ABG executives to lead entrepreneur event

Published 10:36 am Tuesday, September 15, 2015

What’s your story? by Seth Light

Entrepreneurs come in all different shapes and sizes. The connecting thread between them is the drive to succeed.

“My father, Al Arends, had created a great company. My role as I took over, was not to keep it at status quo. My goal was to build on the work of my father, and create a sustainable business for generations to come,” Brad Arends says as he reclines in his chair eating popcorn.

Seth Light

Seth Light

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Arends, chief executive officer of Alliance Benefit Group Financial Services Corp. (ABGFS) located here in Albert Lea, is on his own adventure of entrepreneurship. With him is his business partner, Steve Pulley, president of Alliance Benefit Group North Central States Inc. (ABGNCS), also in Albert Lea. Although two separate and distinct entities, these firms are often referred to locally, as simply ABG.

The multi-million-dollar companies are neatly tucked into Albert Lea’s downtown on the north  side of 201 E. Clark St. ABGNCS specializes in the recordkeeping and administration of retirement plans, flexible benefits plans, health savings accounts, payroll and executive compensation programs. They have clients across 48 states and a satellite office in Eden Prairie. ABGFS, also with a satellite in Eden Prairie, and another in Kansas City, Missouri, is an employee benefits consulting firm providing services centered around three key businesses: retirement plan services, health insurance programs and wealth management. Arends’ father, also an entrepreneur, started ABG with his own business partner back in the mid-1970s. It has grown from three employees to a combined 140 employees within the two firms. Pulley’s father stressed to him that, “You need to make money not with just your own hands, but with other people’s hands too.”

Neither Arends nor Pulley had any intention of ever going into financial services, let alone becoming owners of the company. Through personal and professional change, both Arends and Pulley have seen growth.

“The first 30 years of this business, it grew because of good ideas and really hard work,” recalls Arends.  They both know that change is essential to running a business, and have used change as an “offensive” measure. Arends states, “A lot of our growth is going out and taking a leadership role in some of these new things that effect our industry.” The duo doesn’t invest in things they do not believe in. Pulley relates the growth of their business to “trying to project what’s going to happen.” For example, they’ve been working on payroll administration over the past 15 years or so, and are finally seeing it fit into their system of benefits.

“We believed in it. We believed philosophically that it fit into our other businesses…through many missteps (we) figured out how exactly how to sell it, how to make it work and how to make it a real business,” Pulley added.

The entrepreneur belief to succeed is alive and well with these two. They will be sharing their story and lessons learned at a town hall-style ALEAP event later this month. The event will take place at 6 p.m. Thursday at The Marketing Plant, 137 S. Broadway.

They also look forward to a Q&A conversation on their partnership, their growing pains, business partnerships, recruitment challenges and national industry networking tips. The town hall will run for approximately an hour, and a networking session will proceed from 7 to 8 p.m. Guests are welcome to come for half or the entire duration of the ALEAP event.


Seth Light is a marketing associate at The Marketing Plant. He graduated in 2014 from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls with a degree in marketing communications.