at Rough Notes magazine.



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