ASCEND - Agency Growth & Leadership Summit
January 13-17 2021, Nashville, TN


Entrepreneur and Shark Tank star Daymond John was ASCEND 2020’s keynote headliner.  Find out more.

All activities will take place in Tate Ballroom B unless otherwise noted.

7:45 AM


8:00 AM



KEYNOTE: IMPACT: How the Benefits Revolution Is Improving Benefits, Health Care, and Lives

Nelson Griswold
Director, NextGen Benefits Mastermind Partnership
Founder & Chairman, ASCEND

The Benefits Revolution continues to spread in reaction to the abject failure of the employee benefits Status Quo to ensure high-quality health care and control or reduce health care costs. As the Revolution and its successes grow, the impact is felt by every stakeholder in the process. As one of the architects and leaders of this Revolution, Nelson Griswold will outline each key element of the NextGen Benefits model and explore their impact on brokers, the BUCAHs, health care providers, employers, and employees & their families. Discover how advisers who are part of the Benefits Revolution are impacting the entire economy and experiencing massive growth as a result. 

THE IMPACT OF DISRUPTION: Success Stories from the Front Lines

Derek Rine
David Rine Insurance

Randy Hansen
PSG Washington

Mike Hill
Total Control Health Plans

Deke Lape
D2E Health Plans

Caitie Hodge
HJ Spier

NextGen Benefits – the ability to lower the cost of health care while enhancing the quality of care and improving benefits for employees – is a Blue Ocean Strategy. In a Blue Ocean, your competition is no longer relevant and you operate with a competitive advantage that can’t be matched. Hear how these top NextGen Benefits Advisers are disrupting the Status Quo to win mid-market accounts (250-3,000 lives) in the C-Suite. Discover how they are using strategic and financial conversations and managing the health care supply chain to take business from larger competitors – including large regional and even national brokers. These successful independent advisers will show you how disruption can improve benefits for employers & employees and grow your book of business.

BEYOND MERE TECH: How AI & Automation Can Improve Your Business

Jason Silverman
Founder & Chief Evangelist, BenefitsGuide 

BREAK – Tate Ballroom Foyer



Rodger Bayne
Owner, Benefit Indemnity Corporation



Steve Napolitan
Executive Coach & Author
Award-Winning Marketing Expert

We all have those clients who make us less happy, who drain the life out of you and your team. But when you work with the right client – what Steve Napolitan calls a WOW client – you can have a profound impact on the client, on your market, and in your business. Your WOW clients are those with whom you’re excited to work because you both enjoy collaborating. The clients who believe in you and follow your recommendations. The clients with whom you can’t wait to talk or meet. Working with WOW clients boosts morale and enhances the client interaction. Discover Steve’s proven secret to finding and working with only WOW clients to grow your firm and create a better and more enjoyable experience for both you and your clients.

12:00 PM



Frank Mengert
Founder, ebenefit Marketplace (ebm)

Eric Silverman
President, Voluntary Disruption

Andy Neary
Coach, Major League Mindset

These three social media Rockstars recreate their online phenomenon – F.E.A.S.T. (Frank.Eric.Andy.Social.Talk) – LIVE ON STAGE at ASCEND! Social media has become an integral part our daily lives, creating new networking opportunities that extend far beyond the traditional networking events of the past. But most brokers and advisers are passive users of social media, using it as an industry news feed and, at most, for social networking. Few are taking advantage of the remarkable opportunity presented by social media to share valuable content and build their personal and business brand. During this session, discover six steps you can take today to grow your brand on social media and become a thought leader among your peers and your prospects.

1:00 PM


Blue Group – Tate Ballroom A
Red Group – San Saba 1
Orange Group – San Saba 3
Green Group – Tate Ballroom A

Expert Roundtables
Guided Tour of the Solutions Pavilion
Mastermind Collaboration Roundtables

ASCEND’s popular Reconnaissance (Recon) Sessions are key to the “meaningful conversations” that are the primary goal of ASCEND. Based on the idea that your route to success should be scouted out – or “reconnoitered” – in advance, Reconnaissance Sessions provide attendees with valuable information about strategies, techniques, resources, tools, and solution partners that can help them provide more value and better results for their clients. EXPERT ROUNDTABLES have been called “speed dating with industry experts,” 10-minute briefings by subject matter experts on such topics as medical utilization management, TPA services, data analytics, marketing, PBM & RX, employee engagement, Enhanced Benefits (formerly voluntary benefits), benefits technology, genetic testing, and level-funding. The GUIDED TOUR OF THE SOLUTIONS PAVILION equips you with a brief overview of each solution provider’s value proposition so that you can determine which solutions best fit the needs of you and your clients. The COLLABORATION ROUNDTABLES are the heart of ASCEND, bringing together brokers and advisers from across the U.S. to collaborate and share best practices, challenges, cautionary tales, and their “gold nuggets,” their closely-held ideas and strategies that are bringing them success and growth. You will discover some of your most valuable takeaways in your Recon Sessions.

