Mark Bagnall was a pioneer when he and his wife, Lynn, moved their family 28 years ago to Ahwatukee, then little more than a dusty seedling of the vibrant community it has become.
He was a pioneer as well when he set up his business, Bagnall Co., here in 1995. He saw his human resources consulting firm as filling a need in the industry for a company that “put the customer as the highest priority.”
And as Bagnall prepares to retire next month, he’s pretty sure the company to which he sold his firm in December 2016 will continue the pioneer attitude that established his legacy.
In part, that’s because his daughter, Cynthia Walter, plays a key role in the company’s new owner, Arthur J. Gallagher, a 90-year-old Fortune 500 corporation that made Bagnall the first benefit consulting firm it acquired in Arizona.
Walter is now area president of Gallagher Benefit Services, a division of Gallagher with 12 employees in the state and 22,000 worldwide.
The careers of father and daughter have been intertwined for more than a decade, an outgrowth of a deeply personal relationship that dates back far longer than that.
A product of Kyrene schools in Ahwatukee as well as a member of Mountain Pointe High School’s first graduating class, Walter speaks affectionately of her father both as a person and a businessman.
She quoted John Quincy Adams to sum him up: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more. You are a leader.”
The Arizona State graduate explained, “I worked for a large national insurance company after college when my father asked me to come on board with his company. I was very hesitant as I didn’t want to be known to others as someone who was given a job simply by family relationship.
“I decided to accept the position because I knew I would learn from the best mentor in the industry,” she continued. “At first, many people commented that my job must be easy since my father was my boss. Wrong! He pushed me to work smarter, think outside the box, and most importantly never take ‘no’ for answer.”
That same principle guided Bagnall when he set up his own company.
“Based on my past experience, I was not satisfied how customers were treated,” he recalled. “I felt that I could listen to customers and ensure that they had a good service experience. And I wanted more control over the design and development of programs that put the customer as the highest priority.
“Also, I wanted a flexible schedule that allowed me to travel to Mexico every quarter,” Bagnall added. “Unfortunately, while I accomplished building an ethical organization with customer focus/experience as the key priority, I only made it to Mexico for only two quarters.”
Over 20 years, Bagnall said, his company grew from his commitment to “trying to go beyond and above what was expected of me.”
Bagnall also joined United Benefit Advisors in 2002 – a move he said “made a huge impact as we were able to capitalize on many ideas from the UBA partners.”
“We were fortunate, also, to have grown a very good staff of service and sales folks and had a very good track on how to approach customers to discover and fulfill their needs,” he added.
In 2008, Walter and her dad mingled their fortunes even closer as she became a 49 percent owner in the company and her dad a 51 percent owner.
As they began a succession plan, Walter transitioned a few years ago into president of Bagnall while her father became its CEO.
Over that transition process, Walter learned even more about the business side of her dad.
Bagnall recalled that when he started a brand-new business in a relatively unknown field he had little choice but “to do basically every job that we do by myself.”
During their transition to their new roles in Bagnall, Walter said, “I became quite aware of all the hats my father wore in the business.
“As a business owner, no one ever really understands all the work you do behind the scenes,” she said. “No one tells you when you’re doing a good job. Instead you hear about all the issues and problems. As I became more involved in running the business, I realized being at the top can be lonely and there are times you often feel unappreciated.
“My father was there every step of the way, helping me build my industry knowledge and develop thick skin needed to stay focused. As his retirement approached, I realized my goals for the business were the same as my father’s goal: provide an exceptional customer service/experience.”
She said she relied so much on her father’s “strategic planning and thinking outside the box that I knew I needed a solid team when he retired.”
She thinks she found that in Gallagher because it “provides me with finance, marketing and innovative resources that will allow our team to take the Arizona market by storm.”
“While I’m sad my father will no longer serve as my in-the-office mentor, I’m excited to have my chance to show him what I can do in my career based on the foundation and knowledge he provided by mentoring me during my career,” she added.
Now that he will soon be free of working, Bagnall plans to focus more attention on yet another aspect that merged his personal and business lives: giving back to the community.
That started more than 20 years ago, when Bagnall developed a relationship with Father David Myers in Guadalupe and encourage vendors in the insurance industry to focus on people in need instead of showering his firm with food and wine during the holidays.
“Now we have all the insurance vendors donate toys instead of food and wine, and our firm also donates toys,’ Walter said. “We then take our team down to Guadalupe and deliver the carload of toys to the church in Guadalupe.”
Bagnall pursued other ways to help as well.
He established “Building Our Client’s Communities,” to which he donated a percentage of his commission from clients’ payments to build communities.
Myers also lauded Bagnall’s support for the Guadalupe Law Center, which provides legal services and other educational and material benefits to people in great need.
“Mark converted the gifts of the Bagnall Christmas party to donations of delightful toys for our children,” the priest added. “Many of his patrons joined in the fun. We in Guadalupe are proud to be part of the community that Mark has built.”
Walter isn’t surprised that her father intends to continued his philanthropic endeavors, saying, “He is the kind of person that hears of someone going through a difficult time and then he quietly comes into the person’s life to assist in any way possible.”
Bagnall, a Coolidge native who started pumping gas when he was in fourth grade to help his parents and four brothers out financially, also has taken on the leadership of the Avondale-Goodyear Education Foundation.
Avondale Elementary School District has been a client and the former superintendent asked him to take on the role.
And even though Bagnall plans to spend more time with Walter’s son and daughter, she’ll still miss the daily interaction she had with her dad as a coworker.
“When I second guess my game plan, I immediately call my father to run the scenario by him,” she said, adding:
“If I am missing a detail or something of importance, my father is the one person who knows immediately what the missing piece is. I’ll miss working with the best mentor, father and friend anyone could imagine.”