Tyler, Texas, located 100 miles southeast of Dallas, boasts picturesque antique shops, mom-and-pop specialty stores and charming brick streets. It is here that Kenneth W. Threlkeld established Threlkeld & Co. Insurance Agency (TCI) in 1982, and it has grown to one of the premier insurance agencies in East Texas.

Threlkeld began his insurance career with Clyde-Prestridge Insurance Agency in 1965 as an accountant and producer. When partner Prestridge became ill, Threlkeld bought 50 percent of the agency, and in 1974, took a financial risk and bought the remaining 50 percent of the company. Success of the agency hinged on retaining the largest client, T.B. Butler–which Threlkeld did.

The T. B. Butler Publishing Co. Inc. is in its fifth generation of family ownership, publishing the Tyler Morning Telegraph, the Sunday Tyler Courier-Times-Telegraph and the online edition www.tylerpaper.com.

In 1975, Clyde-Prestridge Insurance Agency merged with Hibbs-Hallmark Insurance agency, the largest independent agency in East Texas. Thus, Hibbs-Hallmark-Threlkeld Insurance was born.

After deciding to go out on his own again, Threlkeld established TCI in 1982, leasing a space of 1,500 square feet for the first office. Threlkeld purchased the office building in 1983, and now uses more than 17,000 square feet. Threlkeld is now the chief executive officer.

After graduating from Texas A&M University in 1987, Todd Threlkeld joined his father at TCI. Todd is the agency’s president and the top selling producer and produces 45 to 55 percent of the agency’s commercial lines revenue. His focus is commercial line sales and service, while his father, Kenneth, focuses on administration and financial planning.

Because TCI is a family-owned business, a buy/sell agreement is being executed between father and son. Ensuring the agency’s success is an ongoing concern, and TCI is constantly on the hunt for new talent. Producers are offered a lucrative bonus plan for achieving certain levels of revenue production payable upon retirement.

The carrier connection

TCI splits its services between 65 percent for commercial property-casualty, 23 percent group life-health and 12 percent personal property-casualty. Kenneth and Todd’s balance of knowledge and experience enables the agency to boast many carrier relationships, including Travelers, Texas Mutual, ACE, Bituminous, Liberty Mutual, Republic and Towerstone on the commercial property-casualty side; Blue Cross Blue Shield, United Healthcare, Principal, Aetna and Assured Benefits on the group life-health side; and Central, Kemper, Travelers, Republic and Hartford on the personal lines property-casualty side.

These carriers have helped TCI grow from annual sales of $652,000 in 1983 to nearly $5.5 million in 2008, and from 6 employees in 1983 to 42 employees in 2008. Also helping the agency grow is its value-added services, which include an acclaimed in-house claims department, access to certificate tracking service, access to disaster recovery service and access to 24/7 customer service.

One of TCI’s advantages lies in its employees, and the proof is in the number of employees who have been with the agency for many years. Four have served the company for more than 20 years; five for more than 15 years; and four for more than 10 years. “Employees stay because TCI continues to open up opportunities for advancement and provides all training needed for promotion,” said Suzi Stein, chief financial officer.

“Our claims department is our pride and joy,” Stein said. “Wanda Lock-Troquille has been with our agency for 25 years. She serves as the liaison between our customers and our companies. Throughout the years, we have received tons of letters from our customers about how great it is to have someone like Wanda on our team. She won’t let a situation drop until both sides are satisfied.”

Engaged employees

Members of the staff have chaired and served on boards for the Independent Insurance Agents of Tyler, Independent Insurance Agents of Texas, East Texas Assn. of Health Underwriters, National Assn. of Health Underwriters, East Texas Area Claims Assn., Texas Professional Insurance Assn. and others. TCI staffers also serves on statewide committees for the Independent Insurance Agents of Texas and the Kemper Advisory Council.

The Threlkeld family and TCI employees are known for their involvement and service in the community. Staffers hold an annual garage sale at the agency to benefit Tyler’s Cystic Fibrosis chapter. Employees also participate in the Susan G. Komen Race For The Cure, Cystic Fibrosis chapter, the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life and Junior Achievement Bowl-A-Thon. During the past two holiday seasons, employees “rang the bell” during their regular working hours for the Salvation Army’s Kettle Drive. Including Kenneth Threlkeld, 20 employees participated. The staff at TCI also has provided gifts and necessities to several families during the Christmas holidays.

Whether it is a hard or soft market, TCI’s strategy is to push for new sales. Producers are given annual new business quotas, and the agency measures each producer on a quarterly basis and rewards those who succeed with higher commission rates. Those who do not meet their quotas receive lower commission rates. The agency measures retention rates quarterly. If more business is lost that what is allowable, then quotas are adjusted to make up the difference.

Support staff is compensated with a salary plus incentives, which are 100 percent growth driven.

On the technology side, TCI uses Vertafore’s AfW for its automation system. The agency continues to fine tune its electronic processing and is nearly all the way with front end scanning. TCI uses an image software call Cabinet NG. “This is a little different from what most agencies use, but we would not trade it for anything,” Stein said. “Cabinet NG (CNG) can be customized to an agencies needs. We chose it because when the staff clicked on the CNG button, the application looked just like their old paper filing cabinets. It was such an easy transition.” Now items are scanned from the front desk and work flowed to the staff for processing. Managers have the ability to quality control from their own desks.

Technology is a large expenditure for the agency. TCI has a staff position dedicated to finding new technology and staying on top of updates. In addition, the agency pays attention to what other agencies are doing by networking on the local, state and national levels, and uses Web boards and e-mail to stay in touch with fellow agents.

Recognizing the importance of continuous learning, TCI pays all education expenses for its employees. Production and support staff are encouraged to obtain every designation available to them. TCI ensures it has strong attendance at technology conferences, management conferences and trade shows related to target specialties. Managers are required to read two to three books related to management each year.

“There is really only one major difference between you and the competition: your staff,” Stein said. “You can invest in the latest and greatest tools all day long, but if you haven’t invested in the right people to run your operation, you will end up just running in place.”