Sep 01 2023 / Round the Table Magazine
By Matt Pais
A few years ago, Gregory B. Gagne, ChFC, started taking an hour on Sunday mornings to role-play for the upcoming week’s client meetings. The 24-year MDRT member from Exeter, New Hampshire, USA, discovered that the rehearsal resulted in bigger closing ratios, more new business with existing clients, and better answers prepared for those just-in-case questions, like “How are my investments doing against the market?”
During each weekly staff meeting, Gagne facilitates discussion about what his team is doing that they shouldn’t, and what they aren’t doing that they should. It’s led to the end of several processes, including appointment confirmation letters (arduous to create and send while having no impact on cancellations) and customized meeting agendas (replaced by a standard agenda to start conversations on high-level topics and then go deeper).
His shrewd focus on continuous improvement and team growth are two qualities that Gagne, who became MDRT President on September 1, brings to continue MDRT’s strategic plan and the initiatives to further expand the organization’s global reach and impact.
We want to bring the best value possible to membership in any area of the world where we have members.
MDRT’s path forward includes a renewed commitment to in-person meetings for members at any stage of their career — from the Annual Meeting, Global Conference, the Top of the Table Annual Meeting to the MDRT EDGE — and the continued evolution of the digital transformation initiative to deliver value for members on demand. Both efforts reflect MDRT’s ongoing investment to help members find the information they want and need in the manner that best suits them.
“Even if you’re not at an in-person meeting, you can still be part of the overall MDRT community,” Gagne said.
He notes MDRT’s efforts to target communications and direct members to resources of interest, including the in-language content being developed for more than 72,000 members in 12 markets throughout the Asia-Pacific region. “We want to bring the best value possible to membership in any area of the world where we have members,” Gagne said.
MDRT also is launching the MDRT Fellows Designation to recognize the achievements of highly engaged members. To become an MDRT Fellow, a member must meet key criteria of education and experience and contribute significant time and talent through volunteering and thought leadership.
Gagne cites MDRT’s evolving Family of Brands, including MDRT Global Services (“a great place for members who are moving toward management to stay within the culture of MDRT”) and the MDRT Academy (which Gagne recognizes could have shortened the six or seven years of his own early career struggles if it was offered at that time). Gagne would love to see more seasoned MDRT members volunteer to serve as mentors for the MDRT Academy.
In fact, Gagne’s son, Lucas, is an MDRT Academy member and oversees a great deal of Gagne’s practice. Gagne adds that Lucas will soon be an MDRT member, and the second-youngest advisor in his practice, James Ellis, is a one-year MDRT member. “We’re paving the way, bringing up the next generation.”
Just knowing MDRT leadership had belief in me made for an amazing experience and the first step into what a true leadership-style position can be.
Guidance and empowerment are a big part of Gagne’s investment and insurance practice. Managing $400 million for 400 retired or near-retired individuals, the business includes four advisors and three support staff — a chief operations officer, an investment analyst and a relationship manager. A client walking into the office won’t start their meeting immediately because they’ll often spend 10 to 15 minutes in the foyer talking with team members before they reach the conference room.
“Clients know they are served by everybody on the team, not just the servicing advisor, and they definitely feel the team approach,” said Gagne, adding that he doesn’t look at the company as his but rather as something the whole team is building together. “When I come to bring them to the conference room, sometimes they’d rather just stay out and talk to the rest of the team, which is great. They know us; we know them, and they’re not just an account.”
Currently, Gagne is working with a consultant and is just past the halfway point on a 10-year plan to grow the practice tenfold. One more doubling and he’ll have done it, thanks largely to improved processes, mastering technology before adding to it and solving problems before hiring new staff. The consultant also suggested that Gagne, who sees himself as a hunter and the other advisors as farmers, rely on clients to be his hunters through referrals.
That happens thanks partly to a robust communications calendar, including 20 to 25 touch points per year with monthly videos, recorded webinars, a bimonthly newsletter and a client portal updated in real time. When Gagne hired the consultant, they established the referability rate to get the practice to where it needed to go. Now it has a partnership track to help with business continuity, inspired by content contributed by the Top of the Table Business Continuity Committee.
