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Sherrill Morgan Celebrates 50 Years in Business, 85 Years of Life

Sherrill Morgan – whose namesake company is 50 years old this year – has lived a life that reads like an Horatio Alger meets Dale Carnegie story.

The Covington-based company is celebrating both its 50th anniversary and its founder’s 85th birthday with a 50th Anniversary Gala on Friday, Sept. 13, at the Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza as part of its Sixth Annual Healthcare Innovations Conference.

The beginning of Sherrill Morgan, the company

After a 10-year stint as a teacher and football coach, in 1969, Sherrill Morgan left education to start his own company, which was affiliated with the William T. Earl Agency in Cincinnati. For 14 years, he operated his life-insurance and estate-coordination business at locations in downtown Cincinnati before moving his business to its current location in the Fifth Street Center in Covington’s Mainstrasse neighborhood in 1983.

During that time, with the help of his son, Mark Morgan, and other family members and a dedicated staff, Sherrill Morgan has grown from a one-man show into a successful insurance agency providing innovative employee-benefit and group insurance services to companies, nonprofit organizations, and municipalities and governmental agencies in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Florida, Texas, North Carolina, and Missouri.

But to understand how Sherrill Morgan, the company, got where it is today, you have to understand how Sherrill Morgan, the man, he also got where he is today, which is still working every day in his Covington office at the age of 85.

Sherrill Morgan, the man: Eastern Kentucky, Newport roots

Sherrill’s father came to Northern Kentucky from Wolfe County in Eastern Kentucky as a young man to box in weekend boxing bouts that were regularly held in Newport’s thriving clubs and “bust-out joints” in the 1940s and 1950s.

After Sherrill’s father married his sweetheart from Appalachia and they started a family in Newport, he left his boxing career for a steadier and safer vocation –Pentecostal minister. He later served for many years as pastor of the Full Gospel Assembly in Newport.

While two of Morgan’s brothers and a sister followed their father’s path into the ministry, Sherrill followed his love of football – first at Newport High School and then Wilmington College, where he was captain, MVP, and all-conference team selection on the football team. 

After college and a two-year stint in the Army, Sherrill spent 10 years teaching and coaching at both his high school alma mater and Withrow High School, including serving for three years as the head football coach at Newport.

“I loved football – and I still do – and when I graduated from college, I saw myself coaching football with great success for many years,” Sherrill said. “But after three years of winning only one game in each season for Newport, I was promptly fired and that dream quickly disappeared.”

A knack for selling 

With a growing family of his own, including his new son, Mark, and a need to supplement the money he made as a teacher, Sherrill started working numerous part-time jobs, including door-to-door sales of sterling silver, fine china, and Fuller brushes – a job that made him more money than his full-time teaching job. 

He then used those salesman skills to start his own business, which was associated with the Earl Agency, where he worked with 20 other independent insurance sales agents from the Greater Cincinnati and Dayton areas.

“I learned from some of the best in the business while working there,” Sherrill Morgan said recently in a conference room at his office. “One of the things I learned was how to accept rejection and move on. I learned that if you can convert one out of every four sales calls, you’re doing a remarkable job as a salesman.”

Sherrill recalls that Earl Agency paid him a $6,000 yearly stipend, which he was expected to pay back, with the expectation that he would be paid solely from his own commissions after two years. That was no problem. Within one year, he had qualified for the $1 Million Roundtable, meaning that he had sold more than $1 million in insurance policies during that year. 

Starting Sherrill Morgan, the company

The decision Sherrill Morgan made in 1969 to start his own business only drove him work harder.

“I challenged myself to live by a simple code each day,” Morgan remembered. “I wanted to meet with clients or prospective clients at least six times a day -- at 8 and 10 o’clock in the morning, at noon, and at 2, 4, 6, and 8 o’clock in the afternoon and evening. This was time before cell phones and emails so this was an ambitious endeavor.”

He also met with clients at 8 a.m., 10 a.m., and noon on Saturday mornings. “My rule was I couldn’t go home during the week until at least 7:30 each night,” he said.

