Sunday, May 20, 2007

Letter from the Editor

Notable and Newsworthy: VIP Profiles Issue 18

This week marks the beginning of the summer issues of the VIP Profiles. We are both settled into our respective living quarters (Joseph in Geneseo, Ben in Henrietta) and ready to start working hard. We hope you enjoy the stellar line-up of VIPs we have ready to feature in the coming months.

We proudly kick the festivities off with a financial planner and new, Christopher Opper, and our first CEO, Chris McVicker of the Flanders Group. Also we bring the third segment of Ben's Sophomore Suite. Sit back, relax, and enjoy!

Notable and Newsworthy
SUNY Geneseo '08

Life and Times of JWN


Over the past week I was at home with my mother in Kirkwood, New York. Celebrating Mother's Day in style, I took her out to eat at Red Lobster (one of her favorite places to dine) on Thursday evening. We prefer to do the Mother's Day outing later in the week to avoid the rush.

During the week, I taught a bunch of little hooligans in a variety of grade levels at the Windsor Central School District, my alma mater. I often substitute teach when I am home because I enjoy working with the kids and keeping up on the old stomping grounds. Also, I am the Treasurer of the Windsor Alumni Association, so it gives me a chance to stay abreast of new developments in the district.

In a one day hiatus from lovely Kirkwood, I traveled back to Geneseo for Ben and my graduation from the Business Ownership Training Course. This is a program sponsored by the Alliance for Business Growth of Livingston and Wyoming Counties. It was a twelve week comprehensive entrepreneurship course which was a pleasure to be a part of.

Work in the Risk Management Group at Manning and Napier starts this coming week, so I will be staying on my toes and learning from some great financial professionals. I am looking forward to my "first" experience in the financial world.

Stay tuned for more exciting developments from "the VIP guys," as a recent correspondence referred to Ben and I.

Always my best... ~ Joseph

Chris McVicker

Chris McVicker:
“If You Hear Music in the Background…”

By: Joseph W. Norman

For more from Bigger Impact co-founder, Joseph Norman, visit
Enjoy the read about...Chris McVicker...below! Thanks for your readership!

Chris McVicker is a man of incredible character who has a unique passion for building and maintaining relationships. He founded The Flanders Group on August 27, 1981 on the same day his lovely wife, Bernadette, gave birth to his triplet daughters, Alexis, Brittany, and Courtney. Describing the moment, he reflected, “We went from a couple to a family of five and $440,000 in debt on the same day. It was pretty stressful.” He then quipped, “When you are young you can do anything.” This tremendous man’s attitude and skill set has influenced his people and propelled The Flanders Group to number one, as measured by profitability, amongst its peers in the insurance industry.

Growing up on a farm in Baldwinsville, New York, Chris’ family was very poor. He graduated from high school at seventeen and “was very immature,” he said. After attending Onondaga Community College, he took a brief hiatus until he was drafted to fight in Vietnam. This unfortunate occurrence marked the beginning of a series of “blessings” for Chris. His mission was changed at the eleventh hour to being stationed in Germany rather than Danang, Vietnam. “I turned in my jungle fatigues and called all of my family and friends to tell them I was not going to die,” he said. “I get chills when I think about it now.”

While in Germany he tried out for the General’s Football team and made the cut. Nine months of his tenure over seas was spent traveling Europe playing football. He stated, “To this day I have no idea how it happened, it was just luck of the draw.” Chris served for 1 year, 11 months, and 23 days in the forces. “Not that I was keeping count,” he joked. More seriously, “I loved the opportunity to represent my country, but I was thankful to get out,” he said. “It was a very difficult time for me because I was way too much of a free spirit; I couldn’t stand the regiment of giving up my individuality.” This philosophy led him to the culture he has created in The Flanders Group.

After the military, Chris finished his education at SUNY Geneseo obtaining a degree in Management Science. He went on to work for a national insurance company before purchasing his book of clients and starting The Flanders Group. At the onset, it was just Chris and his long time friend and sidekick, Nancy Dehm. She is currently the President and Chief Operating Officer.

