Interview: A. J. Gallagher’s Leslie Lemenager and LeAnne Stefl
GBV’s Editor, Eric Muller-Borle, interviews Leslie Lemenager, President, International for Gallagher’s Employee Benefits Reward, Communication and Wealth Division, and LeAnne Stefl, Practice Leader, Multinational Benefits & Human Resources Consulting, on the company’s global mobility and consulting strategy, employee benefits and wellbeing and several other topics, including:
- How they are tackling the growing importance of employee wellbeing through the long-term value proposition of holistic employee benefits components.
- How Gallagher’s knowledge-based approach (IBIS Academy and Institute, Center of Excellence, and GVISOR) is gauging market needs and strategic shifts on a global level.
- How its “Three areas of wellbeing” are the future of employee benefits and mobility.
- How they view Brexit in their international strategy.
- How trends in employee benefits and legislation impact client needs.
GBV: Please share some of your career highlights with us.
Leslie Lemenager (LL): My employee benefits career began when I graduated from university. I have experience in the U.S., both in the health welfare market as well as in the defined contribution areas. I came to Gallagher in January of 2003 and since then, my career has spanned U.S. as well as global benefits. At Gallagher, I have performed both client-facing and operational roles such as behind-the-scenes infrastructure.
I have now taken on leadership of all of our benefits and HR consulting practices outside the United States. Although I’m a bit of a latecomer to the global marketplace, I have dedicated myself to international benefits since January 2013, and I’m really excited about where we fit and where we are headed in the marketplace today.
LeAnne Stefl (LS): I’ve been in the industry for 30-plus years, and, like Leslie, I got my start on the U.S. health and welfare consulting side with Marsh/Mercer, working between their San Diego and Washington D.C. offices. I eventually left Mercer to join Willis in Washington D.C. and leveraged both of those experiences to start solving challenges employers were faced with on a global basis. My focus on our clients’ globally mobile employees led to me join the multinational team at Willis full time.
I served two roles at Willis: one in a sales capacity, supporting the other Willis offices across the U.S., and the other linking to Centers of Excellence in London and Copenhagen. I then took an operational role, where I built out the infrastructure for the Centers of Excellence, sales support, client service delivery, and related areas. Ultimately, I became part of the leadership team for Willis’s North American practice, and the multinational team for the U.S.
I left Willis in 2016 and returned to San Diego, joining HUB International. I oversaw the client service team for southern California, which led to partnering with the Worldwide Broker Network (WBN). I left HUB in 2016 and started my own firm, Solvere Global Solutions. We focused on international benefits consulting and HR.
I contracted with the WBN as the Director of Employee Benefits. Collaborating with brokers and consultants around the globe gave me experience outside of working solely with owned network providers.
I joined Gallagher in June of this year and am extremely excited to be part of the team. It has been awesome working with Leslie and Gallagher’s GBS Leadership team. I believe in the value proposition we bring to our clients on a global scale.
The services we bring to our clients include:
- Total rewards consulting
- Global mobility – advisory
- Global mobility – center of excellence
- Research & publications – GVISOR
Our annual global conference, Gallagher’s IBIS Academy and Institute will celebrate it’s 50th anniversary in 2020.
Gallagher’s acquisitions and their impact
GBV: Gallagher has been rather acquisitive in the last few years; do you have any updates in terms of acquisitions that have had an impact on global employee benefits?
LL: You are right; we are quite acquisitive. Outside of the U.S., we currently own operations in Australia, Canada, and the UK. This is in addition to the teams LeAnne leads that primarily reside in the U.S. and work with our clients’ global populations.
In 2018, we brought two Australian merger partners on board, building out our ability to do consulting work around corporate superannuation programs. We also engaged a couple of merger partners in Canada, which allowed us to extend our geographic reach to cities such as Winnipeg and Ottawa, where we didn’t have significant presence. We also added to our multinational practice by bringing on two acclaimed firms here in the U.S.: IEBS, led by Carolyn Johnson in California, and Richter International, led by Dave Richter in the state of Washington.
