When you start a new job with a company, the last thing you’re thinking about is the legacy you’ll be leaving behind. Rather, you may be thinking about how you’ll fit in with your new colleagues and hoping you’ll be successful in your new role, among others. When David Zanze joined Western Growers Family of Companies (WGFC) in the mid-‘80s, he was just excited to jump at the opportunity to be a key player in the health benefits sector and use his expertise to help lead the organization to further success. Well, it has been nearly 38 years of dedicated service, and David’s endless contributions have helped shape Western Growers Assurance Trust (WGAT) and Pinnacle Claims Management, Inc. into the flourishing organizations they’ve become today.
After I joined the company several years ago, one of the first things I noticed very quickly was the impact and influence David had not only on our members and bottom line, but also our employees. Serving as the hub for all things WGAT and Pinnacle, David was everyone’s first choice when they wanted to find solutions and gather industry insight. When talking to several colleagues about their professional experience with David, he was repeatedly described as a leader, an entrepreneur and someone who thinks outside of the box.
“I have been working with David for the past 28 years and have always had great respect for him and his unrelenting creativity. Once in a while, David breaks down his thought process to share some of his wisdom, and these moments are the ones I’ll cherish the most,” said Raquel Lugo, Senior Director, Client Services & Mexico Operations.
Whenever I had a question (and boy, did I have many!), David always had the answer. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve always managed to walk away learning a number of things about our industry and our organization after every conversation. Did that mean I was bad at my job? Definitely not. What it meant was that David was exceptionally good at his.
David’s breadth and depth of knowledge in agriculture and health care gave him the ability to innovate in areas where our organization could better serve companies in need. David has been an ardent supporter of not only the ag industry, but also other industries seeking health care solutions. Impressively, after only 10 years with WGFC, David spearheaded the formation of Pinnacle in 1996. This move enabled the company to diversify and expand its offerings into a suite of health benefit services for self-funded employers. “Diversifying ourselves and expanding our services also allowed us to avoid financial difficulties similar businesses were facing in the industry during this time,” Zanze said.
David had a clear and solid vision for Pinnacle, which has allowed Pinnacle and all of its divisions to grow significantly into what they are today: Pinnacle Health Management, Pinnacle Rx Solutions, Pinnacle Print and Transaction Solutions, Pinnacle Risk Management Services, Pinnacle Insurance Solutions and our successful partnership with Covered California for Small Business. These additional entities helped to further enhance David’s vision of Pinnacle becoming a one-stop solution for employers’ health care needs.
David was also instrumental in the implementation of our Cedar Health & Wellness Centers and associated Cedar Network, enabling our organization to provide affordable health care services with copays that cost less than standard plans, while further delivering exceptional care and keeping costs under control. For David, our Cedar Health and Wellness Centers were an opportunity to expand access to high-quality, cost-effective patient care throughout the communities we serve.
“During my tenure with the organization, one of the things I’m most proud of is creating Pinnacle and turning it into a profitable enterprise with multiple successful subdivisions, as well as Western Growers Assurance Trust being financially healthy with a significant surplus,” Zanze said. “I was fortunate enough to have been given the opportunity to create a new business line and new sources of revenue for the organization and bring a significant portion of that revenue back to our partner company.”
And generate revenue these subdivisions did. Today, WGAT and PCMI are responsible for managing over $500 million in health care claims with over 60,000 covered employees. Additionally, the organization’s retail network of pharmacies totals more than 65,000 nationwide and fills more than one million prescriptions each year through its mail order program. For scale, compare that to our humble beginnings when the Trust was first established in 1957—in our first month of operation, WGAT’s sole plan covered 144 lives.
“David is member-driven to the core and has dedicated his career to helping build the Western Growers Family of Companies. His relentless entrepreneurship has met many member and marketplace needs while creating the firm financial footing that has allowed our association to prosper. There is no adequate way to sum up his 38 years of service except to say that his impact on our organization and industry will be realized for decades to come,” said Western Growers President and CEO Dave Puglia.
At the 96th Western Growers Annual Meeting in November, David was honored with the Service Award in recognition of his dedication and tenure with the company. David addressed the crowd, expressing his appreciation for being provided with an opportunity to work for an organization that has a solid mission. “It’s hard to put into words why I’ve been here so long—it’s an emotional feeling. I’ve stayed with this organization because of the members we serve, our mission and our supportive staff. If you cut my arm, I bleed green,” he said.
Although David is exiting Western Growers as a full-time employee in February, it’s not completely goodbye. David will continue to lend his support and expertise to the family of companies as a consultant in the areas of strategic planning, new business and retention strategies, product development, and budgetary assistance and cost analysis.
When I asked him about his decision to stay on as a consultant, David spoke of the importance of integrity and loyalty. “I like doing things the right way, and I’ll always put our company’s mission first over anything else. I want to continue providing my expertise, sharing my knowledge and staying active in the industry so I can further my contributions in shaping the industry and moving our company forward.”
And of course, David said you can’t just walk away from a company where you dedicated almost 40 years of your life. “I’ve spent most of my adult life with this organization, and I love and have a deep connection with the members we serve, our customers and our staff,” Zanze said. “I am always thinking of new ideas and ways to stay innovative, and I want to keep sharing my ideas on how we can continue to stay successful in the marketplace.”
When David isn’t spending his time consulting, he’ll be enjoying his partial retirement in ultimate style. David is an active pilot and plans to continue hanging out several thousand feet above the ground flying his airplanes and gliders. And as an avid guitar player for most of his life, David hopes to sharpen his guitar skills and expand on his musicality.
But there’s no doubt his constant presence and leadership will surely be missed. In the words of Pericles: “What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.” Cheers to you, David!
In addition to serving as Executive Vice President of Western Growers Assurance Trust, David Zanze is the President of Pinnacle Claims Management, Inc.