My Toughest Challenge: Jim Mueller

Last updated on June 18th, 2019 at 01:10 pm

Position: President

Company: mueller QAAS

What it does: Health benefits consulting firm

Career: Mueller founded mueller QAAS in 2012. Prior to forming the company, he served as president of Frank F. Haack & Associates for more than 20 years. From 1995 to 2005, Mueller served simultaneously as president of Haack and Wauwatosa-based insurance technology company Zywave Inc.   

The challenge

In 1993, the Clinton health care plan sent insurance brokers into panic mode. Mueller and business partner Bill Haack took a proactive stance, creating a new electronic platform for their customers.

Industry peers caught wind of what Haack & Associates had developed and asked to purchase the technology.

“It seemed easy, then we realized when you export software, you are no longer an insurance company, you are a software company,” Mueller said. “We had about six months to learn 10 years’ worth of the software business.”

With his integrity on the line, Mueller did not sleep well for six months. He said it was the worst time in his life, professionally.

The resolution

Jim Emling, who was a University of Wisconsin-Madison engineering student at the time, was hired. Between late 1995 and early 1996, Zywave was formed. (Emling later served as Zywave’s president from 2008 to 2013).

The company has continued to grow, and today employs more than 300 people. But Zywave’s success created another challenge. In 2004, Mueller and Haack, the third-generation owner of Frank F. Haack & Associates, which was started in 1917, decided to sell Frank F. Haack & Associates to Hilb Rogal & Hobbs.

Two people could no longer fund a technology company and an insurance company, which is why they sold Frank F. Haack, Mueller said.

Four years later, New York City-based global firm Willis Group Holdings Ltd. purchased HRH for $2.1 billion. 

The takeaway

At the time of the sale, Mueller was 46. Haack was 49. Mueller said neither saw it coming.

“That was gut-wrenching. We had such a special culture, so we knew it was going to be different. When we sold, my heart was broken. But it was twice as hard when it was sold again to Willis,” Mueller said.

Mueller learned that when an asset is sold, you no longer have control over the future, despite the best laid plans.

“Even if you try to plan a soft landing, business is all about the money,” Mueller said. “The success of Zywave triggered an event we had control of, but we didn’t see the future unfolding the way it ultimately did when we started it in 1996.

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