In EBA’s November cover story executives at the top benefit firms experiencing the most gains in the large-group market said their growth strategy boils down to one asset: their employees. But to get those key employees, what do these firms look for when they hire?

At Fort Worth, Texas-based Higginbotham Insurance its people are the firm’s most important asset, says Rusty Reid, chairman and CEO of Higginbotham Companies, the brokerage’s parent company. “Unlike in other business, they [take] the elevator every day,” he says.

For other companies who experienced the biggest growth year-over-year in EBA’s 2016 listing of top large-group employee benefit firms in the country, ranked exclusively on health and welfare revenue, the brokerage’s look at a variety of factors when considering who to hire.

Liz Smith, president of Schaumburg, Ill.-based Assurance Agency says that her firm’s biggest focus is making sure candidates fit into the company’s culture. “We have 11 ‘best and brightest’ traits we hire to,” she explains. “If the candidates pass this test, then we focus on the technical skills as well as how they can better Assurance.”

Chris Duncan, chief growth officer of EPIC, agrees that cultural fit is a key item to look for. “We work hard, we play hard and we treat each other and our clients the right way,” he says of the San Francisco-based brokerage.

But it goes beyond that. Prospects need to be able to “leverage — and hopefully embrace — the broad capabilities base [EPIC has] built and invested in and generally need to be mid- and large-market focused,” he adds.

Prospects also need to embrace growth — and chaos. “We’re not a very bureaucratic organization and our people have a lot of legroom to stretch, grow and be entrepreneurial,” Duncan explains.

Handling chaos may be a key attribute. At San Mateo, Calif.-based ABD Insurance & Financial Services, Darren Brown, the brokerage’s executive vice president, employee benefits, says they look for someone who can both sell and work with clients.

Aon tends to focus on the brokerage side when they hire, says Tucker Sharp, Aon’s global chief brokering officer. “It is three things: No. 1 is somebody that is a great listener and [provides] great advice. You want somebody who is really thinking beyond what they can share with their client and is really interested in the business,” he says. “Most of our brokerage business has grown out of the business. Cyber is an area we realized is huge for employees. You don’t go to bed and think of cyber.”

Further, Aon looks for someone who is collaborative and a colligate player. “We don’t hire individual stars, [we] look at this more [as] a team sport,” Sharp explains.

But a key final attribute is someone who is resilient. “If you think about it, brokers get told ‘no’ a whole lot. They get told ‘no’ by carriers, regulators, clients,” he adds. “Somebody who is resilient doesn’t get caught up in one way to do things. That resiliency brings a lot of innovative things. … When somebody says, ‘no,’ [a resilient person] goes back and tries to figure out what problem to solve.”

Hiring the right people is incredibly important, concludes Pattysue Rauh, executive vice president and national benefits leader of Daytona Beach, Fla.-based Brown & Brown Inc., because anybody can bring an insurance product to bear and show it to a client, but what is more important is having an individual willing to invest the time and effort to stay ahead of the curve, she says. And that’s how these companies got on the list of the top 50 brokers and experienced the most growth year-over-year.

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