Create a profile of your ideal boss, and it's likely to sound like BILL KAVANAUGH, senior vice president, distribution management, Securian Financial Group, Minneapolis. Kavanaugh got cheers at the Financial & Insurance Conference Planners Annual Meeting in Toronto last November when he publicly supported the role of recognition conferences and the strategic importance of his conference planning department. Editor-at-Large Regina Baraban spoke with him about his advocacy of incentive travel.

Financial & Insurance Meetings: How is Securian doing following the financial crisis and the continuing recession?

Bill Kavanaugh: Securian remains a highly rated, financially strong organization. As a company with mutual governance, our focus remains on the preservation of capital to deliver on promises we make to policyholders. Having a strong capital base over the past year has served us, and other mutual companies, very well. Securian has roughly 2,400 corporate employees, and our position has been to avoid layoffs. We lost about 125 positions through attrition and can refill these jobs quickly when the economy comes back. But our philosophy is that it is important to build your loyalties with associates in tough times.

FIM: How do recognition conferences help to build loyalty and foster the culture of your company?

Kavanaugh: Our recognition program is key to our culture. Many of our associates have been with Securian for 20 years or more. They are critical to our success. What differentiates insurance companies is not their products, which are remarkably similar, but how they access and manage distribution. Keeping our producers motivated and educated is a key part of our strategy. We did not cancel our 2009 international recognition program. Our chairman stressed that Securian is a mutual company with a long-term perspective, and we were not going let a short-term economic cycle stop us from keeping our promise to our field partners. We developed a plan for reacting to media scrutiny, but it turned out to be a non-issue.

FIM: Was your director of meetings and conference management, Koleen Roach, involved in discussions about the program?

Kavanaugh: Absolutely. I view Koleen as an integral part of my leadership team. She attends every internal business meeting I hold. I think it is important that she understand our business and what our advisers face.

FIM: How important is the educational content of your recognition programs?

Kavanaugh: It is critically important. We always have an open Q&A with senior executives, often including our chairman, and encourage our attendees to ask whatever is on their minds. We use our conferences as a way to communicate with our field partners and to give them the opportunity to communicate with us.