Speaking to the MDRT annual meeting in 1983, as NALU president, Rice Brown used two metaphors, cream and milk, to discuss one of the important segmentations that exist in the insurance field force. Rice talked about growing up in Kansas where every morning the milkman delivered two bottles of milk to their home. This was in the days before homogenized milk and so at the top of each bottle there were three or four inches of pure cream. The rest of the bottle contained the milk.
The cream was the most prized content of the bottles and was often used for special treats. But, the cream also served an important function – it helped to preserve the milk – keeping it from going sour.
Rice offered this as an analogy to point out that the MDRT members were the cream and therefore, also most honored and prized in the industry. But, he also pointed out that as the cream, they have a duty and responsibility to protect the rest of the field force, the milk. The majority of the field force falls into the latter category, but they are equally important in their own way. They are the pool from which future MDRT members and leaders arise and it is important they be nurtured in the process.
I was told, at the time, that Rice’s talk was the highest rated speech by an NALU president up to that time. It was obvious that the MDRT leadership took Rice’s message to heart because of subsequent programs they either initiated or strengthened. The MDRT mentor program is a case in point, along with their efforts to encourage their members to become more involved in local association programs – both as speakers and by their attendance.
Rice’s message is also good advice for other field organizations and companies. It is a mistake to focus only on the cream in an organization. It’s alright to recognize, or even glorify, the accomplishments of the cream, but the milk is where the future lies, and it needs all nourishment it can get. But, the milk is important for other reasons that we sometimes forget.
For example, I remember being confronted by the association executive of one of our large states with a king sized beef. He complained, “I’m sick and tired of chasing membership – why don’t we just raise the dues to cover expenses and live with what we have left”. It was obvious that he had no appreciation of the importance of the milk by wanting to cater only to the cream. It is the milk that serves the lower echelons of the economic pyramid – families and small businesses.