So, our acquisition strategy remains the same: we look for organizations that bring specific expertise—either in what they do primarily for their work, where they’re located, or how they can help with Gallagher’s Better Works value proposition.
This touches on the second part of your question about new acquisitions.goog We recognize that no matter where we are in the world, either inside or outside the U.S., Gallagher is not the dominant player in any particular location. So, we will continue to look for acquisition partners literally everywhere around the world.
What we are looking for is specific expertise and strong teams that have great leadership and are committed to further growth under the Gallagher banner. Our division focuses on helping organizations achieve a better sense of overall wellbeing. We recognize that no matter what kind of organization you are; no matter where you sit; no matter what industry you’re in, your people are not only your greatest investment, but your greatest asset. You need them to be productive and engaged, and to attract and retain the right people. This is vital for achieving organizational goals, whatever they might be.
Wellness and the “Three areas of wellbeing”
LL: Our ability to help employers improve that sense of wellbeing and foster employee engagement is our main thrust. We feel there are three areas of wellbeing: physical, financial, and career.
Employee physical wellbeing addresses both physical and emotional matters. This includes specific insurance and related benefits offered that cover both and involve employee wellness programs, as well as how to promote wellbeing at work.
The second area is financial wellbeing. We talk to employers about how their people are faring from a financial standpoint. The discussion centers on retirement plans, understanding employees’ financial circumstances, financial stress, and general knowledge of personal money matters. This applies to all levels of employees; decision makers also have their own personal executive benefit needs.
Our third area of wellbeing involves careers. Think about compensation structures, leadership and development planning, how an employer trains their employees and how they communicate and engage with them on a regular basis.
So, the focus of our Gallagher Better Works’ value proposition is to look at those three areas of emphasis: physical and emotional wellbeing, financial wellbeing, and career wellbeing, as they make up an overall strategy for an organization attempting to recognize that holistic employee benefit and reward plans offer long-term value.
We strive to be able to do that in every location around the world where Gallagher has a presence. Our strategy will continue to be to find firms that fit our culture—which is a huge part of our merger due diligence process. We are also interested in firms that bring us expertise, are focused on growth. This will be our acquisition strategy going forward.
GBV: Can you update us on Gallagher’s financial wellbeing and mental health products and services?
LS: Gallagher’s focus is to provide consulting around these services, as well as strategy and execution, so we tend to be less focused on the product or the service itself. There may be times when we recommend a Gallagher product or service but that’s not our primary focus. We are more interested in having a strategic conversation with the employer about their needs, where they are today, and where they want to go in the future. We would rather find the right solution and bring it about in a holistic consultative approach .
Gallagher, Brexit, acquisitions in EU – “cultural fit”
GBV: Do you have any specific plans to make acquisitions in the EU, especially in the wake of Brexit?
LL: Yes, the EU pre-Brexit, during Brexit, and soon-to-be post-Brexit, has been on our radar, as well as other parts of the world. We look for opportunities that are the right fit first, and if one comes our way, we go after it. We have studied organizations in some countries that we’ve had to walk away from because the fit was wrong. The cultural fit really is important and treating clients in the same way we do with the right value proposition is important. I would not say we are going to under or over emphasize the EU, but that our strategy continues to be cultural fit, bringing expertise, and growing organizations that align with our value proposition.
Managing global mobility
GBV: What can you tell us about the Global Employee Benefits Center of Excellence?
LS: We are very focused on a strategy that we call Multinational Practice 2.0. Our current team provides services under the banner of global mobility consulting, and as we move forward, we look to grow our multinational practice. Our team is primarily U.S.-based with one person in the UK, so we will focus on the UK to build out that team and mirror a model similar to the team structure we have the U.S.
Gallagher has another team in the U.S. that we refer to as a Center of Excellence. Its focus is on the various components of global mobility—including programs that touch on globally mobile employees. This Center of Excellence will cover travel assistance, evacuation, business travel accident, international healthcare for expatriates and third-country nationals under one umbrella. All programs—consulting, design with clients, and the servicing of those policies and programs—will stem from this group within the broader multinational practice.