Sherrill Morgan said that operating his own business taught him to be more focused and disciplined and helped him better appreciate the relationships he had created and maintained over the years.

“I have had the privilege of coming to work each day at my own business and truly loving what I do and the people I work with,” he said. “I have been really, really blessed. God has been good to me.”

Son, Mark Morgan, joins the company

In the 1980s, Sherrill’s son, Mark, followed the professional tradition of many Morgan family members. After graduating from Mount Vernon Nazarene University in Mt. Vernon, Ohio, Mark served for several years as a youth minister in various churches and communities in Indiana, Minnesota, and West Virginia.

However, at 29 years old, Mark returned home to Northern Kentucky after he was stricken with a serious illness. “I was literally dying,” Mark said. After many medical consultations, he eventually was diagnosed with Addison’s Disease, an adrenal condition.

While recovering from the disease with his family in Northern Kentucky, Mark started working in his father’s business and he soon took over running the company’s growing medical insurance and employee-benefits business.

Growth of self-funded medical plans

One area of medical insurance in which the company -- and Mark in particular – became proficient at was self-funded health insurance plans. Self-funded plans -- which compete with traditional health insurance plans like Anthem and Blue Cross -- generally are available to organizations with 100 employees or more, although Sherrill Morgan now pools smaller groups together to create self-funded plans.

“Meyer Tool in Erlanger was our first self-funded client and the cities of Newport and Florence followed shortly thereafter,” Mark said.  

“The advantage of self-funded plans is that employer groups have a direct relationship with medical providers like St. Elizabeth Healthcare, Christ Hospital Health Network, and TriHealth ,” he said. “This relationship empowers those employers to create medical networks that are more convenient and more cost effective for their employees than what traditional health insurance companies provide.”

Mark said that when city administrators the company worked with took jobs in new cities, they reached out to Sherrill Morgan to provide their new cities with self-funded medical insurance plans. As a result, the company’s business with municipalities and governmental agencies grew significantly throughout Kentucky and into other states, such at Ohio, Tennessee, and Michigan, along with new corporate and nonprofit organizations in these states.

Mark said that self-funded plans have “Medicare-plus based pricing,” which means that employers and employees have medical-cost transparency because they know exactly what prices they are paying for medical services based what the established Medicare charges are for these services.

“Health insurance companies use a ‘discount model’ but there’s no transparency because no one knows exactly what prices your ‘60 percent discount’ is based on,” he said.

Sherrill Morgan in 2019

Today, the company that Sherrill Morgan founded 50 years ago and Mark Morgan joined 30 years ago is a robust insurance and health-benefits organization operating in 11 states.

The company still provides the life insurance and estate-coordination services that Sherrill Morgan first offered in 1969, but it now operates two other corporate divisions: Employer Advisory Services, which provides private- and public-sector employers with self-funded medical plans for their employees using local healthcare providers, and OwnRX, a the company’s new division that provides deeply discounted prescriptions for certain types of employers.

Based on a federal law, Sherrill Morgan works with of its several partners to provide certain clients -- such as schools, churches, libraries, and 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations – with an ability to purchase prescription drugs directly from hospitals at deep discounts. These prescriptions can be obtained at Kroger pharmacies through a contractual agreement Sherrill Morgan has with the grocer.

“These prices are at least 20 to 30 percent -- and sometimes substantially more – below the retail acquisition costs that consumers would normally pay at a Walgreens or CVS,” Mark said. “For instance, insulin can cost as much as $150 at a retail pharmacy, but we can offer the same prescription to our clients’ employees for $15.”

Mark said his father’s devotion and dedication to his clients is part of Sherrill Morgan’s corporate culture and why it continues to find innovative ways to serve its clients and save them money.

“With my father’s guidance, leadership, and direction, we have been able to build a company that continues to focus on our clients and how we can best serve them and their employees,” Mark said. 

“I have the greatest respect for my father,” Mark continued. “He was the best man in my wedding three years ago, and I have made a deal with him: I’ve told him I won’t retire until he does.”

Written by Jay Fossett, special to The River City News