Forward Mutual

Tomorrow’s Mutual | Moving forward

In 1980, the extent of Lois Wiedenhoeft’s experience with insurance was forgetting to pay the auto insurance bill once. She jokes that her husband almost her divorced her over the incident.

At the time, Wiedenhoeft was a stay-at-home mom with three kids. Her husband, Howard, was an agent for Ixonia Mutual Insurance Company in Wisconsin, and was being tapped as the successor for agency owner Ted Degner, who was ready to retire.

Wiedenhoeft’ suspects that her husband’s employer offered her a job to ensure he would stay on board. Her condition for accepting the offer was that they upgrade the company’s manual typewriter to an electric one. The deal was made, and the office — or what constituted an office at the time — moved from Ted Degner’s house to the Wiedenhoefts’ house.

How times change

Forty years later, Wiedenhoeft is the president and CEO of Forward Mutual Insurance Company, her husband works part time (for her), and their business hasn’t been run from their home since 1995.

Turns out she had a knack for accounting and insurance. Howard's time was eventually consumed by the needs of his dairy farm, and he retired from working full-time at Forward Mutual in 2014.

“When the two of us argued,” Wiedenhoeft said, “it was never about the kids, or money, or the typical things. It was about insurance.”

The most rewarding time of her career is now, she says. In addition to running the mutual, she is chair of the Wisconsin Association of Mutual Insurance Companies (WAMIC), and a member of a National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies committee. Turns out she enjoys committee meetings and discussing legislation — a surprise.

“I never expected to do it, didn’t want to do it, but I’ve loved every minute of it. It’s kept me motivated and learning.”

Her three children are now in their 40s, and she has five grandchildren.

Forward Mutual has changed a lot, too. It started in the 1870s as two companies — Watertown Mutual and Ixonia Mutual — and each offered insurance to one township. The two merged in 2009. Today, Forward Mutual sells products and policies in 16 southeastern Wisconsin counties. And as of Jan. 1, it will become a statewide Wisconsin mutual company.

A hand up

Grinnell Mutual has helped Forward Mutual move forward with its conversion from town mutual to domestic (statewide) by handling filings, applications, forms, policies, policy jackets, changes in the articles, bylaws…the list goes on. Wiedenhoeft says Grinnell Mutual has made the company look bigger than it ever actually was. “Grinnell Mutual has given me the tools and resources that wouldn’t be cost-effective otherwise,” she said.

Of her years with Grinnell Mutual, she has especially fond memories of former CEO Larry Jansen.

“Larry and I liked to challenge each other. I drove him nuts. He came from direct lines, so I helped him think about the reinsurance side of things and the big picture, and he taught me how to develop relationships with agents.”

What she considered his best quality — accessibility — she said is also an attribute of everyone at Grinnell Mutual today. “No one there would ever hesitate to pick up a phone and call me.”

Full circle

Just as her former employer hired her as part of his succession plan, Wiedenhoeft is finding herself doing the same thing. She’s planning on retiring in four years, and is busy getting everything prepared for her successor, like making sure all the documentation on corporate governance is in place, cybersecurity is up to speed, and that the handbook is up to date.

She sees a lot of challenges on the horizon, especially for small agents and the agricultural sector of the business, as the market has changed from a focus on farms to that of homeowners, a trend that seems to be accelerating.  

Maybe it’s all this forward motion that has her looking back and reflecting.

“If I had a chance to do it all over again, I’d maybe be a professional poker player. Or a lawyer. Or a politician … well, maybe not a politician,” she said, reconsidering. “But all of those things would probably be easier than insurance.”

For more information 

Learn more about the trusted relationships we cultivate businesses. Grinnell Re supports mutual insurance companies with reinsurance solutions and consultative services.

Get to know Grinnell Re