At GAMA International’s 2012 LAMP conference, being held at the Marriott World Center Resort hotel in Orlando, National Underwriter Senior Editor Warren Hersch sat down for an exclusive interview with GAMA President Kenneth Gallacher and President-elect Luis Chiappy. The following are excerpts.

Hersch: Tell me about GAMA’s new program, Leading from the Front. What are its goals and objectives? How is the program distinguished from other training initiatives that GAMA offers?

Gallacher: The new training program fills a vacuum in our current training initiatives: developing middle and front-line managers who have recently moved into a management role. The program is for those for have already committed to working in management. The new program will include a workbook, online training, and two full-day events.

Our other training programs include Elements of Leadership, which is about giving personal producers an opportunity to try out a career in management. Our Essentials is for people who have served in a management role for a period of time and now want to go to next level: either running a larger agency or taking an existing agency to a higher level of production.

Chiappy:Think of the programs as part of a continuum in training. Leading from the Front, for which we just finalized the curriculum, will likely be launched within the next quarter. Two companies that we can’t now name are piloting the program. Depending on their feedback, we may need to do some fine-tuning.

What makes our programs unique is that they’re not just based on research or analytical work, but also best practices and industry leaders who assist us in putting together methods and curricula that are field-tested to work.

Hersch: Which financial services companies will benefit from the leadership training initiatives?

Gallacher: Our core focus at GAMA remains on the career agencies that are building out their distribution channels. Other financial services firms, such as producers groups, are not a primary target for these programs.

Hersch: How much can these companies expect to invest in the new training initiative?

Gallacher: We haven’t come up with a cost to implementing training under this program. But given the amount of training involved, we expect the investment outlay will be fairly minimal compared to what the companies can expect [in terms of return on investment.]

Hersch: What results have career agencies achieved with your training programs?

Gallacher: Nearly 2,700 people have been through our Essentials program. The testimonials have been tremendous. But it’s hard to quantify the return on investment because it’s difficult isolate the effect of the training from results agencies might otherwise have achieved without it. But I can say the courses have been very popular with the companies we serve. 

Chiappy: More members are joining the organization. More people are getting involved in our training programs. And we’re improving our metrics across the board. This all a validation that our strategy is the right one and that we’re meeting the needs of the marketplace.

Hersch: I’ve noted the many international members here at the LAMP conference. Given the differences among cultures, how might training needs vary across countries?

Gallacher: The training requirements are actually fairly consistent across countries. We recently hosted a group from Asia, for example. And we found that they’re interested in all of the same practices: how to better recruit, train, and retain their producers. Our programs have a universal appeal.

Hersch: To what extent are women represented in your training programs and among leaders at career agencies generally?

Gallacher: We now have more than 600 female members participating in our Women in Leadership initiative. But women remain underrepresented in agencies’ management suites. Their percentage of the leadership community is even lower, I think, than the estimated 13% of female producers in the marketplace.

Hersch: Do you face challenges in delivering field leadership training to a technologically savvy young generation?

Gallacher: I feel the task is actually less complicated because they’re prepared to accept the training in so many different ways. My own two sons, who are 26 and 30, years old are field leaders. They both thrive on classroom instruction and seminars. At the same time, they’re interested in social media and distance learning through podcasts and webcasts. Also, I’m seeing good communication and managerial skills among young leaders today.

Chiappy: GAMA is leveraging both classroom and long-distance learning–chat rooms, virtual classrooms and the like. We’re integrating all the mediums of communication to appeal to this younger generation.

Hersch: To what extent is the potential loss of compensation or one’s book of a business an impediment to producers deciding to transition to field leadership?

Gallacher: I always tell people who are considering transitioning from producer to manager to not factor income into the decision. It absolutely has to be about their desire to lead others and achieve career fulfillment. If they do that, then the income will take care of itself. Most field leaders I know have not gone backwards financially.

As to losing control of your client’s base, it depends on the company. Most career agencies I know allow their new managers to keep their client base and add training and development to what they do. This is quite common. Those companies that make you give up your book of business to go into management full-time are in the minority. Also, new managers will typically use agents in their unit to help manage their book of business.  

Hersch: Mr. Chiappy, what goals do you envision for GAMA under your term as president?

Chiappy: Our focus in the year ahead will be on continued growth and successful execution of our strategies. We’ve had two successful strategic planning sessions in the last 5 years to be sure we’re in tune with the marketplace. The coming year will see execution of our Leading from the Front initiative. We’ll continue to focus on growth of the women’s market, the diversity market, and international markets. We’re also looking to help agents develop their business succession plans.

 We’re uniquely qualified as an association to help organizations develop field leaders to grow their distribution channels we have the tools and programs to help companies fulfill this need. We’re in a growth mode because of that unique value proposition.