Sometimes the biggest parts of your life come from something small.
One minute Barry Rebuck, TEP, EPC, was alone on a bus in Boston heading to the airport after the MDRT Annual Meeting in 1993. The next, he was talking to Michael J. Links, TEP, EPC. Though they both lived in the Toronto area, they had never met before, and soon discussed how they had always wanted to put together a study group. Four weeks later, they set up their first meeting.
Now, the pair, who became business partners in the late ’90s and are both 27-year MDRT members from Markham, Ontario, Canada, is celebrating the 25th anniversary of their study group.
“I think the hardest thing for anybody to be able to do is to run meetings for 25 years that people find interesting and still want to come back for more,” said Rebuck, who in his work focuses on executive compensation and succession planning with business owners. “The secret of our success is the rituals that we have maintained from the very first day.”
For each of its quarterly meetings, the group, which contains eight MDRT members located throughout Toronto, rotates who serves as the chairperson, organizing the material and picking the location. If the latter element seems mundane, think again. The group has thrived in cricket clubs, golf clubs and conference centers but learned that restaurants without dedicated rooms are an unwise choice.
The secret to our success is the rituals that we have maintained from the very first day.
— Barry Rebuck
“If I want to have a white board or electronic equipment for demonstrations, we've found that restaurants aren’t prepared to provide that service,” Rebuck said. “Plus, our discussions are private, and if we’re just placed in a corner of the restaurant for the meeting, we don’t want to be competing with people sitting down having lunch.”
Topics range from tax-related discussions to regulations, challenging on-the-job cases and stress management. Rebuck noted the importance of branching outside of the standard subjects as well — one speaker brought into a meeting talked about computer systems, having nothing to do with the insurance profession. Humorous videos make occasional appearances as well.
“It can’t always be taxation and insurance,” Rebuck said. “You have to realize there’s a whole world out there that exists without insurance and not take yourself too seriously.”
That said, the group remains very focused on the varied aspects of their work, with one particular session focusing on marketing. One of their members had just come back from the United States and raised the observation that while a store in Canada will focus simply on selling you a shirt, a store in the U.S. may focus on the experience of selling you the shirt. As an example, the group then discussed how people can go to a local playground for free but often elect to pay large sums to go on branded versions of some of the same experiences at Disney World. It’s all about the experience.
This had a large impact on Rebuck, who shortly after the meeting moved to new offices and worked to focus more on client experience. From elements as basic as how they are greeted on arrival to lighting to the types of food and drinks provided, he made sure not just to emphasize what the clients were coming for but the experience of being there.
“We can do more for our clients here than we could ever do in the former location,” he said.
It’s earned plenty of raves from clients. Within the study group, though, negative feedback is not only welcome but a built-in part of the process.
At the end of each one-day meeting, members critique how the day went, from analysis of the topic and speakers to evaluations of the setting and the food. “If we thought it was crummy,” Rebuck said, “we’d tell you.” (Important: The speaker is never evaluated before they leave the room.)
There are other small but significant rules that have helped the study group thrive for all these years, with the essential element of all members being on board with ground rules from the beginning. Such as:
- Everyone must be an MDRT member and have attended at least one Annual Meeting.
- Unless you are sick or out of town, you are expected to attend. If you miss three meetings in a row, it might be because the study group is not right for you, and you may be asked to leave the group.
- Whether you turn up or not, everyone pays their share.
- No cell phones, iPads or computers are allowed during discussion time. They are permitted during periodic breaks in the day.
While there are plenty of rules and standards, Rebuck emphasized the friendships that have developed over the years. For the 10th anniversary, the group enjoyed meeting on one member’s boat in Toronto Harbour. Earlier in 2018, group members joined together to raise money for treatment for an ex-member, who later passed away.
“The way we come together in the face of adversity is just amazing,” Rebuck said.
There was one time in the group's history that two members often fought. Before the cause of the problem could be asked to leave, he resigned. “For the most part that hasn’t been an issue, but you can’t have people in the room that are constantly in disagreement,” Rebuck said.
“A study group is like a marriage. Everybody has to work together in a give-and-take relationship. Be patient with each other. Respect each other, and take it seriously. It works.”