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Business Observer Friday, Apr. 3, 2015 7 years ago

Right fit

True innovation is hard to find in the benefits consulting industry. One firm discovered its edge after a shift in sales strategies.
by: Traci McMillan Correspondent

Alltrust Insurance founder Joe Part says in 2012 he would get a call at least every other month from a larger company interested in buying his health care benefits consulting firm.

Three years later, the company's new CEO, Sozon Vatikiotis says the phone hasn't stopped ringing. The calls have even increased to every week, but the company, says Vatikiotis, is not interested in being acquired. “We're one of the last privately held regional benefits companies that do what we do,” says Vatikiotis, named CEO in March 2014. “The value of our company and the appeal is through the roof.”

With offices in Palm Harbor, Lakeland, Sarasota and Tallahassee, Alltrust has continued to see a surge of growth, even through the transition to new leadership. The company has added four employees this year, and is close to hiring another three. Vatikiotis, 34, expects Alltrust to open one or two more offices on the east coast of Florida in the next two years, and expand to a regional office outside the state in 2018. Possible states include Georgia, Louisiana or South Carolina.

Vatikiotis says the company, with around $5 million in annual revenues, has posted revenue growth of 22% to 32% every year for the last three years. The company manages more than $100 million in premiums every year.

Alltrust's clients range from companies with 40 employees to thousands of employees, and the typical client is a mid-market Florida firm with a few hundred employees. Clients include the largest employer in Southwest Florida, the largest non-academic physician group and the largest specialty veterinarian group in Florida. “It's not size or industry,” Vatikiotis says. “It's culture.”

Vatikiotis played a key role in 2012 in helping the firm win the business of Mulberry-based Badcock Home Furniture, a company with 1,100 employees spread through the Southeast. While that was a good victory, after that deal and a few other large accounts, the company became distracted by the thirst to win more, Vatikiotis admits.

Employees “wanted to play the game,” he says, mimicking the competition, investing time and resources into cold calling and building out a sales organization. Those tactics continued up until six months ago, when the team decided to refocus on the problem-solving, relationship side of sales. No more cold calling or tracking sales activity. “We'd rather have less accounts, but better quality activity,” Vatikiotis says.

Despite acquisition activity being at an all-time high in the benefits consulting industry, Vatikiotis says that's not how Alltrust will grow. “We would rather start from scratch and build from nothing, build in a way we know works,” says Vatikiotis. “Acquiring, buying, un-training and retraining takes too much time.”

Hire Well
Hire slow, fire fast is a business axiom sometimes taken to extreme levels at Alltrust Insurance, a benefits consulting firm.

At least the hiring part.

For example, the company is currently hiring for a leadership position. After spending three or four months recruiting, a qualified applicant has since gone through seven interviews. The executive still has another seven or eight interviews to go — but the most important one is the last. That's when Alltrust will have the candidate spend an evening at dinner with all the senior leaders and their families. The last test reveals insight that will never show in a personality test, CEO Sozon Vatikiotis says.

“We hire so slowly,” says Vatikiotis, “it's scary.”

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