BUILD ON ROCK: How the TPA Is Your Health Plan’s Foundation

Tom Doney
President, Cypress Benefit Administrators


SCIENCE FICTION TO SCIENCE FACT: Three Technologies Disrupting Health Care

Mark Plaskow
Chief Technology Officer, Accredited Health

Ron Rerko
Executive Director of Genomics, Family Care Path

Julie Hessick, RPh
Senior Director, Business Development, OneOme

Cristin Dickerson, MD
Founder and CEO, Green Imaging, PLLC

Today, cutting-edge health care is the predictive science of Minority Report meets the medical technology of Star Trek and the Uber of medical diagnostic imaging. Remarkable science fiction that’s market ready, these disruptive technologies – predictive data analytics; genetic testing; a technology-driven, cash-pay virtual imaging network – are redefining the quality & cost matrix in healthcare. Predictive genetic testing is getting at-risk employees and their doctors out in front of serious diseases. Predictive data analytics is getting employers out in front of serious medical claims. Driven by technology, low-cost, on-demand imaging is helping employees avoid unnecessary out-of-pocket expenses and employers unnecessary high claims while providing high-quality test results. The experts on this panel will tell you how to bring your clients into the future…today!


BREAK – Tate Ballroom Foyer


IT STARTS & ENDS WITH THE EMPLOYEE: The Critical Importance of Employee Engagement

Julian Lago
President, Benezon


MAKING THE COMPLEX SIMPLE: An Adviser’s Guide to the NextGen Health Plan Ecosystem

Deb Ault, RN, MBA
Founder & President, Ault International Medical Management

The NextGen health care plan ecosystem isn’t complicated, but it is complex. NextGen authority and medical management expert “Nurse Deb” Ault breaks down these plans into their component parts. Learn which are the foundational components of a NextGen health care plan that can determine its success or failure. Discover insider tips on how you vet, select, integrate, and manage the various solution providers that help you manage the plan and manage the health care supply chain to lower and control costs.


TIME TO CLEAN UP THE MESS: How Better Care Choices Can Minimize Medical Expenses

Kim Evans
CEO, The Karis Group


CRACKING THE CODE: Keys to Deciphering a PBM Contract

Ryan Liabenow
CEO, StrategosRx

Imagine telling a CEO or CFO, “Give me your PBM contract and I’ll show you if – and why – you’re getting a good financial deal…or not.” Few brokers and advisers understand Pharmacy Benefits Management (PBM) and complex PBM contracts. With Rx at around 20% of the total health care spend, the waste, fraud, and abuse in PBMs make pharmacy costs low hanging fruit and a high-impact area for cost reduction. Pharmacy expert Ryan Liabenow will show you step by step how to easily decipher a PBM contract and identify cost-saving opportunities. You can use this insider information to open C-Suite doors, impress the CEO and CFO, make the case for a new adviser, and win new business.


RECAP & FRIDAY PREVIEW | Nelson Griswold, ASCEND Conference Chairman


5:30 pm


6:00 pm

WELCOME RECEPTION – Tate Ballroom A Foyer & Exhibit Hall

All activities will take place in Tate Ballroom B unless otherwise noted.

7:45 AM


8:00 AM

WELCOME & DAY 2 CHARGE | Nelson Griswold, ASCEND Conference Chairman

Daymond John
Founder & CEO, FUBU
Star of ABC’s Shark Tank

Daymond John is the Founder and CEO of global fashion brand FUBU, star of ABC’s Shark Tank, and the Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship. Also a New York Times best-selling author, John is the personification of the American Dream, from his humble beginning on the streets of New York, to a self-made multimillionaire with over $4 billion in global product sales. In this presentation, he will teach attendees how to apply his successful methods — from innovative marketing techniques, to disrupting the status quo, to optimizing talent — to their agencies.

ADVANCED C-SUITE CONVERSATIONS: Leveraging Tax and Plan Design Cost-Saving Strategies

Kent B. Utsey, MBA
CEO, American Health Resources

Two keys to effective C-Suite conversations: 1) don’t sound like a broker; 2) bring serious value. Few brokers know the strategies that financial expert and tax strategist Kent Utsey will teach you to bring tremendous value to CEOs and CFOs… even before you start saving them on their health plan costs. You can save your clients hundreds of thousands of dollars through plan design and tax strategies before you ever begin to implement cost containment strategies. Using these high-impact strategies, you can save an employer $800 to $1,100 per employee in tax liabilities alone. Premium cost reduction can drive even greater savings. Besides the cost savings, these tax and financial strategies help you speak the language of the C-Suite and help establish you as a valuable business consultant… and not a mere broker.

