75 Years and Going Strong: Vaaler Insurance is Ready to Take on a Promising New Chapter

Written by: Brady Drake

(left to right) Eric Ness, Senior Loss Control Specialist, Gregg Schaefer VP of Sales, Senior Insurance & Risk Advisor, Steve Swanson, VP Fargo, VP of Sales, Senior Insurance & Risk Advisor

It’s no easy feat to accomplish–75 years in business is not only impressive, but it also demonstrates a recipe that has been developed and perfected. That’s exactly what Vaaler Insurance has done in its 75 years as one of Fargo’s most remarkable insurance agencies. Founded in 1947 by Paul T. Vaaler, Vaaler Insurance has earned respect and trust from many across North Dakota and the surrounding regions. Vaaler is proud of its 75 years in business, but it’s not done yet– a brand new, exciting chapter is opening up, and we sat down with some of Vaaler’s most notable team members to learn more.

75 Years of Vaaler: A Reflection on the Legacy

What was the original vision of Vaaler 75 years ago, and how has that vision expanded or evolved?

Bruce: Great question! My grandfather started Vaaler Insurance in 1947, primarily to achieve some stability. Prior to the formation Vaaler Insurance, my grandfather was a field representative for Sunshine Mutual Insurance Company. He traveled across North and South Dakota meeting with agents of the company. I think his original plan was simply to plant his feet is Grand Forks.

One of the most positive things I remember growing up was the longevity of some of the employees. My father continued the tradition of treating employees like family and making Vaaler Insurance a place where people truly have a career. I learned early on, that a quality motivated team is critical to success.

Bruce Vaaler, President

What kind of legacy has Vaaler created in 75 years?

Carrie: I believe the Vaaler Legacy has been and will always be our commitment to our clients, colleagues, and our community. We strive to bring creative solutions and programs to our clients, stability and provide first-class service. At Vaaler Insurance, we endeavor to always do our best and do what is in the best interests of our clients.

Carrie Wilson, Executive Vice President

What does that legacy mean to you?

Gregg: When I first started at Vaaler Insurance, one of my mentors was David Vaaler. He’s a second-generation Vaaler, and he developed a culture in our organization that we always wanted to live up to. We always had a culture where we’re coming up with new ideas, cutting edge ways

of doing things. One of the things I remember best from David Vaaler was that he didn’t necessarily want to be the largest agency, he wanted to be the best. So that meant that even when you would send a letter to a customer, he wanted you to proofread it, make sure everything’s perfect— because that’s our work product. He wanted things done correctly.

Steve: I’ve been blessed over the past 22 years to be a part of the Vaaler Insurance family. We’ve experienced incredible growth as an agency and it’s really been fun to work with such a great team that is all pulling in the same direction for the benefit of our clients. We’re known for our expertise and specialization. Our ability to provide data analytics, benchmarking, safety/loss control, claims advocacy, clinical risk services, strategy/market placement, contractual review, proper risk transfer, and much more quickly differentiates us from our competitors. We’re able to have different conversations with our clients that can really have a positive impact on their business.

How does the 75 year legacy of Vaaler motivate you each day?

Bruce: Staff longevity and knowledge, a team approach to client service, and great relationships with our customers are what motivates me. Leadership transparency and the accessibility of our management team make my job easier and more rewarding.

Steve: It motivates us to continue the legacy that we’ve built over the past 75 years. We’ve always wanted to provide our team with unbelievable career opportunities and I believe that the tenure of our staff speaks volumes of our culture. We strive to provide our employees with opportunities to advance their careers and now being part of Marsh McLennan Agency, the opportunities are endless, which is exciting.

Gregg: The Vaaler legacy motivates me each day because the culture my mentors and other retired employees developed is ingrained within me and other current employees, many of whom have been here for over 35 years. We feel obligated inspired to perpetuate this culture and continue it into the next generation of employees. We called it the “Vaaler Way” and it guides us each day.

An Exciting New Chapter: Vaaler’s Future With Marsh McLennan Agency

What opportunities did you see when first connecting with MMA?

Gregg: The culture was very important and very similar to ours. Next on our list was the tools and expertise they could provide us to make us better to benefit our customers. With these tools, we have the opportunity of writing large, sophisticated risks we were not previously equipped to.

Steve: One of our primary goals was to partner with an agency that would allow us to get better and I’m 100% confident that becoming part of the Marsh McLennan Agency family was the perfect fit. We are not only part of an agency that can deliver worldwide capabilities, but still with the same local service.

