John Keenan, founder of California-based Keenan & Associatesand an industry icon, died Sept. 3.

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I had the pleasure of knowing John for the last dozen years orso. This column is not written in memory of John; instead it'sinspired by John, a person I have often called my idol inthe business.

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John was all about ideas. One of the guiding principles in hisorganization is market focus. Keenan focused on three markets:school systems, hospitals and government employers. One of John'sinnovations was to pool group life insurance experience so theindividual employers and their employees received a better ratethan they may have qualified for on their own as the size of thepool created pricing leverage through scale. This also protectedthe individual group from having a small number of claims adverselyaffect experience.

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John was about 70 when I met him. He had turned over executiveleadership to Sean Smith. This allowed John to do what he lovedmost—think about the business. The entry of Keenan into theworksite market was one product of this. He saw great potential forhis organization in the market, and over the past several years,this move has resulted in millions of dollars in sales, andimproved family protection and financial security for thousands ofemployees in the schools, hospitals and governments Keenanserves.

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But John didn't stop there. Over the years he constantly thoughtabout how to improve results, whether in the area of product,enrollment and enrollment systems, or support processes. Every timewe had a discussion, he asked questions and probed, always lookingfor insights and input that might help him find an edge.

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He constantly analyzed the business and how it works, neversitting still, never resting on laurels. After an hour's discussionwith John you would feel like you had just spent a day in anintense seminar, mentally drained, while he would proceed to sitdown with another person and ask them questions, repeating thecycle. John had insatiable curiosity. When you combine that withhis unstoppable drive, you start to see why he was a terrific rolemodel.

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A bit over a year ago, John asked me to read an essay he hadwritten about the future of the worksite business. He wrote ahandwritten note to me asking for my insights. He called me as afollow-up because he valued my opinion. It's hard to describe howthis made me feel—to me it was the equivalent of having WarrenBuffet call to ask me what I thought might be good investments.

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John challenged his team and the business associates he workedwith to strive to excel. And he believed in the voluntary business.The final sentence of his note to me was, “Worksite definitely hasa bright future.” Amen.

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