Industry veteran Jeffrey Gullickson was hired as the new leader of Western Growers Insurance Services (WGIS) on July 1 when he was named senior vice president of the full-service, bilingual agency which serves the insurance needs of farmers and related businesses in California, Arizona and Colorado.
As the leader of WGIS, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Western Growers, Gullickson has full responsibility for the company’s production, account management and support teams in WG’s Irvine headquarters and 11 offices in California and Arizona.
“We are very excited to welcome Jeff to our family,” said Tom Nassif, president and CEO of Western Growers. “Western Growers Insurance Services has a long history of leadership in helping farmers obtain quality affordable health benefit plans, through Western Growers Assurance Trust or other health insurance carriers, as well as workers’ compensation coverage. In recent years WGIS has expanded its brokerage services to include property and casualty insurance and new crop insurance products for the fresh produce sector. We see a major opportunity to grow our services with the right leader, and Jeff Gullickson is the very best person for this challenge.”
Gullickson has been in the insurance brokerage business for more than 30 years, spending significant time in the ag space early in his career. He is a widowed father of four, his children ranging in age from 17 to 28. His oldest child, Anna, is in the insurance business as an underwriter, while his youngest, Conrad, is entering his senior year in high school. The family also includes two sons in the middle: Ben, 26, and Peter, 23. Gullickson enjoys an array of outdoor activities including mountain biking.
He recently sat down with WG&S and discussed his career and vision for WGIS.
Q: You’ve had great success in the insurance brokerage industry, and weren’t looking to leave your prior position. What piqued your interest about Western Growers?
I started my insurance career focusing on the ag industry in the Northwest: irrigated row crops, apples, vineyards and stone fruit. The idea of getting back to agribusiness, and working with the caliber of people in the industry had a very strong pull. My entire career has been working with privately held multi-generational, family-owned business, whether ag or otherwise. I had a good gig going where I was, but I kept coming back to this opportunity. A strong part of the appeal was the obvious commitment that every individual I met at Western Growers had…a passion for the industry and the members.
Q: Most WG members probably think of health benefits, and Western Growers Assurance Trust specifically, when they think of WGIS. Do you view that as a strength, a challenge?
Definitely a strength from a product offering standpoint. It puts WGIS in a very strong position from a sales perspective. The longevity and the financial strength of the Trust, combined with its employee health benefits offerings and resources, make it an extremely viable program to members of the association. Every member or eligible member should take a strong look at it.
On the other hand, I think because of the Trust’s success, other potential risk management and insurance programs have been overlooked. I believe members don’t often think of us for the other parts of their program, such as workers compensation, crop or property to name a few, but they should. WGIS offers competitive options specific to the risk management needs of the agricultural industry and an effectiveness that comes with managing all insurance products in one place.
Q: You probably haven’t had much opportunity to meet with WG members yet, but when you do, what will be your first comment or question in most cases?
That’s easy—learning about their operation, from seed to the retail shelf. Who are their suppliers, their customers, and what contractual obligations have they made? Learning about their physical assets, processes and products. What are their employment and HR issues? I know it’s not one question, but I have a strong interest in learning about their business and only then can I start to formulate ideas around their program. I want us to build on what we already know, to improve and innovate our offerings, so that we can do more to meet their unique needs.
Q: Describe how some of the changing currents in the industry, such as the Affordable Care Act, shape your vision of WGIS’s mission.
The Affordable Care Act was an extremely complex piece of legislation, which, with the benefit of hindsight, had an enormous impact on business. From an outside perspective, how Western Growers responded was world class. The interpretation of the act, and the analysis and communication they (we) offered the membership was impressive. During the interview process, as I learned how the Association responded, it became apparent this was a sophisticated organization with significant capabilities. I aim to reinforce these efforts while striving to offer robust consultation specific to each WGIS member, not just limited to the ACA, but their entire risk profile.
Q: What are some of the ways technology is being used today, or might be used tomorrow, to enhance the way WGIS interacts with its clients?
Technology for us is all about communication, communication, communication. Time is money and how do we make sure our clients are getting what they need, how they need it, and right now? Whether it’s on their smartphone, in an email, or on a printed explanation of benefits, we need to effectively use technology to communicate with our clients and their constituencies.
Q: You have a team of WGIS professionals working in 11 locations around California and Arizona. Share your thoughts about how you intend to interact with them and how you might balance demands on your time.
I’ve been in this situation before. It’s incumbent on me to put the right people in the right place, and if I can do that, it all comes together. Any insurance brokerage is only as good as the people who serve their clients, whether it’s the broker, a resource, or customer service.
Q: What does success over the next year look like to you?
Success in a year would mean that we have developed a sound strategy based upon the input from our members, and that our members realize that Western Growers Insurance Services is their brokerage. All of the professionals within WGIS, and the larger Association exist to serve the members. Again, this is THEIR brokerage, and we’ve set our strategy around what they’ve told us they want…that status a year from now would reek of success!