Business has been full speed ahead for Benefits Selling's 2014Broker of the Year Ed Oravetz. In the last year, he's sold hisagency to Marsh & McLennan, added a couple million in newrevenue and basically had his best year ever.

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It would be difficult to accuse Ed Oravetz of resting on hislaurels after being named Benefits Selling's 2014 Brokerof the Year.

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Marsh & McLennan Agency, Southwest, in Houston acquired hisbusiness just six weeks after the award was presented. Since then,he has helped oversee a smooth merger of the two corporate culturesand added $2 million in new revenue.

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“The Broker of the Year recognition was important to me,” saysOravetz, now president, employee benefits, for Marsh &McLennan. “As I said on stage when I accepted the award, it was avalidation that our approach has value in the marketplace.”

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He had a distinct approach in mind when he founded Visicor inFriendswood, Texas, in 2007.

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“I wanted to create something different,” he says. “I reallytook a hard look at the industry and where it was going, withhealth care reform projected at that time. I wanted a differentapproach with clients, so we sat down and really mapped out wherewe would like an agency to be.

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“We have to partner with our clients and understand where theywant to be—what's worked, what hasn't worked, the long-term visionfor their employee benefits package—and then we have to dig deepand find long-term solutions.”

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Acquisition overtures

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The success and loyal customer base made Visicor an attractiveacquisition target.

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“We previously had been approached by a couple of other firms,”Oravetz says. “We did our due diligence with one but declined atthe last minute, because we didn't see a cultural fit movingforward with that organization. Some private-equity owners focus onacquisitions to increase margins or drive revenue growth. Otherslook to acquire firms with the same culture and provide moreresources for their clients.”

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Giving up partial control of a company that has been built fromscratch was not an easy decision.

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“For us, it was a matter of looking at where the market isgoing, what resources clients are going to need and how we aregoing to be able to deliver that,” Oravetz says. “There are someadvantages to being independent, such as having close relationshipswith our clients. What drove this deal is that we still could bewho we are, yet deliver the tools and services of a large firm. Inthe new market of employee resources, from underwriting complianceto private exchanges, it's becoming difficult for a firm with $1million to $5 million in revenues to compete.”

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Although Marsh & McLennan already had approached Oravetz,the Broker of the Year award helped clinch the deal.

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“I received nationwide recognition from vendors and carriers,”he says. “I already had been in discussions with Marsh &McLennan, and the award helped solidify those plans. Theacquisition was effective May 15. The combined firm has become thefoundation for benefits in Houston. There have been a tremendousnumber of changes, but it gives our clients a phenomenal access toresources and tools they otherwise never would have had.”

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It turned out to be a winning venture for both parties.

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“I'm delighted to welcome Visicor's talented and experiencedemployee benefit specialists,” Anthony Gruppo, CEO of the Houstonoffice, said in a news release at the time.

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“The addition enables us to offer greater resources and abroader platform to serve the employee benefit needs of our clientsthroughout Texas and the Southwest.”

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A year later, Oravetz has no seller's remorse.

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“I sometimes wake up in the morning and look for a 'gotcha'moment when it was not quite what you were promised, but we neverhad that,” he says. “We didn't lose a single team member or client.It's been win-win.”

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Changing industry

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One reason for the transaction is the fast-changing nature ofthe brokerage business and the resources required.

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“The Affordable Care Act was a driver from 2012 to 2014, but forthe past 18 months, it's been broader than that,” Oravetz says.“The ACA is still the core of the conversation, but we now focusmore on how to manage exposure, eliminate risk and position theclient's company to move forward.”

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Compliance is now in the driver's seat.

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“Before 2012, consulting was the base of our business,” he says.“Over the past few years, compliance has become the foundation. Wespend more effort on protecting our clients than on employeebenefits. The total amount of time we spend on internal counselover compliance coordination is a night-and-day difference fromfive years ago.”

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Marsh & McLennan adds extensive firepower in this area, witha complete compliance office and an ERISA attorney on staff. Thecompany uses webinars, seminars, newsletters and clientcommunications to keep its customers up to speed.

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There also have been profound changes in how brokers conducttheir business during Oravetz's 22 years in the industry. “Since2007-08, there has been a major shift from being transaction-drivento relationship-driven,” he says. “We have to be a partner with ourclients.”

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What advice would Oravetz offer young brokers who would like tobe in his shoes in 20 years?

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“First, the only way to create value is to exceed expectations,”he says. “If you don't do that, you won't have a long-termrelationship.

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“Second, be conversational, not presentational. Don't try tosell, but simply have a conversation to find out their goals andobjectives, and then see how you can meet them. Don't try to “wow'them. Know who you are and what you believe.”

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Throughout the year of rapid change, Oravetz finds time to savorhis 2014 Broker of the Year award and what it means.

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“In talking to my wife and colleagues,” he says, “the past 12months have been the greatest time of my career.”

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