We are also actively engaged with linking to our counterparts in the UK, Canada, and Australia in order to integrate our multinational strategy going forward. We are utilizing the Gallagher Global Alliance and our international preferred provider network to support the local design and program implementation for nationals in their respective countries.
Gallagher Global Alliance (GGA)
GBV: And what is happening at GGA? What is new with them?
LS: GGA is our network of very strong partners around the globe who assist us with the design and implementation of the benefits program locally. The world is extremely small within the global benefits arena, and when I joined Gallagher at this year’s IBIS conference in Milan, and I walked into our Network Partners meeting, I felt like it I was joining a room of friends.
These partners are top quartile firms in their respective markets. They have deep bench strength within their teams, they’re thought leaders, and we are extremely pleased to partner with them. In addition to those firms that are officially part of GGA, there are additional relationships that we consider as international preferred partners. We are now reviewing those relationships with respect to EB capabilities, including our global alliance partners, and looking to expand that network. We feel our strength in the marketplace is having a network of partners that are deeply rooted in their respected markets with the expertise we need on a local level.
Gallagher’s long-term global benefits vision: “not just property and casualty”
GBV: In terms of your overall long-term vision for your organization in global benefits – what’s the strategy there?
LS: Our strategy, as a division of Gallagher is to be a tier-one global consultancy working with employers on organizational wellbeing. That means we are going to continue to strategically build where we already have a presence, and, look for opportunities where it makes sense for us to expand. Where that doesn’t make sense for us, we will continue to partner with the strong friends we have within GGA.
Our stated goal is that we want the division to be growing organically by 10% per year and then have acquisition growth that adds on top of that from a revenue perspective. If we can do that, then I think we will be quite successful.
GBV: So LeAnne, what’s your plan, if it’s not too soon since your arrival at Gallagher to share that?
LS: I’m happy to share it with you. When you look at the multinational practice, we’ve grown over the past several years through acquisition as a talented group of consultants and advisors who have brought a wealth of experience and knowledge to the scene. It really started with IBIS advisors under Richard Polak’s leadership and Gallagher’s multinational practice.
We have a team of who have been part of the team from the beginning. We added Global Benefits Advisors and William J. Gallagher. They have tremendous relationships around the world and are actively engaged with our Gallagher offices throughout the U.S. Last year we added Richter International under Dave Richter’s leadership and IEBS under Carolyn Johnson’s leadership as we mentioned earlier. So, it’s an amazing team with a lot of talent that we are bringing together under the one umbrella of multinational practice.
We also have an awesome team of individuals in our research and publications group out of Washington DC that we call GVISOR, led by Jana Bixby. This team speaks multiple languages and is responsible for the production of our Country Manuals, Compliance Alerts, and Benefit News.
My short-term strategy is to bring all these merger partners together into a cohesive team so that our approach with our clients is consistent across the board.
The Better Works proposition & strategy
LS: We absolutely believe that Gallagher’s Better Works value proposition applies globally, and our team incorporates employee safety and security within that area of physical and emotional wellbeing that Leslie touched upon. We feel these are key components for our clients with globally mobile employees. When you consider that clients have that responsibility of care it is easy to understand why safety and security in the workplace are critical to a firm’s global strategy.
Our medium-term plan is to continue to build the team with talented people. We intend to expand our sales and client service teams within the U.S. and the UK. We also want greater connectivity with our counterparts in the UK, Canada, and Australia, so we can build on our multinational strategy. Finally, we want to focus on cross-selling initiatives throughout our business practices within Gallagher. We are not only connected with our property and casualty counterparts, we are also connected with our human resource consulting group, communication groups, and others.
We are working on training development and career pathing opportunities for our team. We have an amazing intern program at Gallagher; in fact, Pat Gallagher recently stated that we had over 500 interns this year. Working in the intern program to build our team is key to our growth plans.
And last, but certainly not least, we are in the planning stages of the 2020 Gallagher IBIS Academy & Institute 50th Jubilee Celebration in Geneva, Switzerland, from the 11th of May to the 15th of May 2020.
Attracting and retaining talent
GBV: Do you have any comment on activity both global EB and advice for young people joining the insurance industry?
