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The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Meeting Leaders: Robert Cohen

Executive Profile

Name: Robert Cohen

Title: President

Organization: AllianceBenefits, LLC   

Location: Fulton, Maryland

Birthplace: Washington, D.C.


University of Maryland — BA in Radio, TV and Film

University of Central Michigan — MHSA in Health Care Economics

Career History:

Broadcaster (1978-1981)

Health Management Strategies International, vice president (1985-1989)

EDS Corporation (1989-1993)

AllianceBenefits LLC, managing partner (1993-present)

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Rob Cohen was forging a career in broadcast journalism, living in New York City and working for CBS, Disney, ABC and National Public Radio. He covered and produced stories about international sporting events including the Olympics, horse and auto racing, Monday Night Football and the PGA Tour. While it was an exciting gig for a 20-something, it also meant he was on the road — a lot.

“I shared an apartment with roommates, but I was traveling 95% of the time,” Cohen said. “I’d leave on a Monday and come home Sunday night and start over again. After a while it gets pretty old. I wanted more stability and wanted to have a family, so I discovered that having my own business was going to be the best route. Insurance turned out to be one of the things you could do without a huge investment except for your own time.”

Fast forward almost 40 years, throw in master’s degrees in business administration and in health administration and you’ll get Cohen’s brainchild, AllianceBenefits LLC. The company specializes in providing health insurance and group employee benefits to small and mid-sized employers. Its products include HSAs to health insurance packages, life and disability plans, and benefit plans. Cohen has partnered with a large company, Amwins Connect, to outsource the day-to-day operations of AllianceBenefits, so he can focus on the things he loves doing the most: organizing and running meetings, conferences and conventions. As it turns out, the traveling he did early in his career taught him skills that he could apply toward organizing travel for others.

“It gives me a lot more freedom to focus in on the things I like to do,” he said. “Our very first retreat, in 2000, was at Nemacolin, a resort in Pennsylvania. Everyone was fairly new, but we had to learn to trust each other and work as a team, so that became an important part of what we do — team-building activities.”

Since then, Cohen has helped orchestrate more than a dozen events each year, working with a group of three other people on staff to help plan events and retreats, figuring out everything from the destination to an itinerary. Alliance Benefits’  annual events include regional sales compliance meetings, board retreats, incentive trips and an annual meeting with insurance brokers and agents. Its annual sales meeting and expo is the largest of the meetings with about 2,000 attendees. Incentive trips are limited to 200 attendees; regional meetings have 35 to 50 attendees; and retreats are for smaller groups of 12 to 15. Cohen and his planning partners will work out everything from tee times to transportation, sponsored dinners to sporting events.

“I need some disruption in my life,” said Cohen. “I need to travel, and that gives me enough adventure — something can always happen. It keeps me from being bored. I’m working as a partner — I’m pretty close to retirement, I’m at an age everyone else my age is retired. I don’t know if I’d ever want to retire, though.”

Tips from Robert Cohen

• Plan ahead. The more planning you do, the less likely you are to run into problems on the day of the event. This includes things like setting a budget, choosing a venue, booking speakers or entertainers, and sending out invitations. I always put in contingencies and plan Bs.

• Be flexible. Things don’t always go according to plan, so it’s important to be flexible and adaptable. This means being willing to change things up if necessary, such as moving the event to a different location or changing the menu.

• Communicate effectively. Keep your attendees updated on the progress of the event, and make sure everyone knows what to expect. This will help to avoid any surprises and ensure that everyone has a positive experience. We use automated systems and give incentives to those that book early.