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The Rough Notes Company Inc.



December 07
13:59 2016

Paving paths and providing opportunities gives an Indiana agency a step up  with employee retention

Previously in Rough Notes …

We learned how Baldwin Krystyn Sherman (BKS) Partners retains its young professionals with a fun work environment. As for the exciting conclusion to our story, Jane, without even thinking, goes all MacGyver, disabling the evil robot twins using a bobby pin, flyswatter and bottle of hand soap; Officer McGee finishes them off for good. It turns out that the “deranged” killer hadn’t ever killed anyone, but was merely a misunderstood scientist. He fled from the scene with Jean; their whereabouts remain unknown. Officer McGee resigned from the force amidst “Robotic Lives Matter” protests. As for our heroine Jane, she enjoyed a comfy coma-free life with a handful of book deals and a direct-to-TV movie on Lifetime.

Returning to reality.

Wow. What a ridiculous conclusion. As we end our series on attracting, developing and retaining young professionals, be forewarned that this final installment is anything but ridiculous.

Headquartered in Carmel, Indiana, with 13 additional locations across the country, Shepherd Insurance was established in 1977 by Dave Shepherd. Today Dave’s son, Quinn, serves as a managing general partner and, along with his father, understands the importance of bringing in hard-working young professionals and retaining them.

“Most agencies are not sure how to perpetuate,” says Quinn. “They don’t know if the son or daughter behind will follow them, or whether an ownership team could raise enough capital in their firm. Every division here is represented by a Millennial. Our average age is 47. The industry average is around 62.”

Adds Briggs Orsbon, director of commercial lines and recently named partner, “We have close to 25 employees under the age of 30.”

According to Dave Shepherd, CEO, “It’s a lot easier to recruit young talent when you have good young talent. As soon as I recruited Briggs, I wanted him to be meeting the next generation of people he’d work with the majority of his career. When these guys sign up, we give them one thing, and that’s an opportunity.”

This opportunity—although the rewards are not easily attained—is a key factor for this agency in retaining its young professionals.


As discussed in previous segments of this series, Millennials tend to be “job hoppers” when they feel like they’ve reached a plateau in their work duties or experience a stall in career advancement. Like BKS, Shepherd informs its new employees of the career paths available to them from the get-go, but also lets them know that it will take some work.

“One of the things I appreciated was how up front they were regarding the length of time training would take,” says John-Michael T. Polley, one of Shepherd’s newer recruits. “There was no sugarcoating or fluff; they prepared us. We all went in knowing it would be roughly 36 months to feel established in this industry. They stressed their consciousness of agency perpetuation and our roles in the future. They put the opportunity in front of us but let us know that it won’t be easy. That’s something Millennials appreciate— realistic expectations, the executives being up front, and what to expect.”

“Shepherd is always up for allowing you to take on any challenge,” adds Sales Executive Ben Coe, a six-year employee with the company. “I came to leadership and said, ‘You know what, instead of taking another job, I need another challenge, but I want that challenge to be here.’ And instead of saying, ‘No, we think you need to grow where you are,’ they said, ‘Outline how you want to do it, and we’ll give you what you need to be successful.’ As a Millennial, at my previous job I felt like I was stuck where I was and was looking to creep up the ladder a little bit. Here, they definitely give you the tools and opportunity, as opposed to sticking you in one place and you’re just there forever.”

Adds Account Manager Taylor Nikirk: “Management allows current and new employees to grow into the agency, not only to find out their strengths and weaknesses, but to find where they are most successful. It’s about making us feel like part of the company. You want to stay with a company that makes you feel like family.”

“The unique thing is that we’ve been growing at such a great rate that management is straightforward about where you’re going to start in the company, but it’s hard to tell where you’re going to be in two to five to ten years,” Orsbon says. “The individual determines where they’re going to end up down the road based on their work ethic and the amount of work they put in.”

“Everybody spends a little bit of time in each department,” adds Coe. “It’s interesting to see where that person’s personality fits and where their skill level fits. From processors to account managers and team managers, there’s lots of opportunity.”

Culture and teamwork

Another key to Shepherd’s success in employee retention is its culture and aspects of teamwork.

“Everyone here is receptive to learning from each other, and they’re willing to work together,” says Quinn Shepherd. “You come to a sales meeting on a Monday morning and 40-some people are there, all ages, all backgrounds, and they all help one another out.”

“We’re all in different areas within the company, but we ask one another what’s working and what isn’t,” adds Patrick Paligraf, employee benefits consultant. “We’ve put together a young leadership committee that asks these questions on a daily basis.”

“No matter one’s age or gender, it’s a team effort,” Polley says. “Whether you’re in ownership or one of the younger people in the agency, you feel like you’re in it together and doing things for an ultimate goal. Everybody wants everyone to be successful within the agency.”

“It’s a team; if you have no blocking, you have no quarterback,” adds Dave Shepherd. “We need people for every position, where they feel most comfortable. It makes no sense to stick someone someplace if they’re better off elsewhere.

“I can understand how agency owners get to be at my age; they’re trying to grow their agency and then all of a sudden they want to bring in young people. You’ve got to hire youth if you’re going to be successful.”

A benefit for the younger and new employees is an open-door policy involving the company veterans.

“I was talking to a good friend who works for a big company recently,” explains Polley. “He acknowledged the unprecedented support I was getting four weeks in with our open-door policy. We’re all intelligent but we lack wisdom, and we have a well of wisdom that we can draw from whenever we need it.”

“All the veterans are willing to give their two cents when you have questions,” says Paligraf. “They have a long-term vision and want to share it with us, and we appreciate that.”

“When I got into the industry I had zero insurance knowledge,” says John Long, sales executive. “Through my process, the veterans let me know they supported me. They’d sign me up for associations. Whatever they felt would help me in my career, management was gung ho to help me.”

“We have a lot of employees who probably learned from a mentor early in their career and they want to continue to give back to the industry,” adds Orsbon. “No one on our team has too big an ego to help out one of the young guys.”

The culture also benefits from community service participation and social events outside office hours.

“We have our own organization called Operation Shepherding, which allows us to take one free PTO day a year to volunteer,” says Coe. “It will usually be something structured that the Operation Shepherding team picks, whether it be going to an animal shelter or fixing up properties.”

“Community service also helps with recruitment,” adds Orsbon. “A potential employee felt connected to the Alzheimer’s community, and we’re connected with that foundation. She felt more connected to us because of that.”

“Our culture starts from the top down,” says Nikirk. “You see Dave Shepherd at a function outside of work and he knows every family member’s name and never forgets a face, and I think that’s why we’ve been so successful with our culture and how it was built.”

Parting words

As we wrap up this series on attracting, developing and retaining young professionals, I hope your agency has received some good ideas on how to do just that. The future of the industry will rely on the next generation to keep it running, and this writer will continue to attempt to keep you enlightened, educated and entertained. Stay tuned …

For more information:

Shepherd Insurance

By Christopher W. Cook


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