BREAK – Tate Ballroom Foyer

CEO PANEL: DEBUNKING HEALTH CARE’S BIG LIE: CEOs Who Are Managing Their Health Care Costs

Dan Bigman, Moderator
Editor-in-Chief, Chief Executive Magazine

Jim Eickhoff
President & CEO, Creative Dining Services

Marty Landon
CEO, BioBridge Global

The C-Suite is Ground Zero for the Benefits Revolution, as the benefits conversation moves from HR to the executive offices. The CEO is the preferred client, with the strategic vision and fiduciary mindset required to understand and embrace NextGen Benefits. Moderated by the editor of the most widely read CEO publication, this panel brings together a group of accomplished CEOs to discuss the role of the C-Suite in overseeing and managing the health care spend. This panel will explore the CEO mindset about health care, confront healthcare’s Big Lie and challenge the conventional C-Suite wisdom about health care, and examine how progressive CEOs are managing their company’s healthcare unit.

ELEVATE YOUR CONVERSATIONS: Learning the Language of the C-Suite

Nelson Griswold
Director, NextGen Benefits Mastermind Partnership
Founder & Chairman, ASCEND

NextGen Benefits depends on elevating the benefits conversation from HR to the C-Suite. But meeting with executives is a fool’s errand unless you are able to communicate in the language of the C-Suite. It’s been said, “The language of the C-Suite is numbers.” Plus executives have their own specialized vocabulary (e.g., EBITDA, free cashflow, financial hedge, arbitrage, and supply chain management) that you can leverage for credibility and impact. In this session with NextGen expert Nelson Griswold, discover what you need to know to effectively frame and explain your strategies to the C-level executives. And learn the one term that will keep you from getting bounced to HR before you can introduce yourself.

GIVE ‘EM WHAT THEY WANT: 4 Power Questions to Engage and Close the C-Suite

Steve Napolitan
Executive Coach & Author
Award-Winning Marketing Expert

Do you want to know the four questions you should ask every prospect first? Steve Napolitan’s remarkable experience as the CEO of an award-winning marketing firm for some of the country’s largest brands placed him in front of C-Suite decision makers his entire career. Discover his four-question model that identifies exactly what the prospect really wants and engages the prospect’s emotions (remember that emotion drives the buying decision). To get your prospect to buy in and embrace your solutions so you close more business in the C-Suite, these four questions are the magic key.

12:00 PM


CAPTURING HEARTS & MINDS: The Power of Public Speaking

Jim Blachek
CEO, The Benefits Group

Andy Neary
Business Coach, Major League Mindset

Public speaking is known as “rainmaking” due to its power to elevate you as the speaker, establish you as an expert, and create a one-to-many marketing opportunity that can fill your pipeline. Plus, it’s well established that emotion, not logic, drives buying decisions. A great presentation appeals to both the emotion – heart – as well as the logic – mind – of your audience. In this session you’ll hear two powerful adviser presentations and discover the key points to craft your own effective presentation.

1:00 PM


Blue Group – San Saba 1
Red Group – San Saba 4
Orange Group – Tate Ballroom A
Green Group – San Saba 2


Elizabeth Teisberg, Ph.D., Moderator
Professor, University of Texas at Austin
Executive Director, Value Institute for Health and Care at UT-Austin

Ashley Bacot
Director of Risk Management, Rosen Hotels & Resorts

Heather Darnell
Director, Benefits & Compensation, NCH Corporation

Diana Dimon
Manager, Health & Welfare Benefit, PraxAir

Sally Luck
Fmr. Corporate Wellness Strategy & Programming Leader, Hallmark, Inc.

Tom Vertich
Global Benefits Manager, American Airlines

HR professionals are an invaluable tactical partner in NextGen Benefits, essential to the implementation, operation, and success of your NextGen health care plan. And most HR pros want to play a bigger role in their company – to be viewed by the C-Suite as part of the company’s strategic leadership. As some have grown tired of the hamster wheel of the benefits status quo, they have stepped up, leaning into health care and embracing alternative strategies. Moderated by the highly respected director of the nationally recognized Value Institute for Health and Care at the University of Texas, this panel of top HR leaders will share their experiences challenging the status quo and what they look for in their benefits adviser.

