There are influential people in the business world who accumulate their millions and retire to beachfront property when they're still considered middle-aged, occasionally returning to the big cities to speak at an industry conference or glide into a star-studded charity ball.
There are others, like Alvin "Al" Rogal, who stay in the city of their birth right up until their death, working with clients who turn into dear friends.
Rogal, along with Robert Hilb and David Hamilton, in 1982 founded what is now Hilb Rogal & Hobbs Co., the country's eighth largest insurance brokerage. Rogal died Nov. 6, 2007, at the age of 84 of complications from emphysema and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also called Lou Gehrig's disease.
Rogal was a daily fixture in HRH's Pittsburgh office, which was founded as The Rogal Co. by his father Hyman in the 1920s. The younger Rogal started at the firm in 1946, following college and a two-year stint in the Navy. He stayed in Pittsburgh throughout the formation of HRH, watched his son Andy rise up the executive ladder and saw the company go public.
Rogal joked about his aversion to retirement in a 2000 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article, saying, "I need a place to go."
But his clients know the real reason why Rogal never left the insurance brokerage. "He just loved it," said longtime client Scott Bergstein, a vice president with the Pittsburgh-based real-estate company Oxford Development. Bergstein said he cherishes the many business meetings he and Rogal had together over cocktails at the end of the workday.
"When I met Alvin, I was just beginning my career in risk management," said Bergstein. "I did, and always have, looked at him as a mentor. Buying him a scotch was always a cheap tuition. And rarely did I get to buy, anyway."
Those at HRH saw Rogal as a bit of a legend. Steve Deal, vice president and regional director for the mid-Atlantic region, has been with the company for 21 of its 25 years. Though based at the company's headquarters in Glen Allen, Va., Deal said he'll never forget his visits to Rogal's hometown.
"If you walked down the streets of Pittsburgh with Al, you'd have thought he was the mayor," said Deal. "People would stop him on the street and say, 'Al, thanks for doing this,' or, 'Al, what do you think about this?' That was really magical because, in his own quiet way, he was extraordinarily influential to what went on in Pittsburgh."
Despite Rogal's stature, Bergstein said, Rogal put him at ease. "You didn't have to always be on your game when you were with Alvin," he said.
It was how Rogal "carried himself with an air of confidence without arrogance," combined with his mastery of the two critical pieces of the trade--knowledge of the insurance industry and the ability to communicate with others--that made him as good as he was, said Bergstein.
Rogal's people skills brought HRH major accounts, such as the Giant Eagle Inc. grocery store chain, Allegheny County and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, Deal said. Rogal's commitment to the local community included donations of time and money to The Pittsburgh Foundation, the Jewish Healthcare Foundation and Robert Morris University, just to name a few.
That community involvement sometimes helped him when it came to business, but Deal insisted those were simply by-products of a genuine love for Pittsburgh. The proof? Rogal rarely left town. Deal said Rogal's travels were always few and brief, though he did have a great joy for adventures, taking annual expeditions--often by himself--walking the Great Wall of China, going on an African safari, hiking the Andes or exploring sea turtle habitats in the Galapagos Islands.
Whatever exotic locale Rogal ended up in, he seemed happy to return to Pittsburgh and the office. His way of conducting business was personal, perhaps reflecting an earlier, simpler time before e-mail and cell phones.
"But I would not call Alvin a throwback even though some of the things that he felt important about being a broker might be considered less important by people who practice today," said Bergstein.
Don't mistake the 60-year veteran of the insurance industry for being too soft, because he was certainly competitive. "But he liked to win doing it the right way, with integrity," said Deal. "He enjoyed the game aspects of being a broker, developing business relationships, cultivating them and, ultimately, those clients became some of his best friends."
In a one-on-one conversation, Bergstein said his broker and friend rarely talked about himself--that "just wasn't his style," Bergstein said. "The only thing that ever surprised me about Alvin was that he was actually willing, at his level and stage, to ask me my opinion on things and listen to it," he said of his mentor. "That meant a great deal to me."
Perhaps this man's life could be best described in one person's guest book comment posted on the Post-Gazette Web page for Rogal's obituary.
Simply stated, "They do not make classy gentlemen like that anymore."
January 1, 2008
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