Millhiser Smith President Tim Gassmann (l) and Accel Group President Mike Byl at the Tree of Five Seasons in Cedar Rapids. PHOTO DAVE DEWITTE
By Dave DeWitte
A merger of two Corridor firms on Jan. 1 is expected to create one of the largest independent agencies based in Iowa while retaining the close-knit culture of a local firm.
Millhiser Smith Agency, based in Cedar Rapids, and Accel Group, which has offices in Waverly and Cedar Falls, announced an agreement last week to merge under the Accel name.
Both of the agencies have staffs of about 40 with property and casualty insurance as their largest focus, and stem from a line of acquisitions dating back more than 80 years. And both realized they needed to scale up to become more of a one-stop provider for their customers’ financial needs.
“The customers are who we work for, and we are going to do whatever we can to do more for them through diversification,” Millhiser Smith President Tim Gassmann said.
The merger will diversify the agency’s offerings in a variety of directions. The Accel Group will bring with it a wealth management business, employee benefits business, HR consulting and a specialty in agribusiness insurance.
Millhiser Smith brings strengths in risk management, including a proprietary risk screening process, DISCOVERisk, that will be used throughout Accel Group.
By blending the two organizations, Accel Group will be large enough to offer the best insurance carriers at competitive rates, but nimble enough to provide personalized service that ensures customers are “educated, prepared and protected,” explained Mike Byl, president of the Accel Group.
Beyond diversification, a driving goal of the merger was to preserve a local agency culture. The culture at Accel Group leverages teamwork and mutual support for team members to provide excellent customer service, Mr. Byl said.
“You almost look on them more as a family and want to take care of them.”
The merger will also keep intact a local ownership structure shared by the two agencies that allows agents who excel the opportunity to become shareholders.
Agents and other employees who become owners typically succeed not only at sales, but at mentoring, community involvement and helping develop the organization, Mr. Gassmann said. Both Mr. Gassmann and Mr. Byl achieved that goal, and understand how it helps build dedication and commitment to the organization.
“It’s our intention to perpetuate our operation by offering people the same opportunities we had when we started,” Mr. Gassmann said.
Both companies worked on strategic plans a few years ago that focused on growth. Mr. Gassmann said Millhiser Smith’s goal at the time was to double sales through organic growth within a decade, while simultaneously seeking acquisition opportunities that made sense.
While the company does not release its revenue figures, Mr. Gassmann said the company is “very committed to organic growth.” Following the merger, Accel Group will continue to consider mergers with other like-minded organizations that offer a good cultural fit, he said.
One positive from the merger is the strengthening of the company’s leadership team, Mr. Gassmann said. He has strong praise for Mr. Byl, calling him a “great visionary guy.”
“I can see clearly now, the next 10 to 15 years out,” he said. “It does bring things into focus.”
The post-merger Accel Group will continue to operate under the same management groups in place at each company in the same Cedar Falls, Waverly and Cedar Rapids offices, with Mr. Gassmann as CEO and Mr. Byl as president.