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Ollis & Co. still growing in 113th year

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by Karen E. Culp

SBJ Staff

It's been 113 years since Ollis & Company Insurors opened in Springfield. Four generations of Ollises later, the company is still growing and expanding in its founding market.

Ollis & Company began in 1885, and at that time, the company was a general insurance firm.

"Back in 1885, the insurance agent was a generalist, he would write a policy for a home or a Model T; that was before the industry began specializing," said Larry Giboney, a member of the company's management team.

The company also became involved in real estate and mortgage lending, but in 1979 discontinued everything but its core business, insurance, said Ronald Ollis, a third-generation Ollis. Ronald Ollis' son, Richard, represents the fourth generation of Ollises to work in the family business.

Since 1979, the company has focused on expanding within the insurance business and has divided the business into departments. In 1983, the company began an employee stock ownership program. The company's employees now own 55 percent of Ollis & Company, Ronald Ollis said.

When the company moved into its current location on East Sunshine, it had nine employees. Now, it has 33 employees. Of those, 28 are shareholders in the company.

The firm maintains an open-book management style, Ronald Ollis said.

"We welcome any input from our employees. We've got great employees who are bright and loyal and have significantly contributed to the success of this company," Ronald Ollis said.

The company plans to continue growth internally, Giboney said.

"We see a lot of opportunities for growth in group health and managed care. That has come about in this area in the past four or five years," Giboney said.

The senior market, long-term care and Medicare supplements will also be of growing concern in the next several years, Giboney said.

The way an insurance firm conducts its business has continued to change, Richard Ollis said. The company no longer simply writes a policy for a customer; the insurance agent is now something of a consultant and teacher.

"A large part of what we do is educational. People don't always call up and know exactly what they need. More often, they have a question about their situation and want to know what plan would be best for them," Richard Ollis said.

The company sponsored a call-in, question-and-answer radio show on KWTO-AM in Springfield for four years. The show ended recently, but was an effort on the part of Ollis & Company to inform the public.

"We thought with this radio show we were reaching a lot of clients and prospective clients. The focus was on educating those individuals and answering their questions," Richard Ollis said.

One of the big challenges facing the agency, and others like it, is automating.

"Automation has become a necessity. The biggest challenge is for us to get all of these systems working together efficiently," said Cheryl Maher, another member of the company's management team.

The company's vendors are automating, so it is necessary for the company to stay ahead and keep its own system compatible with its vendors'.

"Twelve years ago we weren't automated at all; now we couldn't operate without automation," Ronald Ollis said.

Springfield has been the best place for his business to be during these more than 100 years because of the forward thinking of the city's business leaders, Ronald Ollis said.

"The people who make up this community are excellent at what they do, and they take a lot of pride in this community. We are also blessed with an excellent city government," Ronald Ollis said.

The key to its continued expansion is in attracting competent young people to the business, Richard Ollis said. In the future, the company will continue to grow, and is likely to be involved in some merger activity, though Ronald Ollis said he is not sure when that will be.

In 1997, Ollis & Company was designated one of the top 30 companies of its size in the country by the Independent Insurance Agents of America. What makes the company great, said Shirley Harmon, another member of its management team, is its flexibility.

"It's great to be in a company where you can have a good idea, you can implement it and follow it through," Harmon said. "In this company, if you see something that needs to be done or done differently, you can step right up and know your idea will be listened to," she added.

PHOTO CAPTION:

Ronald (left) and Richard Ollis are focused on keeping their business current on changes in the insurance industry.[[In-content Ad]]

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