Diana: 00:03 This is Diana Schad, director of the Family Business Alliance. Joining us today is Matt Hylant, a fourth-generation member of Hylant, and Mike Hylant, his father and CEO of Hylant. Thank you both so much for being here today.
Mike: (00:15) Well thank you for having us.
Diana: 00:16 Good! I usually start with asking you to tell us a little bit about the business and the clients that you serve. So, Matt, do you want to start us on that?
Matt: 00:25 Sure. Hylant is a full-service insurance brokerage firm. We are headquartered in Toledo, Ohio. We were established in 1935. Our core clients are in the middle market space, and that’s really where we focus.
Diana: 00:39 We are excited to hear more about your company and your company’s journey. Could you tell us a little bit about the basic values of Hylant and what you believe are the most important values that Hylant was founded on?
Matt: 00:49 One of the most important is definitely family. I think that’s kind of why we are here today, right?
Diana: 00:53 Mhm.
Matt: 00:53 That’s really pervasive through the organization. I think that’s one of the things that draws our employees here is that they feel that family culture and atmosphere. We have a lot of people that have flexible schedules so that they can be with their kids and enjoy that family time. Another is hard work. We are a place where we like to get things done and we like to have fun doing it.
Diana: 01:15 Mike, do you agree with those? Are there other things that when you started the company that you were thinking about?
Mike: 01:20 Yeah. Certainly, family comes first. That’s what our clients, our prospects, our vendors, our employees identify most is the family atmosphere and culture. In addition to hard work, honesty, respect, and empathy are part of our core values. We not only talk about it, but we practice it daily.
Diana: 01:40 What are some of your connections to the community? Are there things that you and your employees do out in the Toledo and Grand Rapids communities?
Matt: 01:47 There’s a great deal. That’s another focus of the organization. We just recently brought in a new employee in our office here, and that was one of the main things that drew her here was the connection to the community. We really encourage everyone on the team to be part of nonprofit organizations that they believe in. You know, give back to the communities that we are in.
Diana: 02:07 When we first started talking you mentioned that Hylant has been voted the winner of the “Best Places to Work in Insurance”. Could you tell me a little bit more about that and how the employees have reacted to that?
Mike: 02:19 Yeah. It’s great to be recognized as one of the best places to work in insurance on a national basis, but the fundamentals of being awarded that is through a survey process of the employees. For us, through the survey, we hear from our employees those things that we are doing well, and they would like us to continue to do, and some of those things we don’t do so well that we need to improve on. We use a survey and that as an opportunity to continuously improve as an employer.
Diana: 02:46 How many total employees do you have?
Mike: 02:49 Today we have approximately 720 employees.
Diana: 02:52 Ok. So, we were talking before, I see that you now have 16 locations in seven different states. Could you tell us a little about those locations and any plans you have to expand?
Mike: 03:03 Well, yes. Just recently we expanded into Finley, Ohio and then also in Atlanta, Georgia. In our space in the insurance brokerage space, there is a lot of disruption in the peer competitors. So, Atlanta came to us by chance of competitor making a decision in the marketplace. For us to take advantage of that decision we lifted up a team of individuals that catered to both Japanese customers and Chinese customers. They just happened to be in Atlanta, they knew of our culture, they wanted to be part of our team, and so they joined us about a month ago.
Diana: 03:37 Ok, wonderful, well congratulations on that. Matt, you and I were talking, I saw that recently Hylant’s corporate headquarters got a new senior vice president, Jon Stole. Has he made major company changes in this new position, and how has that affected you in your role?
Matt: 03:52 He has. He’s really been focused on something we are calling the “CE Success Program”, but what that really means is it’s a recruiting and retention strategy for our sales team. Over the course of the last 24 months we’ve hired 80 or 90 news producers, client executives would be their title here. That’s a lot of effort and energy. Jon and a partner of his, Bob, have kind of co-led that process. In our industry turnover can be very high in that position, but they’re actually experiencing about 50% retention, which may not sound good to most people but that’s about double the industry average. He has seen some good success in growing our team here at Hylant.
Diana: 04:36 Wonderful. Well, I see that you’ve been in business for over 80 years, Mike, what are some of the methods or secrets that you believe have guided your company to success though each generation?