LS: As you know, the marketplace is extremely competitive, and there is a high need for talent within the respective firms. It takes a special individual with certain traits and skills to be involved in global benefits. There is a lot of project management and consulting, and we have actuaries and legal advisors within the team, so it all comes into play.
GBV: Any comment on the captive front? Is there still a lot of tire kicking and no action or is there any action?
LS: Based on our current clients, we do have some who are involved in employee benefits and it is certainly part of our consulting suite of services, but it’s not a major emphasis.
GBV: What about the gig economy? Does Gallagher offer any products or services?
LL: In essence, our team works with a variety of employee classifications. Depending on the organization you’re working with, you could be a gig employee, an expat, a first-country national or third-country national. Our approach is to provide global consulting around the formalized strategy that a client wants to implement, and then specifically help them design the program, benefit offering, and products that would go along with it. So, is there a specific product service offering that we call Gig Workers? No. But it is part of our overall approach to global consulting.
LS: If you go back to our value proposition being about organizational wellbeing, firms employ people to help achieve their objectives, whether gig employees, contract employees, or traditional employees. Gallagher’s mission is to help our clients achieve their objectives through their people, however they employ them. This is consistent with our value proposition.
From holistic wellbeing to cybersecurity – changing EB industry trends
GBV: How do you see our industry changing going forward. Do you see any trends coming into play?
LL: That’s a tough question to answer in an interview, especially since we just had a five-day seminar at the IBIS Academy 2019 conference, where we talked about trends and employee benefits on a global basis. Some of the agenda items from this year go beyond traditional benefits because, again, we are talking about whole individuals and their lives.
We tackled such topics as diversity and inclusion, gender pay gap, how to increase wellbeing, how to boost employee engagement and communication. It’s very difficult to pinpoint a specific trend, because we are extremely broad in our approach, and these topics didn’t exist in the benefits world ten to fifteen years ago. Now, they make up a holistic approach to benefits that employers need in order to attract, engage, and retain the right kind of employee.
The point of having our IBIS conference is to identify trending topics and hear what the challenges and potential solutions are from an employer’s perspective; to gain knowledge from those who have learned their lessons along the way; and to create new ideas about how we might bring these approaches to the forefront, and then share those ideas. I think, considering how quickly the marketplace is changing, that the job of consulting needs to expand in order to be holistic around the entire individual.
LS: I think one of the most popular sessions at the IBIS Academy 2019 was the one where we broke into small groups and put thematic topics up for discussion. We had a chance to hear not only from consultants and network partners, but also HR practitioners. This is important because it helps us understand how to support them and their business goals and objectives.
The conversation has shifted from just a benefits conversation to a whole host of things that Leslie discussed: from diversity and gender pay gaps, to looking at our multigenerational workforce and how we need to structure programs to support an organization’s growth and the needs of its employees.
I also see a continued emphasis on technology and the ability to connect operations around the globe. Clients demand dashboards and information at the click of a button, or a tap on their mobile devices. Then there is a continued focus on the overarching issue of employees and data privacy, because employers may be liable for worker identity theft. We face it with GDPR, and a number of countries have implemented restrictions that make data privacy and cybersecurity much more necessary on a global scale.
GBV: LeAnne, what are the first things on your agenda as you step into your new role?
LS: It has been 90 days now, and I have spent a lot of time getting to know my talented team. We are focused on our Multinational Practice 2.0 strategy which includes the formal structure of the team, enhancing our capabilities and approach to our global clients, utilizing our Gallagher Better Works value proposition, and expanding the team in the U.S., the UK, and other regions. I am very excited to be at Gallagher, very excited about our future, and believe we are well positioned to compete.
GBV: Leslie, where do you expect your organization’s Global Benefits to be in June 2021?
LL: I would simply add that we are going to continue to look to expand our global footprint where a cultural fit makes sense, where expertise and growth are present, and where there’s alignment with a focus on the client utilizing our Gallagher Better Works value proposition. I expect that we will continue to grow, just as we have in recent years, by venturing into new territory. We are very fortunate that we are positioned for organic as well as acquisition growth, and I don’t see either of those being limited in any way as we move forward.