How will MMA help launch Vaaler into the next level in 2022/beyond?

Gregg: Our agency has always had niche markets such as healthcare, schools, construction, manufacturing, transportation, hospitality, etc. Now with MMA we have unlimited expertise and resources to expand into new areas—there are no risks that are too large for us.

Steve: One of the things that I’m most excited about is that we are able to provide expertise and world-class capabilities to industries that we may not have in the past. Being part of the Marsh McLennan family allows us to play and compete with all the National brokers, in any industry, which is exciting. There really isn’t any type of risk that we can’t work with and I’m looking forward to our future growth opportunities.

What are you most excited about as you move into the future as part of the MMA family?

Gregg: I’ve been in the business quite a few years. And it’s exciting because it’s a change and it re-energizes me. I’m looking forward to meeting new people, developing relationships and developing new programs.

Carrie: Being a part of the MMA family gives us the opportunity to continue our traditions, culture, and core values. It allows us access to more resources, innovative solutions, as well as giving our colleagues opportunities for growth, personal development, and to build lifetime relationships. We will be better together!

Marsh McLennan Agency (MMA) is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Marsh, serving the risk prevention and insurance needs of middle-market companies in the United States and Canada. MMA has access to broad resources and solutions across all of its sister companies under the Marsh McLennan (MMC) banner. MMA is currently the 9th largest insurance broker in the United States.

Risk Management in Construction & Manufacturing

I specialize in providing safety and loss control services in the areas of property, liability, auto, and workers’ compensation for clients in construction, manufacturing, healthcare, education, and virtually any other industry segment we may serve. My experience working on both the carrier and agency sides of insurance as well as a safety director role for both private and public entities have provided me with a unique perspective as to how all of us are interconnected in the risk management process.

I specialize in manufacturing, construction, as well as senior care and healthcare division. We have the expertise to pretty much cover any industry. We have specific agents that specialize in different areas like we have a whole school division as well.

I specialize in working with contractors, manufacturers, and the transportation industry. I work with my customer as a partner to identify risk and exposures and design a specific insurance and risk management program to protect their assets, reduce their total cost of risk, and improve their bottom line.

Why is Risk Management so important for contractors?

Gregg: Risk management is very important as it is critical to identifying risk and exposures in order to formulate a strategy on how to address them. There are several steps in the risk management process with the end goal of reducing or avoiding losses to protect the contractor’s assets, reducing the total cost of risk, and improving the bottom line. By improving the loss ratio it allows the contractor to remain eligible to bid key jobs, reduces their rates, and contributes to the contractor being attractive to insurance carriers when marking the account.

In what ways does Vaaler meet those needs beyond other insurance agencies? What sets your quality and service apart?

Eric: Our risk management process starts with establishing a relationship with our clients through gaining a thorough understanding of their business and getting to know them on a personal level. Secondly, we prefer to take a team approach when assisting our clients with exposure identification and implementation of controls. Since joining MMA, our network of colleagues and the resources we have access to have expanded exponentially. For example, I now have access to a network of nearly 100 loss control professionals across the country that all have their own areas of expertise.

Burn Awareness Week

Tell us about Burn Awareness Week and the relationship it has to insurance and risk management and how this can benefit construction/manufacturing industries.

National Burn Awareness Week, created by the American Burn Association, occurs annually during the first full week in February (February 6-12, 2022). It focuses on educating people about the frequency and causes of burns at home and in the workplace, as well as how burns can be prevented. According to the American Burn Association, more than 450,000 individuals are seen in emergency departments, clinics, or physician’s offices for the treatment of a burn injury in the United States and Canada each year.

Regardless of whether these injuries occur in the workplace or at home, they can have a significant impact on an employee, including their ability to work and enjoy leisure activities.

3 Things Workplaces Can Do Right Now to Prevent Burn-Related Injuries

  1. Identify – Identify potential areas or activities within their operations that have the potential to cause burns and the appropriate protective measures that should be in place to reduce or eliminate the risk to employees.
  2. Educate – Provide employees with education and training about the exposures that have been identified and appropriate administrative procedures to follow to reduce the potential of burns. These procedures may include inspection of tools and equipment, practicing good housekeeping, and proper storage of chemicals.
  3. Equip – Equip employees with the appropriate personal protective equipment.
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Brady is the Editorial Director at Spotlight Media in Fargo, ND.