Mike: 04:48 Well, I think the most important thing is all the family members are in the business. Being in the business means that we roll up our sleeves every day like everyone else in the organization. So, it’s the contributions of the family members to help set the vision and the tone for the culture. For instance, we have an award for our top sales people every year, it’s actually a trip. Every year it seems to be a Hylant family member as one of our top salespersons who go on the trip. For this year, Matthew is actually one of our top salesperson as well as his Aunt Genie. Again, it’s leading by example.
Diana: 05:25 Wonderful, congratulations Matt, that’s great.
Matt: 05:27 Yeah, thank you.
Diana: 05:28 How many family members out of your employees are working for the business?
Mike: 05:32 Out of the total family, including my wife Tina’s brother, who runs our Fort Wayne office, there’s nine family members in the business.
Diana: 05:38 Ok. That’s terrific. That’s great that there’s a lot of harmony, so that’s good. I know that you have had sort of an interesting history for a family business. A while back the company was sold to a private firm and then bought back by the family. Could you talk us through that a little bit?
Mike: 05:54 Yes. In 1982 I was a senior at Miami University of Ohio with all the intentions of coming into the family business and my father had a family meeting at Christmas, and informed us that he had sold the business to his largest customer, which was Dana Corporation at the time. Dana is an aftermarket automotive manufacturer, but at that time in the early ’80s, like GE, they were getting into other downstream financial services business. Baking, insurance, leasing. In expanding their footprint into financial services, they had bought the firm. Well, a short three years later, they had a bank go bankrupt, they had an insurance company go bankrupt, and the board informed them that they had to get out of the financial services business. So, at that point in 1985 my brother Patrick, who is our retired chairman, bought the firm back.
Diana: 06:49 Ok, so did you get involved in 1985? Was that when you started getting involved?
Mike: 06:55 Yes that is when I came back into the firm, about that time.
Diana: 06:58 Ok. And you were the third generation, is that correct?
Mike: 07:00 Correct.
Diana: 07:01 Now, you and I talked a little bit about other businesses that you’ve purchased over the years. Can you talk a little bit about how you’ve grown through acquisitions or through starting from the ground up and some of the areas you’ve done that.
Mike: 07:13 Yes. About half of the business that we have today was through acquisitions and the other half is really organic. Several of the cities that we are in today, we just went there and planted a flag and started growing from the ground up. Other cities we would go out and acquire and build from those acquisitions.
Diana: 07:31 Ok. So, Matt, you are fourth generation.
Matt: 07:35 Correct.
Diana: 07:36 When did you get involved with the business?
Matt: 07:38 It will be five years in September.
Diana: 07:41 Ok.
Matt: 07:41 It’s gone fast.
Diana: 07:43 And did you always know you were going to come back, or how did you end up coming back with the family business?
Mattt: 07:48 I think so. You know, we did have a family rule coming out of college that you did have to get outside experience. But, growing up with 25 years of being around people and everyone that I knew worked at Hylant, so I kind of had to figure out what that was like. About five years ago I was living and working in Madison, Wisconsin. My wife is actually from the Grand Rapids area, we started looking at different opportunities. We looked at Ann Arbor and Detroit, we ended up landing here it Grand Rapids. It’s been a great five years so far.
DIana: 08:20 And can you tell us a little bit about what you do with the company?
Matt: 08:22 Sure! As my father mentioned I am one of our producers, or client executives. I also am the team lead of our employee benefits department. That is the side of the business that I focus on.
Diana: 08:33 And who else, you mentioned there are nine other family members, are any others here in the Grand Rapids office?
Matt: 08:40 None are here in Grand Rapids; I do have a cousin that used to work in the business that lives out in Spring Lake. He’s started his own family business out there; he bought a company and has his son working for him.
Diana: 08:51 Ok, well wonderful. With that many family members, what are some of the resources that you do to keep connected? Do you do family meetings or family councils?
Mike: 09:01 Well, one of the things that we do on a regular basis is every summer we have all of the generations get together for a family vacation. It gives us an opportunity to spend some time together. The other part of it is we spend all of our holidays together as a family, we celebrate birthdays together. We are very fortunate, being one of nine siblings, that we all get along very well.
