Kol HaBirah talked with Alan Meltzer, founder of the highly successful Bethesda, Maryland-based insurance brokerage firm The Meltzer Group, about his personal and professional journey, his connection to and support of the Jewish community, and the implications of The Meltzer Group’s recent sale and rebranding to national insurance broker NFP.
Can you talk about your connection to the Jewish community?
I grew up in a suburb of Boston that didn’t have many Jewish people and there were a number of anti-Semitic incidents directed at me. In addition, I grew up in the 60s when the Holocaust was much fresher in people’s minds and Israel was an underdog. These experiences made me feel culturally very Jewish even though I didn’t grow up religious.
I currently belong to two Bna’i Israels: one in Montgomery County, Maryland, and one in Boca Raton, Florida, where I am a resident.
What brought you to the DC region?
I went to college at American university on a wrestling scholarship. While at American, I had no money so I started working as a dishwasher at a local restaurant/bar and after a few years, I bought the place. Then I soon bought a second one, and a third one.
When I met my wife, Amy, and we got married, we didn’t feel the bar scene was great to be in while raising a family, so we sold the bars. I now have four kids and will soon have four grandkids.
What led you to start The Meltzer Group?
Once we sold the restaurants, I went into the life insurance business and worked at Mass Mutual. I loved it, but I didn’t want to be a captive to selling one type of insurance for one insurance company; so I started my own company, The Meltzer Group, in the early 1980s.
The “Group” was really just me at first, but then I hired a secretary, and then another person, and slowly expanded from there.
What type of services does The Meltzer Group offer and the types of clients does it serve?
My personal love is life insurance, but we also offer health insurance, business insurance, estate planning, retirement plan consulting, wealth management, and property and casualty insurance for both companies and individuals.
I’ve had friends who died prematurely and their family would not have been able to live as they do without insurance. My good friend Josh Freeman was a huge leader in the Washington Jewish community. I talked to him a few different times on a day in December 2006, and that day he died in a tragic helicopter accident. His life insurance was very important for his wife and family. It can change a person’s life when something like that happens.
How has the company been able to scale up over the years so successfully?
We slowly but surely built up a good company over the years. We hire great people and they cause the company to grow and expand.
We’ve been named a “Best Place to Work” by the Washington Business Journal many times and that is something we take tremendous pride in. We pay our staff well and we treat them well. We have a company trip to Bermuda coming up soon (in May) and we’ve also taken our employees to Hawaii, Cape Cod, Nashville, and Mexico among other places.
Over the years, my wife has been the linchpin of our family, keeping us strong and enabling me to grow the business.
The Meltzer Group’s support for the local community and robust employee giving fund are clear reflections of your passion for giving back. What is your approach to giving?
When I came to Washington, I met an attorney, Phillip Margolius, who was very involved in Jewish philanthropy. I didn’t have any money growing up, but as I got more successful, I was affected by people like Phil and his dad Bernie. Tzedakah (philanthopy) was very important to them.
Federation took us on a trip to Israel in 1981, and we went to the Holocaust Museum [Yad Vashem] and other inspiring sites. My wife Amy isn’t Jewish, but after the trip she embraced the Jewish culture and cause and we decided to give back to the community. Federation is a mutual fund of giving to the community and I’m a big believer in that approach, which is why I support them. Both the lay leaders and people in Federation do a great job.
Another example of an organization we feel strongly about is JDRF, a global organization working to end Type 1 diabetes, which helped our son address his ongoing fight with the disease.
About 20 years ago, my employees expressed interest in giving back to the community as well. Along with (senior management) Jack Abel and Greg Carroll, I offered to match whatever amount our employees give each year, and our employees then decide where the money goes. It’s something that has really grown over time to where it is today, with more than 80 percent of our employees participating.
The Meltzer Group has been with NFP since 2001 and recently became 100 percent owned by them. How did this come about, and why was it an important move for the company’s future?
We’ve been competing with the larger brokers like Willis, Aon, Mercer, and wanted to have a national presence and resources that would enhance what we were already doing. We provide insurance to high-powered companies, and when we sold to NFP, we were able to be much more competitive and offer our clients the best possible products and solutions.
NFP is a wonderful company and from a cultural standpoint they are in lock step with how we treat our employees and clients, and they’re also involved in the community. NFP is allowing us to do the things we have been doing for the last 40 years, only now, we’re backed by the power of the fourth largest U.S. based privately owned broker. It has turned out to be a very good, positive relationship, and [NFP] are heimish [friendly] people.
You are at a stage in your career where you are allowing your local management team to handle more and more of the day-to-day business operations, while you remain very active and engaged in the selling process. Your friend, David Trone, is at a similar life stage with his company, and has decided to run for Congress. How, if at all, will your focus shift in this next stage of your business?
I’m still very engaged in the company from a professional relationship standpoint, but I am now able to spend more time with family —I’m on vacation as we speak. I also am getting more involved philanthropically, and my children are as well. I’m at a nice time in my life.
By Kol HaBirah Staff