GAMAs CEO Retiring Soon
San Antonio, Texas
“In my mind, being in the insurance business was the last thing you did in life after you failed everything else,” says Charles A. Smith, recalling his impression of the business back in 1969.
The current executive vice president and CEO of GAMA International had already accepted a job with Merrill Lynch when a friend approached him about a career in insurance planning with Prudential.
“I had no interest in it,” he says. But, as a favor to his old friend, Smith went to meet with the principal of the agency, who challenged him to a task before he made a decision against the career.
“He knew that I was not looking favorably on a career of sales in insurance,” he explains. “He challenged me to interview six people, tell them Im considering making a career switch to the life insurance business with Prudential, and just get their feedback.”
Accepting this challenge, Smith spoke with a number of his close friends and associates. Surprisingly, he says, all of them encouraged him to pursue this career. But this did not entirely convince him, it just opened his eyes–now he would consider this as an option and discuss the opportunity with a more neutral attitude.
After taking a serious look at the career, Smith decided to go ahead, withdraw his job acceptance with Merrill Lynch, and begin working with Prudential in their Charlotte, N.C., agency.
After Smith qualified for the Million Dollar Round Table his first two years and Prudentials Presidents Club once, the individual that had recruited him left the organization. Smith was then presented with the opportunity to get into the role of a second line agency manager.
Being an entrepreneurial agent, Smith had no interest in getting involved with agency management. He wanted to focus on building a successful practice for himself. But, “a long story short, they talked me into it.”
Smith, who had demonstrated some success as an agent, however, struggled in this new role, so much so that he considered leaving the business altogether. “I had 10 people in my unit, and I was in the process of losing every one of them,” he recalls.
It was at that time Smith discovered the tools available from an organization then called the General Agents & Managers Association, he explains. One morning, a brochure arrived on his desk advertising the “Legacy of Learning” audiocassette series, which featured successful agency managers and their secrets to success, highlighting agencies with four-year retention levels of 90%.
“I thought this was science fiction,” he says. “I was about to face a zero four-year retention rate–so I ordered the tapes.”
The lessons Smith learned on those tapes gave him the hope and motivation to continue on in agency management. Within two and a half years of implementing those proven techniques, he had built one of the top agency units at Prudential. “I believe that unit went on to have a 75% retention rate, with half of them members of MDRT.”
Then from 1976-1998, Smith built a successful operation in Palm Beach, Fla. Going in, he had a small agency of about 10 producers, but by the time he left he had built an organization of about 100 people.
Now, after holding the top position at GAMA International for the last five years, Smith is retiring. Over the years, he has seen the organization change from what used to be a “good old boy network” to one that is an integral part of the training and development of agency managers. According to Smith, as companies were cutting their training departments, “eliminating their support for the agency system,” GAMA stepped up to fill the gap.
Now as he is about to enter retirement, Smith is looking to “reinvent” himself. In addition to doing a number of speaking engagements, Smith would like to return to a project he began a number of years ago: writing a book on leadership with lessons from the life of Abraham Lincoln. A self-admitted history nut, Smith feels hes done enough research to complete about nine chapters in a book–three of which hes already developed.
Smith is also committed to assisting in the seamless transition between himself and the new CEO of GAMA, yet to be chosen.
But most importantly to Smith, hes looking forward to spending more quality time with his 11 grandchildren, nine of whom live within five miles of him and his wife Mary.
Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, March 31, 2003. Copyright 2003 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved. Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.