I have never subscribed to the notion that one should revere the past to the extent that there is no place for change in a person’s life. But I also believe it is important not to ignore one’s history as we face new challenges and opportunities, or, as the philosopher George Santayana put it, “those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it.” And so we look back in search of lessons learned that will help assure a better future.
Fifty-one years ago this month, I made my way into the insurance business as an apprentice agent with New York Life. I started with a draw of $220 per month and the knowledge that it would last only if I produced enough to support it. The $10,000 whole life policy, which was modeled after the G.I. insurance of World War II, was king, and most purchases were in that increment. A few years later, I acquired my CLU designation and qualified for the Million Dollar Round Table. At the time, there were about 3,200 MDRT members nationally, and 6 in Arizona. Today, there are more than 200 in Arizona and close to 30,000 worldwide.
My great fortune was that I was recruited and trained by a general manager who believed fervently in the life underwriters association. After signing my NYLIC contract, the next paper I signed was a membership application to the National Association of Life Underwriters (now the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors). Dues were $6 ($2 local, $4 national; there was no state association).
On the day of the local association meeting, the general manager made a sweep of the office to be certain we attended the meeting. If you were a new agent, you better have had a good excuse if you missed a meeting. Our manager was a self-confident person; he did not worry that his people might be exposed to other companies that might proselytize them. He also understood that as good as our company was, we did not own all the good ideas, and these local meetings afforded the only opportunity for cross-pollination. At such meetings, we mingled with mentors and competitors alike and developed a healthy respect for both.
As we listened to the experiences of others, we developed our most important asset: a conviction about our business, its products and the service we provide. One can gain knowledge and facts from computer-generated programs, but salesmanship and the conviction that makes it effective can only come from personal contact.