Diana: 09:26 Are there any regular business meetings that you do? DO you do board of director meetings or anything like that that involve the family members?
Mike: 09:32 Yes, we do have a board of directors meeting, but it’s limited to the shareholders of the firm. We do do annual meetings with all of our employees every year at every office and locations. Actually, Tina, my wife and I are just coming off from that trip, it’s a three week stretch where we go and visit each and every location and give them a state of the agency. We talk about what our goals were for the last year, how did we measure up to those goals. What are goals going into the New Year? We celebrate employee awards, community service as Matthew mentioned before is very important to us. We have service awards…
Matt: 10:10 We have the “McClain award”, which is the person who made the biggest fool of themselves throughout the year.
Diana: 10:15 [Laughs] I assume that’s one you don’t want to win!
Matt: 10:17 [Laughs] No, and we have one person here who seems to win it every year. So, we like to have fun with that.
Diana: 10:22 Ok, that sounds kind of fun!
Matt: 10:23 There’s a good story or two to share, so it keeps it fun and light.
Diana: 10:27 Well, it sounds like communication is really good for your organization and for your family. Matt, do you find that that even in the Grand Rapids, that there is a lot of communication between the family and the employees?
Matt: 10:39 Yes! Definitely. My mother is actually sitting in the room here, I’m not sure if I’m supposed to share that with everyone, but she is sitting in and I think she would tell you that she knows the names of most of the people here. There is a lot of connection between the employees and the family. It’s one of the items I wrote down here, they have been very good at establishing traditions and one of the business traditions is that annual meeting. We have a fun time, we are very transparent with the employees, they know what’s going on. I think that gives them a sense of comfort, that everything is stable and moving forward and growing. It’s good.
Diana: 11:10 Good, good. So, what do you think, and I’ll ask both of you, Matt, I’ll ask you first, what do you think is the best part about working with a family business?
Matt: 11:18 It’s a tough question. I think the best part though is just being so connected to the mission and the family. The culture is really built on being a family and getting to live that every day is really rewarding.
Diana: 11:33 And Mike, what would you say on that?
Mike: 11:34 I would definitely agree with that. It is being a part of something and it’s family. It’s rewarding and we can share in that reward together as a family.
Diana: 11:44 So, now we flip it around. What’s the hardest part? Matt?
Matt: 11:48 Well… [laughs]
Diana: 11:49 [Laughs]
Matt: 11:51 It’s probably communication. It’s something you have to work on all the time. You think you’re doing a good job until you’re not. But I would say communication, knowing when and how to communicate with people is very hard. It’s something that I have learned a great deal about with my experience with my NextGen peer group. We talk about that quite a bit, what are the right times to have those discussions, who do you have them with, who gets to know different pieces of information? It’s been a learning experience for me but it’s something I work on all the time.
Diana: 12:19 Terrific, terrific. Mike, what would you say?
Mike: 12:21 I would say that the hardest part of a business and certainly a family business is certainly the ability to build trust among the family members and also the employees. It’s something that I know can be thrown around easily, but you have to earn it every day. Trust is also built on the foundation of communication, open and honest communication.
Diana: 12:43 So, if you were to offer advice, you’ve been around for a long time, maybe a starting family business, what would some advice that you might offer to them Mike?
Mike: 12:54 First one I would say is never lose your dreams. The other on might be, someone has to be the best, so why not you? And, maybe, don’t let anyone tell you you can’t accomplish something.
Diana: 13:04 That’s good advice to have. Matt, do you have anything to add to that?
Matt: 13:07 That’s a pretty good list, we will go with that, I think.
Diana: 13:10 Ok, wonderful. Well, thank you both for joining us. Is there anything else that you would like our listeners to know about?
Mike: 13:17 No, other than, a family business can be a lot of fun, it can be very rewarding, it’s something that’s very important to us. Obviously, going on four generations. We would like to see it go to five or six or more!
Diana: 13:29 Wonderful. Well thank you both so much for joining us today.
Mike and Matt: 13:31 Thank you.