When Ken Riesch someday closes out his long career as owner and president of Waukesha-based insurance agency R&R Insurance Services Inc., he doesn’t want anyone to notice.
He would rather the business carry on and continue to grow steadily, just as it has for the past four decades.
But when he does, Ken will leave the business in familiar hands—those of his children, Jack Riesch, Bryon Riesch and Stephanie Riesch-Knapp. All have followed in their father’s footsteps as employees of the family business.
“As an owner, my goal from a business standpoint is to, at some point, leave R&R Insurance and have no one really know that I’m not working anymore, which meant that we wanted to have the kids in a position where they really were 100 percent capable of managing the company—not only for our customers’ sake, but also for the insurance companies that we do business with,” Ken said.
Ken and Jack Riesch will present at the Family & Closely Held Business Summit, hosted by BizTimes Media on Wednesday, July 12, from 7 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at Potawatomi Hotel & Casino.
R&R Insurance was founded in December 1975 by a group of five men, who purchased a small agency in North Prairie. Included in that group were Ken Riesch, his brother Dexter Riesch, and their father, Otis Riesch. Within a few years, the other two owners had sold their stock back to the agency for various reasons. R&R, by default, had become a family business.
When Otis Riesch died in 1987, Dexter and Ken became sole owners. Three years later, Dexter also passed away.
“Those were some tough years from a family standpoint,” Ken reflected. “That left me being the only owner of any stock in R&R Insurance.”
By the time Ken had assumed full ownership, the business had grown substantially. R&R moved three times within North Prairie before moving to Brookfield and eventually landing at 1581 E. Racine Ave., Waukesha, which remains its home office today.
When R&R moved to Waukesha, the business was at about $4.2 million in revenue, or commission income. It’s steadily grown and, today, that number is about $35 million. The business has also expanded geographically, with offices in Menomonee Falls, West Bend, Beaver Dam, Madison and Oconomowoc.
By the end of 2019, R&R has a revenue goal of $42 million. Ken attributes much of the growth to its strategic investment in people.
“We invest a tremendous amount of money back into the agency in resources,” Ken said. “If you think of a manufacturer, a manufacturer is going to invest in tooling, hard equipment and physical assets. Our investment is in people … We have continued to hire the best and brightest people we can find in the insurance business.”
Some of those people have included his children. Jack Riesch is executive vice president of R&R, Bryon Riesch is project manager and Stephanie Riesch-Knapp is senior benefits consultant.
While they all ultimately ended up in the family business, they first worked elsewhere, getting their feet wet in the insurance business—Jack at CNA Financial Corp., Stephanie at West Bend Mutual Insurance Co. and Bryon at Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co.
“The kids spent at a minimum three, and maybe as much as five years, working outside of the agency,” Ken said. “So when it came time for their next moves, I think they thought their dad was relatively successful and they should try to get involved with this business. And it’s worked. It’s not been easy, but it’s worked.”
Today, Ken owns 100 percent of R&R’s voting stock, while his three children are equal owners of the remaining stock.
“Some business owners don’t have kids that want to follow in the footsteps of their mom or dad, so in some respects, I’ve been very fortunate,” Ken said.
Still, it presents a challenging—and looming—question: Who will take over the voting stock? The family is still working through that decision, he said.
“Those are tough issues to have conversations around,” Ken said.
Meanwhile, the family has experienced its share of hardships over the years. In 1998, an accident left Bryon, then a 19-year-old freshman at Marquette University, paralyzed from the chest down. In 2014, Ken’s son Michael died after a battle with esophageal cancer.
Difficult challenges for any family to weather, these events have also brought a certain resiliency to the family business.
“Every one of those happenings, every one of those tragedies, makes you reflect differently about the business and think differently about the future of the business,” Ken said. “It’s not sad; it isn’t woe-is-me. It’s life. And family businesses go through these trials and tribulations big time. Where we excel is in how to handle them in common sense ways. If you can get through the tragedy, you do have a lot of strength to move forward with. It does bring the family closer together.”
While his children play key roles in the business, he’s quick to acknowledge the important role of bringing in outside perspectives, as well.
“You will never hear me say, ‘The Rieschs run R&R Insurance,’” Ken said. “We always have had a significant management team that helped run and manage R&R Insurance. One of the reasons we’ve been able to grow is we’ve been able to hire people that are probably a lot smarter than we are, the Rieschs, but we’re really willing to invest in those types of people.”
“Our people are our greatest assets,” he added. “Without our people, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”