Father-son team leads insurance benefits company into future
Matt Halvorson never had a career backup plan. The family business calling was that strong.
After coming to the office as a kid with his dad, Dave, he knew the insurance business was for him.
Since 1985, North Dakota-based Halvorson Company has helped small to midsize businesses develop comprehensive employee benefits, life insurance and retirement plans.
Along the way, they also have honed strategies in their own family business that can help others.
What were some of the first steps you took when Matt showed an interest in coming into the business?
DH: Matt knew what he wanted to do at an early age. After I sold the property and casualty insurance agency, he said, “Don’t sell Halvorson Company. When I get out of college, I’ll work for you for a couple of years and then take over.” The first step I took was to help him get his insurance license when he turned 18 and get him a summer job with one of my strategic partners.
MH: Dave started bringing me into the office when I was a kid, so there wasn’t necessarily a point where I started showing interest. I always knew that I was going to be a part of the business. My dad helped make that happen by constantly talking about what he does and why it’s a good business to be a part of.
Describe the approach you both took when Matt came into the business. What worked well for you?
DH: When Matt came into the business, I felt that he needed to know everything about the business — the good, the bad and the ugly. He learned about the finances, the legal issues, and our company and client relationships. He was with me at nearly all important meetings with our clients and our banking, accounting and legal advisers. How could he replace me if he didn’t know all that’s involved with running this business?
MH: Dave has been transparent with me from the beginning. He has never hidden the hard parts about this business, but he also hasn’t diminished the positives. When good things happen, we celebrate. When bad things happen, we re-evaluate. By letting me be involved with every piece of our business, he built the foundation that I know I’ll need to keep growing our company.
How have you continued to work together toward Matt’s eventual leadership of the company?
DH: He has been involved in all major decisions since the beginning. I don’t think age has anything to do with intelligence. I have found his leadership and management abilities to be superior to mine. I’ve kept my title but given most of the day-to-day control to him.
MH: He has gradually let me take on more and more of the business operations. He’s been patient but persistent when it comes to my growth and the responsibilities that I hold.
What’s the best part about working together in your family business?
DH: Being able to spend time with my son nearly every day, not just a few times a year or on special occasions. Watching him grow and seeing the person he has become makes it easy for me to live with an attitude of gratitude.
MH: Because we are actually family, it has helped our entire office to feel like family. And because of the way we run our office, it has caused our clients to feel like our family. I think it’s helped make us more successful, and it makes coming to work fun.
What’s the most important advice you could offer other family businesses?
DH: Get your children involved early. Give them responsibilities as soon as you can. Listen to them, respect their opinions, and share your own experience and beliefs. In a word, communicate.
MH: I agree with Dave. Put your kids in a position to make decisions so that they can learn to trust themselves and you can be reminded of the trust you have in them.
How has the Prairie Family Business Association helped you in your evolution as a family business?
DH: The association is a constant reminder that our business is part of our family. We must continually look to the future. Don’t overlook emotions. They trump logic.
MH: Being in the affinity peer group has been a huge help for me. It has put me in contact with people who are facing similar issues as me, even though they’re in very different industries.
North Dakota family businesses will come together Oct. 17 in Moorhead, Minn., for the annual North Dakota Family Business Forum. To learn more, click here.