What they created was a company focused on meeting organization’s worker’s compensation insurance needs. They leveraged a growing trend in the industry of using specific safety groups to give clients a better price and service with their insurance. The company currently markets to six unique safety groups, boasting over 4,000 clients. Even with the large client base, The Flanders Group culture has kept a personalized experience which is unmatched by most companies in nearly any industry.

The Flanders Group's Symbol: A Rampant Lion

“I decided that I didn’t want a company where I would lose track of my personal relationships with the people,” Chris said. The Flanders Group currently employs the most people they have ever had, twenty eight. Every one of them works in the West Brook Building on Clover Street in Pittsford, New York. While there, Chris can keep in touch with everyone and keep the unique culture flourishing. Chris stated, “I have always wanted to keep the company to a size where I can interact personally with the individuals.”

When discussing the importance of personal relationships to Chris, it is necessary to point out the jukebox that sits amongst a plethora of autographed guitars in the lobby at The Flanders Group's office. This jukebox has a song for each employee (picked by them) for when they have done something outstanding. Chris said, “Give us the smallest excuse and we will play somebody’s song on the jukebox.” The music reverberates through the organization a little louder than people like it. If somebody is on the phone they will say, “If you hear music in the background it is because somebody at the Flanders Group has really done something we’re proud of and I’m sorry if it is confusing our conversation.” That is just one piece of The Flanders Group.

The famous jukebox

Another unique set of operations at the company are the frequent meetings held with every employee. At these functions, everyone has to bring in at least three personal hand-written notes thanking somebody for something. Even the internal operations people bring notes. Chris stated, “Everybody has somebody to thank in their life for making things a little easier.” This approach to relationship management has paid priceless dividends for The Flanders Group and has put them far above and beyond their peers.

The Flanders Group

The hiring process is a tenacious one as the company is structured to grow vertically rather than horizontally. It relies on a philosophy that it is more important to get the most out of each employee, helping them reach their full potential, rather than just hiring and diluting each person’s value for the organization. “I am very big on everybody being a strong link in the chain,” Chris said. “All I can tell you (the employee) is that when you sit in a conference room and you look across from each other, you are sitting across from the best person we could possibly find for that position.”

They truly try to find the best person for the position as well, most poignantly by running a series of tests on the job candidates. A personal favorite and staple in The Flanders Group is the Kolbe test, which depicts the individual's “factory installed equipment,” as Chris calls it. Each employee has the Kolbe graph of their unique abilities posted outside their office so everyone knows what type of individual they are dealing with. Meanwhile, a wall is dedicated to the charts and graphs of each employee in the break room. Chris said, “This helps people get a handle on why they do what they do or why they shouldn’t do certain things.”

The Kolbe results on each employee

Chris offered a few tips from his own company’s practices on what it takes to assemble a world class team. He says you need to have a structured environment where people know whether they are succeeding or not. “Our yearly reviews have no surprises because their individual goals have been set up at a previous meeting,” he reflected. “They know whether they have been able to accomplish what has been set out for them.” At The Flanders Group there are certain behaviors and a level of energy that people need to maintain to be able to work there. This has helped Chris and company take their game to another level.

Speaking of games, it is important to note probably the most mesmerizing thing about The Flanders Group office in Pittsford, New York. It is an incredible holding place for some of the world’s greatest athletes and musician’s signatures. Chris has a Tiger Woods wall, dedicated to the great golfer. He has a Muhammad Ali area with signed memorabilia and a photo of his wife and friends with “the Champ.” In addition, his guitar collection includes a signed Lucille, the guitar of the great B.B. King. His office is no exception, lined with quotes, gifts, and pictures of family, friends, and associates.

Chris & Co. with "The Champ"

One item of particular interest in Chris’ office is a Yoda statue dressed in the proper attire. Next to the statue is a quote of the Jedi Master: “Try not, do or do not. There is no trying.” This quote is a personal favorite of Chris’ because it reflects the importance of making things happen, not simply trying. Another quote which speaks well of the culture Chris has created is by Lou Holtz and hangs in his office, “Do what is right, do the best you can and treat others like you want to be treated. First we will be best, then we will be first.” If The Flanders Group culture could be simplified, it seems that this could be a good representation of it.

