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The Deal We Didn’t See Coming
Relationships matter, career lessons from two GSM alumni

Is it too late to restart your career in your 50s? Should you coast into retirement, or play “Start Me Up” by the Rolling Stones and get ready for a new adventure?

That’s the decision Dard Hunter MBA 04 and I faced recently, and it all started with a text: “Ready to talk?”

Dard and I are alumni of the UC Davis Sacramento Part-Time MBA program, and the two of us have had long, illustrious careers in employee benefits consulting. For years, we worked with employers on health and other insurances, legal compliance, technology, well-being programs, communications and we ultimately advised clients on how to shift company culture. It’s a great business that allows us the privilege of using our MBAs to the full.

Vinny Catalano and Dard Hunter

Though we had never worked together, we knew of each other since our Graduate School of Management (GSM) days. There were times when we ran into each other at industry conferences, and we formed a friendship outside of business.

Over 17 years, I had built a book of business from scratch with clients in the Sacramento region, the Bay Area and as far as Southern California with the same brokerage. It’s worth noting that I started in this business via another MBA alumnus, classmate Robert Emery. He mentored and encouraged me for six years post-graduation to enter the field. Sadly, he passed away in 2004, a year after I started.

For nearly two decades, I worked as an employee benefits broker and consultant. But I’ve since made the jump to Lockton Insurance Brokers LLC.—the world’s largest independent insurance brokerage—and I’ve been reunited with Dard, my fellow alum.


After graduating from the GSM in 2004, Dard rose to the top of our profession quickly, running branch offices and taking on larger corporate roles. He spent over 25 years with the same firm.

Both of us had great careers and worked for great companies, until we each had similar epiphanies.

Company cultures shift, priorities change, and when you stop and look back at the last 10-15 years of your career, sometimes you question, “Do I just accept this, or do I make a move?”

Both of us made that move.

First, it was Dard. His career shifted from a large firm to a smaller start-up for six months and then back to his large firm as a senior partner. He wanted a change and decided to look elsewhere.

At the end of 2018, he took a role as senior vice president, benefits growth leader at Lockton Insurance Brokers LLC. He recruits new producers, partnering with associates, and helping close business throughout the Western U.S. It was a year before I reached out to him.


And then one day last year, I left one of “those” meetings at work. You know, the kind where you say, “if I stay here I’m going to lose it.” I walked out of the meeting and texted Dard, which led to a series of talks and interviews—and we sealed the deal for me to join Lockton as a senior vice president and partner. I’m responsible for new business acquisition and client relationship management.

Why take the risk at such a late stage in my career? Here are my takeaways from that life-changing fork in the road:

  • Mediocrity isn’t sexy. If you can’t thrive, find somewhere you can, no matter what stage you’re at in your career.
  • Long-term relationships matter. This doesn’t mean a LinkedIn connection. I mean develop real bonds with people that you can count on and ask advice. These people are usually the ones that work hard, are smart, share your values and are worth staying connected to. You just never know when that relationship could blossom into an opportunity.
  • Finally, never stop learning. Even now at a later stage in my career, I feel that I know infinitely more than when I graduated, but I still learn something new about myself or others every day. Work on that emotional IQ. As an MBA student, you’re already book smart. Emotional intelligence is integral in the workplace.

As Dard and I begin this new partnership at Lockton, my role is to develop new business. I’m reconnecting with fellow GSM alumni, those who may be looking to improve their company’s employee benefits bottom line, improve corporate culture, or handle employee benefits from a multi-generational perspective.

Feel free to connect with us on LinkedIn. Also, be on the lookout for a reboot of the Sacramento Business Networking Group, a grassroots group of GSM alumni committed to building connections.