Edgren Is Big On Benefits

May 27, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — Roger Edgren's business degree from North Park University led him into the business of employee benefits, and after more than 30 years in the business he has never had the desire to work in any other field.    

Edgren joined the group benefit, consulting and brokerage firm of McGraw Wentworth a little less than a year ago. The Troy-based firm hired him specifically to open an office in Grand Rapids and build the company's client base in this region. As account director, Edgren is responsible for strategic management of benefits for a variety of clients representing multiple industries and employee groups.

Prior to joining McGraw Wentworth, Edgren was executive vice president of sales with Unum Group in Tennessee, where he oversaw a team of 300 salespeople across 32 offices nationwide. His responsibilities included training and development, recruiting, retention and business development.

Before Unum, he served for 18 years in a number of executive positions at Marsh Inc. and its predecessor Johnson & Higgins. During his last six years at Marsh, Edgren ran the company's benefits business nationally and was responsible for 62 offices across the country. He also developed business for the firm in the West Michigan area.

Prior to Marsh, Edgren was division vice president of Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. for six years and worked at the Rockwood Co. for two years.

Name: Roger Edgren
Company: McGraw Wentworth
Position: Account Director
Age: 53
Birthplace: Chicago
Residence: Ada
Family/Personal: Wife, Cheryl, and three grown children
Community/Business Involvement: Serves on the Advisory Board for North Park University’s school of Business and Nonprofit Management; board member of the national Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers; former member of the Council of Employee Benefits Executives board.
Biggest Career Break: The opportunity to work with Marsh and its predecessor Johnson & Higgins.

He hooked up with McGraw Wentworth last July. The reputation of the firm and the quality of its people drew him in, he said.

"It was a firm I was familiar with over the course of my career," Edgren said. "I met with them, and they knew of my desire to get back to West Michigan where my wife and I had raised our family. They felt that with my market knowledge of the region and my having spent many years in the business out here, it was a good opportunity to join forces and expand into West Michigan."

McGraw Wentworth already has clients in the Lansing area, so having an office here makes servicing them more convenient, Edgren said. His goal, of course, is to grow the market share for the firm throughout Michigan.

"We're laying all the ground work," he noted. "I have discussions going on with a number of potential clients."

McGraw Wentworth's target is the middle market, typically companies with 100 to 2,000 employees. Its clients include manufacturers, retailers, wholesalers, service providers, school districts, local government units and nonprofits in Southeast, mid- and West Michigan. Every benefits plan is customized for a client because companies have different corporate cultures and industry issues to tackle, Edgren said. Benefits remain a major consideration in an employee's decision of whether to work for one company or another.

"We don't just design the programs; we help communicate them to employees so they have a good understanding of what the benefits are," Edgren explained. "We also help clients communicate the cost and value of the benefits to prospective employees."

The firm's corporate growth rate is between 10 and 12 percent a year, he pointed out. The company has gone from zero revenue to almost $12 million in revenue, and from three employees to 65 employees over the past 11 years.

"We like to think that we'll have faster growth out here," Edgren said. "We'll probably hire two to three employees in this office over the next 12 to 18 months, depending on our success rate. As we look five years out, it's reasonable to think that we might have five to 10 employees."

Edgren likes the fact that employee group benefits is a challenging field in which to work. Benefits are complicated and have gotten more so over the years because of additional regulation, legislation and compliance, he observed. He said even the plans themselves have become more difficult for employees to understand.

The industry has changed a lot over the course of Edgren's career.

"You have to continually look at how to do things differently and do different analyses for clients. It's enjoyable for me to know that clients are really depending on us to help them manage these complex programs. Even more gratifying is helping employees understand the maze associated with health care and how it all fits together. It's gotten complicated in terms of doctor approvals and which network you need to go to."

Over the last 10 to 15 years employees have enjoyed fairly low out-of-pocket costs as managed care came into being and as benefit design went to a $5 or a $10 co-pay, Edgren said. But as health care costs have gone up, employees have had to share more of the load by paying out of their paychecks, as well as paying higher deductibles and more for co-insurance, he noted.

Edgren said McGraw Wentworth believes there are still strategies out there that companies may not have looked at over the years. Companies still have opportunities to try different approaches and more tightly manage their programs, he said, and, hopefully, alleviate some of the cost shifting that has gone on in the last several years.

Given the constantly changing environment in employee benefits, Edgren believes his 30-plus years in the business have prepared him well to lead the local office of McGraw Wentworth.

"The experience gained in working in this business with all different types of employers and understanding all the technical aspects of the business helps you put everything in context and helps you prioritize where your efforts need to be focused," Edgren commented.

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