BREAK – Tate Ballroom Foyer


Blue Group – San Saba 3
Red Group – Tate Ballroom A
Orange Group – San Saba 2
Green Group – San Saba 4

ALTERNATIVE FUNDING 2.0: How Medical Cost Sharing Is Revolutionizing Medical Plan Design & Lowering Costs

Jamie Lagarde
CEO, Sedera

NEXTGEN 2.0: Disruptive Health Plan Designs

Jawad Ashad, MD
CEO, WoW Health Solutions

Andy Bonner
CEO, Healthcare2U

Kevin Schlotman
COO, Flume Heath

The innovative and outside-the-box plan designs of these cutting-edge NextGen health plans may pose the ultimate challenge to the benefits Status Quo. Based on alternative funding strategies to ensure employer control, these plans use dramatically different models to promote real health care consumerism that works. Along with a cost-effective plan design, these plans also demonstrate a strong commitment to effective cost-containment that increases quality of care and reduces cost for employers and their employees.

RECAP & SATURDAY PREVIEW | Nelson Griswold, ASCEND Conference Chairman

5:30 PM


6:00 PM

VIP RECEPTION (For VIP & Elite VIP Level Registrants) – Yellow Rose Ballroom

9:00 PM

Invite-only reception with spirits, coffee bar, and dessert station | Toasted by SpringBuk – VIP Lounge in Tate Ballroom C

All activities will take place in Tate Ballroom B unless otherwise noted.

7:45 AM


8:00 AM

Welcome & Day 3 Charge | Nelson Griswold, ASCEND Conference Chairman

Medical Management and It’s Place in the Healthcare Ecosystem

Aaron Ault
CFO, Ault International Medical Management


Leah Binder
CEO, The Leapfrog Group

Employers are demanding patient safety along with price and quality transparency because of the movement to high-deductible health plans that shift a higher percentage of costs to workers and empowers them to make treatment decisions. But price alone is not enough for consumers to judge providers and patients will pay a little more for higher quality if it can be demonstrated. Consistently named one of the most powerful and influential people in healthcare, Leapfrog CEO Leah Binder will discuss how, in the move away from fee-for-service payments to the pay-for-value agenda, the importance of patient safety is often overlooked and how much it costs employers because of problems with patient safety. Despite the reluctance of some providers and health insurers, the debate is over as to whether transparency is a good or not good thing. Although transparency is not optional anymore, Binder will address the question, “How do we get there safely?”

LEVERAGE: Use Technology to Enhance Health Care Cost Containment

Brian Glock
Director of Business Development, 6 Degrees Health


Blue Group – Tate Ballroom A
Red Group – San Saba 2
Green Group – Tate Ballroom A
Orange Group – San Saba 4

BREAK – Tate Ballroom Foyer

LEVELING UP WITH DATA: How Data Improves Health Care Decisions

Mike Pattengale
Account Executive, Springbuk


Nelson Griswold
Director, NextGen Benefits Mastermind Partnership
Founder & Chairman, ASCEND

Steve Napolitan
Executive Coach & Author
Award-Winning Marketing Expert

Imagine picking the brains of two nationally known business consultants – one a highly respected thought leader in your industry – both at the top of their game. In this fast-paced, interactive session, Nelson Griswold, author of the agency growth handbook, DO OR DIE, and growth consultant to some of the nation’s top benefits advisers, and Steve Napolitan, author, executive coach, and successful business consultant, will answer your questions about challenges or opportunities in your agency and about the NextGen Benefits Toolset, Skillset & Mindset. Nelson has guided his agency clients to grow their revenue by 20 to over 65 percent in a year. Steve has helped his business clients get more freedom in their life while growing their business as much as 100% in a year. You don’t want to miss this opportunity to discover growth strategies and hacks from these two highly respected business consultants.

12:00 PM



1:00 PM


Blue Group – San Saba 2
Red Group – San Saba 3
Green Group – San Saba 3
Orange Group – San Saba 1

BREAK – Tate Ballroom Foyer


Blue Group – San Saba 4
Red Group – Tate Ballroom A
Orange Group – San Saba 1
Green Group – San Saba 3

KEYNOTE: OPENING THE PLAYBOOK: The Mindset & Methods of a Top Benefits Disruptor

David Contorno
Founder, E Powered Benefits
2015 BenefitsPRO Broker of the Year

David Contorno is recognized as one of the nation’s most effective benefits advisers, whose many case studies document his ability to improve benefits for employees while lowering costs for both the employer and employees. An outspoken critic of the Status Quo in both the benefits industry and healthcare, he has established himself as a powerful force for change. In this highly personal keynote address, David opens his playbook to share his all-important “Why,” reveals how he positions himself and speaks to CEOs and CFOs, and breaks down his craftsman-like approach to building a NextGen Health Plan. This is a rare and unvarnished behind-the-scenes look at the mindset and methods of an adviser who has been called “one of America’s most innovative benefits leaders” by Forbes magazine.


FINAL CHARGE & CLOSING REMARKS | Nelson Griswold, ASCEND Conference Chairman

5:00 PM


5:45 PM


7:00 PM


9:00 am



Nelson Griswold
Director, NextGen Benefits Mastermind Partnership
Founder & Chairman, ASCEND


12:00 pm