Chris's #1 Mentor, Yoda

Next is a personal statement of Chris McVicker’s about his company:

“I am proud that our agency consistently ranks in the top 1% of insurance agencies as measured by profitability nationwide. We have received many local and national awards, but I am most proud of the organization we have built and the services we provide. Our clients will tell you that we not only respond, but that we anticipate their needs. This is accomplished by our comprehensive client relationship management program which insures no client "falls between the cracks".

Our mission at The Flanders Group is to "really think" for our clients and to deliver service in a quick, kind and correct manner providing them with Insurance Peace of Mind.”

Lou Holtz Quote in Chris's Office

While running The Flanders Group is a significant part of Chris’ life, it is just one part of who he is. His “pride and joys” are his three daughters, Alexis, Brittany, and Courtney. They are all gifted athletes and strong women who make their home in New York City. Chris loves to spend time with his daughters at their lake house on Canandaigua Lake. Although, Chris contemplates the future of the home because it is not used as much now that his daughters all live in the city and are pursuing their respective careers with Kolbe test results in hand.

Besides spending time with his daughters, Chris enjoys traveling with his wife to networking conferences, watching the family’s race horse, Grasshoppa, and playing golf. The latter activity does not get as much time unless it is with a customer or for a charity event though.

Chris belongs to and is active in a variety of organizations. A list of these includes: Camp Good Days and Special Times, Geva Theater, Rochester Broadway Theater League (Executive Committee), Nazareth College Entrepreneurial Partnership (Chairman), and SUNY Geneseo’s Jones School of Business Advisory Council (Chairman). These efforts are deeply important to Chris because it is an opportunity for him to give back.

As The Flanders Group prospers under Chris’ tutelage, he is moving more towards an advisory role. He states, “I used to be exclusively working in the business, now it is more exclusively working on the business.” He still gets involved with customers and helps maintain the majority of the relationships with the insurance carriers. Chris generally serves as the point person with those negotiations and helps maintain the culture of the business. This is a constant for Chris, as if he were to completely step away it would be a move away from the culture that is so much a part of who he is.

“I have a lot of freedom,” Chris reflected about his current role. “On a normal basis I am the problem solver and brain-stormer, but now we have a group of people comfortable doing the same thing.” Now he can take a few days off and they will not miss him. “It is a great feeling; but it was a tough transition to not being needed on a day to day basis,” Chris said. “It takes a confidence in the people that you have led to make things happen while you are gone.”

Chris McVicker has created and built up an incomparable insurance company in The Flanders Group. The difference of his company, according to their mission statement, “is in The Flanders Group.” In other words, it is the people and how much they care that sets this company apart. “Providing unexpected value while fulfilling our tenacious desire to be the best,” the mission states. Their motto, “A Pride of Insurance Experts,” comes from the rampant lion which makes up their logo, while their name, The Flanders Group, is derived from Flanders, Belgium, the birthplace of commercial insurance.

Chris has lived and continues to live his life operating on the three twelve’s principle. A first impression is made in the first twelve feet, the first twelve inches, and the first twelve words: Your presence and appearance, your hand shake, and your words, respectively. If one was to meet Chris for the first time, he most certainly would pass the test. He has created a business around this principle and the importance of the people in our lives. Even if Chris takes you out to lunch, you will still probably get a personal note from him thanking you for your time. And remember, “If you hear music in the background…someone has just done something great at The Flanders Group.” That is Chris McVicker.

Ben, Chris, & Joe

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Chris McVicker
The Flanders Group
Chairman / CEO
West Brook Building
2850 Clover Street
Pittsford, NY 14534
Office: 585.381.8070 ext. 231

Chris McVicker Bio:
Message from the President:
The Flanders Group Mission Statement:

What The Flanders Group's Clients say:

What The Flanders Group's Business Partners say: