The diversity of these brokers’ backgrounds—an apt reflection of the industry overall—is a testament to what it takes to succeed in the benefits world. (Photo: Joe Ariniello/ALM)

Our Broker of the Year finalists sat down for one more interview with editor-in-chief Paul Wilson, and at the end, one would be named our 2018 Broker of the Year. There were six chairs on stage at this year’s BenefitsPRO Broker Expo panel instead of the usual five, Bob Gearhart Sr. and Gearhart Jr.’s complementary achievements earning them a shared spot on the panel.

They started with a softball question about how each got their start in the business, giving the packed room a bit of insight into the myriad paths that can all lead to the benefits industry. Gearhart Sr. started in finance, while his son had aspirations to play Major League Baseball. Beth Robertson made her foray into benefits from the HR side, and Julie Freidus started in health care underwriting. Bret Brummitt shared Gearhart Jr.’s dreams of playing pro baseball (but it was his exploration of a career in criminal justice that led him into insurance), and the possibility of majoring in something related to insurance never occurred to our Broker of the Year Billy Potter when he was an economics major in college.

Related: 2018 Broker of the Year: Billy Potter

The diversity of their backgrounds—an apt reflection of the industry overall—is a testament to what it takes to succeed in the benefits world. It’s not a set of knowledge taught in school but a passion for people and problem-solving.

Further reinforcing this benefits pro persona were the responses each finalist gave when asked what they considered the key to their success.

“Diversity and my background,” said Gearhart Sr., drawing comparisons between the level of regulation in the finance industry compared to what’s currently happening in benefits and health care.

“Commitment to being a lifelong learner,”Gearhart Jr. said, adding, “and then coming in from the outside band being new to the business, the ability to simplify things.”

Learning was also top of the list for Potter, who specifically cited information that would help him learn more about himself. “All of my downfalls in life have been attributable to my ego,” he admitted. “The way that I’ve been able to grow has been by establish relationships in my life where I feel comfortable with them telling me how I can grow. You learn so much about yourself over time.”

For Robertson, it was the perspective and experience gleaned from her previous career working on the employee side. “When I finally entered the world of being a consultative broker, every interaction was driven by what did I need, what did I expect? I’m always trying to put myself in that place. I’m always focusing on the employee experience and meeting employees where they are.”

The clients are also the top priority for Freidus, but it’s not a “yes-man” relationship. “Sometimes they don’t know what’s best for them,” she said. “I challenge my clients to think about new ideas, new concepts, and bring in new technology wherever I can.”

Also important, Freidus admits, is the threat of competition. “What drives me as well is that I don’t want any other broker coming in and presenting something to my client that I haven’t already spoken about.”

Brummitt credited an alternative perspective for his success, the “community call” or “emerging village.” He explained it as a deconstructionist way to look at the metrics of a successful community, focusing less on the success itself but more on the qualities that define that success. “Things like high school dropout rates, whether people beautify their lawns,” he said. “I took that and extrapolated it to our practice. It’s not about the numbers, it’s about satisfaction.”