Sitting in a modest two-story building off I-69 and Illinois Road in Fort Wayne is one of the sixteen Hylant offices. Pat Sullivan, Executive Vice President of the Fort Wayne Employee Benefits operation, speaks about his work with a level of interest and passion you would expect from someone who’s been on the job for thirty days, not thirty years.
Sullivan started selling individual life insurance in 1979, at a time he says, “When it was the classic ‘sitting at your kitchen table’ approach.” Eight years later, he and some colleagues formed Benefit Consultants, an employee benefits company. For fifteen years Sullivan and Benefit Consultants focused on group health insurance, life insurance, and deferred compensation. Then, in 2001, the group merged with Hylant. Today, they are the 29th-largest US broker. Their focus has expanded to commercial property & casualty, home, auto, life, and employee benefits.
Reflecting on his early career – the era of kitchen table selling – Sullivan appreciates his mentors. “One of the things I had as a young agent was the opportunity to be exposed to other successful people who had done what I was doing. I would see people at NAHU meetings, and I’d pick up ideas from them. I would see what successful people were doing,” says Sullivan. He joined NAHU in 1984, two years before Benefit Consultants.
“I could connect with successful and professional individuals,” he adds. Sullivan recalls that at that time in his career he needed to not be just a better salesman, but a better professional. A distinction he makes by comparing insurance agents to real estate agents. “There’s a difference between retirees who move to Florida do real estate for five hours a week. They’re hoping to meet someone over a beer and make a few bucks,” he says. “Then there are people working sixty hours a week honing their skills and studying the law. I look at that as our business. There are salespeople who do it occasionally, and then there are committed professionals caring about legislation, continuing their education, and seeking opportunities to speak as a collective voice.”
“I needed help to be a professional in my industry and not just a sales guy,” Sullivan says. “NAHU helped me do that and be around the right people.”
“All those [members] didn’t view me as a competitor or threat. You run into that, thinking ‘these are the same guys I’m competing with’. The professionals I met were successful enough that I was just a comma in their sentence. So, they were willing to share ideas.”
Thirty years later, Sullivan is still a member of NAHU. Early in his career Sullivan regularly attended NEIAHU meetings and occasionally served in committee roles. Now, he doesn’t regularly attend lunch meetings. For him, the benefits he receives from NAHU have changed.
“We have many resources at Hylant that the average agent probably doesn’t have,” he says. At Hylant, Sullivan has in-house legal teams, communication professionals, compliance officers, and even in-house legislative and lobbying resources. “For me, going to a meeting is a duplication of that, but not many people have that luxury,” he notes. “I absolutely believe in NAHU because it’s one of the few voices of people who fight for the role of insurance agents.”
Much of his mentorship now focuses on hiring people, many of whom were born ten years or more after he started with Hylant. “Now I have young agents who reach out to me. I have lunch or a beer with them, and I manage our sales operation here at Hylant. I recognize I’m filling the role of mentor for them internally,” he says.
“I know NAHU does things that matter nationally. I see them supporting groups like United Way and Matthew 25 Health locally,” Sullivan mentions. For agents looking to get access to ideas, mentorship, and value as he did early in his career, “NAHU is the perfect resource”.
Likewise, for independent agents and small teams that want to have an impact nationally and locally, NEIAHU is a valuable way to be involved. “There are things the organization does that puts a positive spin on our industry. They have a much bigger overreaching representation, communications, and legislation umbrella.”
“I’ve never hesitated once at paying my NAHU dues,” says Sullivan. “I owe my dues and a lot more to NAHU and this industry. Insurance has provided me a lifestyle I had never imagined. It’s my responsibility to continue to support that for younger people and provide ideas and speak as a unified voice. The $400 is a whole lot less for me today than thirty years ago. But, no less important.”
Reflecting on his career and the mentors he’s had, Sullivan notes, “If you’re going to be a professional in this business and not just a salesperson, you should be involved and support professional organizations like NAHU. If you do, you’re the group of people who are committed to a long-term career.”
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