When Robert Wilson answered a help wanted ad in 1994, he had no idea that he would be answering his calling. “Back in those days,” Wilson reminisced, “they didn’t even list the name of the organization in the newspaper’s job posting. The ad simply said Wanted, Communications Specialist, and I thought that sounds right up my alley, I’ll give it a try.”
“When I was first hired at LAGERS, I was pretty well given a blank canvas. The organization was still very young, and we were a small staff of just eight employees. I was the very first communications person for the system and had the opportunity to build a program from the ground up.”
Wilson adds he spent much of his early years fulfilling the mandate of the board to meet with every employer as part of the systems’ new communication and education endeavors.
“I got to travel around the state, and truly get to know our members; it was great,” Wilson says with a smile. “At first, I would show up at an employer in a suit and tie. They had never seen anyone from LAGERS before, so you can imagine, they were often skeptical to see me. I learned early on that when I was on the road meeting with members, I needed to take off the tie and keep my visit short,” Wilson chuckles.
“It didn’t take long for our employers to really appreciate those visits, and it was a great way for me to learn what our local public servants were all about.”
Wilson adds, “I grew up on a farm outside of Lawrence, Kansas. One of my brothers worked for the county road department; another was in law enforcement, so that time traveling the state meeting our public workforce really held a lot of personal meaning for me.
When asked what some of the biggest changes were during his career, Wilson responds, “Technology really impacted the way we communicated over time.” “It seems silly now, but back then narrated PowerPoint presentations were a game changer for how we were able to get employer-specific information out there. It created a firestorm of desire for information. Being able to empower our members and employers with information about their future has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my work,” Wilson adds. “Looking back now, our members are so well-educated about their LAGERS system, and I’m really proud of that.”
In 2010, Wilson became Assistant Director, Member Services for the system, where he continued to build the system’s education and outreach programs. During this time, Wilson also began working with the state legislature where he would spend the balance of his career building advocates for local government workers and their defined benefit plans.
Wilson emphasizes that one of the things he is most proud of in his career is being able to be the voice for the LAGERS membership. “I have loved being our members’ sentinel, their gatekeeper, their watchdog,” he remarks. “Whether we are making a simple business decision about office supplies or pushing a major piece of legislation at the capitol, everything we do is always about making things better for our members – it has always been about the members. I’ve been so lucky to get to represent them and help protect their financial futures.”
“Whether we are making a simple business decision about office supplies or pushing a major piece of legislation at the capitol, everything we do is always about making things better for our members – it has always been about the members. I’ve been so lucky to get to represent them and help protect their financial futures.” Wilson was named Executive Director in 2017 where, in addition to taking the helm of the LAGERS organization, he expanded his work advocating for the LAGERS membership. “I’ve always viewed my role at LAGERS as more than just a benefits administrator, and becoming director gave me the opportunity to fully embrace the idea that LAGERS should be an advocate for our members,” Wilson notes.
“Of course we are always focused on delivering a premier retirement system for the membership, but I truly believe a retirement system is a system. It’s meant to attract great employees into public service, keep those individuals through the pinnacle of their careers, and then help them transition into a secure and dignified retirement. When you think about it like that, LAGERS ultimately exists to help make our communities, and everyone who lives there, better.” Wilson adds, “That message is one I don’t think the general public hears enough. It’s not always an easy message for us to send out into the world, but to quote Tom Hanks from “A League of Their Own,” ‘it’s the hard that makes it great,’ and I challenge the LAGERS team to embrace that every day we come to work.” Wilson concludes with, “I can’t tell you how much I respect our members and the often thankless work they do to make their communities a great place to be. I have been truly honored to serve Missouri’s local government workforce, and am confident the LAGERS system will continue to serve them well.”
As for the future, Wilson admits the prospect of retirement is bittersweet. Most immediately, he notes his plans to return to his family’s farm where he looks forward to enjoying some quiet time and a cup of coffee (not in a to-go cup). “I’m looking forward to slowing down and being able to simply appreciate the moment. In contrast to our fast-paced world, I love the genuine, quiet beauty of the farm – it resets me,” Wilson shares. “After that, I’m hoping to do a bit of traveling – I love to ride motorcycles and play golf – I’m ready to have time to do those things,” he adds. When asked if he had any parting words, a reflective smile spreads across his face, and he simply replies, “I hope I’ve earned it.”