Out of office
His approach of being a leader and a role player serving the greater whole is evident throughout Gagne’s personal life. He kept the beat as a drummer for a band, including a now-defunct group that opened concerts for Charlie Daniels, The Marshall Tucker Band and Kenny Chesney. He drums weekly for a group that performs at his church, and for several years played for the MDRT band Roundabout. That opportunity opened when Gagne was working as a gear-carrying roadie and offered to fill in on drums if ever needed.
This disposition is also evident when driving the family recreational vehicle around the country, traveling from Yellowstone National Park to Maine to Tennessee and countless places in between, with plans to go up to Canada. The drives, he says, alter his perspective and help him appreciate not just the destination but the journey, including all the unexpected detours along the way like the City Museum in St. Louis, Missouri, USA, recommended by a client and a favorite family memory thanks to the kids’ enjoyment of giant, indoor slides.
And it’s in avoiding meetings and finishing by noon on Friday, so he can have a weekly lunch date with his wife, Diana.
“We hop in the Jeep, drop the top and go to the seacoast of Maine, Massachusetts or New Hampshire,” said Gagne, who further maximizes his schedule through morning workouts, three to four hours of working from home before getting to the office by 10 a.m., and utilizing the extensive Executive Committee-related travel time to work on his business mid-flight. “Our date is the best part of the week.”
The first step of participation might not seem like leadership development, but maybe the roadie becomes the drummer.
How it started
Of course, almost no one arrives at success without, as Gagne says, “potholes in the road of life.” There was 1996 when Gagne reported negative income on his tax return, an experience so devastating — Gagne’s wife was pregnant and on bedrest at the time — that he keeps that income tax return in his office drawer as a reminder of how far he has come. “We all need to go through times like that so we can appreciate when we’re not there, and so we won’t go back there,” said Gagne, who has qualified for Top of the Table 15 consecutive times. “Nobody gets to success without tripping over the steppingstones of failure.”
That said, in discussing his path to success, Gagne is quick to mention anyone but himself. Gagne struggled when he began in the profession in 1992, making more than 250 cold calls per week and no signed policies. But a colleague, Robert N. Garneau, CLU, ChFC, a 39-year MDRT member from Manchester, New Hampshire, USA, brought him on a case, taught him about closing and helped sustain his income. There also was Andrew C. Lord, CLU, ChFC, a 35-year MDRT member from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, USA, who brought Gagne into his business and guided him to opening his own registered investment advisory firm in 1998.
Other recipients of gratitude include his in-laws for supporting him in starting his new business. Gagne first qualified for MDRT in 1999 after transitioning to a fee-based model and recalls thinking at the Annual Meeting in New Orleans, “Finally, I’ve made it this far.” When he asked members for insight, he found extraordinary openness toward helping others.
Garneau and Lord also were key in getting Gagne involved in MDRT even though he thought he had no idea how to lead when he became Chair on the Business Structure Committee in 2009. “Just knowing MDRT leadership had belief in me made for an amazing experience and the first step into what a true leadership-style position can be,” he said. “Volunteer leaders ahead of me made sure they were with me every step of the way, and if I was starting to waffle at all, they would step in and help.”
The volunteer experience, he said, helped him in every role of life, as a father, a husband, an advisor, and serving on the board of directors for his local chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. In addition to serving as chairman, Gagne, an MDRT Foundation Excalibur Knight, also brought Lucas and his daughters Sarah and Emily into the Make-A-Wish organization. All three have volunteered since Gagne got involved and continue to this day.
The first step of participation might not seem like leadership development, he says, but maybe the roadie becomes the drummer, maybe the committee member becomes the chair, and maybe the rookie becomes the nurturer, coach and facilitator.
“You never know where you’re going to go when you step up and say you’re willing to help,” Gagne said, adding his fondness for the “meetings between the meetings,” the watercooler and coffee-shop conversations create “the classroom of life. All the people I know at the Executive Committee level weren’t looking for the position. The position came and found them.”
There are countless ways to support and get involved with the organization. Gagne believes strongly in mentoring, in the whole being elevated by individuals helping each other and the phrase, “Together is indeed better.”
Because the opportunity to learn, develop and collaborate never stops. “MDRT closes the gap,” he said, “between who we are and who we are capable of being.”