In an age when family-owned businesses continue to close or be taken over by larger companies, it seems remarkable when one not only hangs on, but expands to make room for another generation.
Yet that is exactly what has done.
On Oct. 1, Anna Koehler joined her father, Peter, in the business his father, Vince, began in 1952. Peter joined his father in the business in 1976, and took over operations in 2001.
A lot has changed in the past 60 years, but perhaps not as much as just in the past decade or so, particularly as it related to technology and customer buying habits. Peter says that when his father started the firm in 1952, he was a life insurance agent for Phoenix Mutual with expertise in defined benefit pension plans.
“He was a pretty successful life agent — enough to raise nine kids,” Peter says. “When I joined him in ’76, I sort of followed in his footsteps …”
But times change, and while specializing in one area of expertise once could be quite lucrative, it is now likened to putting all your eggs in one basket. Diversification in business — being able to provide multiple products or services, and to do so well, has been the name of the game in the business world for years now.
That is exactly what did. “We developed a business that focuses on corporations and employee benefit plans,” Peter says. “Along with that, because you have interactions with owners of businesses — they have certain estate and succession-planning issues that we help them through with various life insurance products.”
That in a nutshell, he says, is what does today.
Vince Koehler died in 2008, but he stayed involved in the business a long time after turning it over to Peter in 2001, his son recalls.
“So we’ve been doing that since 1952, but always with the idea in the back of our minds that another one of the siblings would come along,” Peter says.
Enter Anna, and with her, some new skill sets, differing expertise and a greater savvy for no-marketing in a technological climate that seems to reinvent itself constantly.
She has worked for eight years with Allstate Financial, where she developed expertise and training as an inside wholesaler and in structured settlement.
“The time was right with some changes in her life that it was time for her to come in” to , Peter says. “So far, it’s been working very smoothly.”
Part of that, he says, is that Anna brings a new vitality to , joining and becoming active in local organizations, for example.
“I think what I’d like to add to that is we feel that we’re primarily a Fox Valley-based insurance agency,” he continues. “Some of our relationships with clients go back generations ...”
Anna is excited about her new role and the opportunity to work with her father.
“I like it — we get along,” she laughs. “My Dad is very smart, I have a lot to learn from him. … It’s good to have a great mentor with him. has been around a long time and there’s a lot to be said for that.”
She points out that the company’s track record speaks well of itself — it’s been around a long time and has done well, even as other companies have come and gone. So there are some things that have worked very well for the business — things that shouldn’t change.
But Anna may be more familiar with the ever-changing tech landscape as it pertains to selling your skills, your products and your business acumen, whether it’s the more traditional sitting across a table or talking on a phone, to email and social media. Remember, not long ago, social media was considered more a leisure, recreational kind of activity than a modern business skill.
“We’re learning in this business that ways we marketed in the past and reached out to clients in the past don’t work” anymore, Peter says. “Anna has a whole different view of the Internet and computers than I do, and I thought I was fairly literate.”
“Dad, being here a long time, is very into the natural market of this community and there’s something to be said for that … you’re dealing with a community and people that you know,” Anna adds. “But the reality of it is that people … shop around to see where the best deal is. … There’s always the Internet to bring it to you.
“So I bring to the table maybe a different way of sales and marketing us,” she says, but adds that learning from her Dad, the way he’s done business, certainly will help her develop new marketing strategies that are more reliant on the Internet and social media.
“We’re excited,” she says.
“She has to do well because there’s one other son who’s in the insurance business being groomed right now,” Peter adds.
Which means plans to be around for a while, serving the Fox Valley as it always has.