Spend some time at an event where Van Mueller is scheduled to speak and you’d get the impression you are waiting for a rock star to arrive. At this year’s MDRT conference, held in Vancouver, British Columbia, there was a palpable energy in the air as Mueller readied to make his presentation. But ask the down-to-earth Milwaukee resident about his appeal and he’ll downplay the whole thing with his self-effacing charm. The secret, he says, is that the advisors he coaches know that he truly walks the walk, with a sales record to back up his words.
In addition to making dozens of public speaking appearances, Mueller (pronounced, as he says, like Miller beer) maintains an active client base of about 3000, with his wife and daughter helping with his website, newsletter, marketing and his monthly column for SMA, and Laurie Kim, his ever-vigilant office manager/sidekick, keeping his schedule in order.
We’ve selected Mueller as the 2010 Advisor of the Year for his hard-working spirit and his dedication to developing and improving the life (and business) of those in the industry. Mostly, it’s the story of his personal reinvention and the success he’s enjoyed in the days that followed that make him an advisor to emulate.
SMA: What is it that you’ve done to become such a star in your speaking engagements?
Van Mueller: It’s pretty simple–what I do is talk about things that can be easily transferred into action, immediately, under any company’s system. The problem with most speakers is that they talk about their own special market or their particular seminar … that’s not the case with me. I could move to New York City, Los Angeles or Atlanta, and it wouldn’t take me long to catch on. I’d use the same ideas and I’d have had the same success I’ve had in Milwaukee.
People know that I’m really doing what I say, going out and knocking on doors, sitting in households and talking to people. I don’t talk a lot about myself, I mostly talk about the transferrable ideas … and that’s why I keep on getting invited back to events. And it also works with my own clients, as well. They always ask, “Will you talk with my mom and dad or with my kids about the same solutions?” And that’s great–I don’t have to prospect, I have so many people ready to see me.
SMA: You credit a job loss as one of the best things that ever happened to you. How did that occur?
VM: Change takes courage and I wasn’t very courageous. I worked selling health insurance for 16 years but I was a coward, happy just making $30,000 or $40,000 a year, figuring that if I just stayed put, no one would bother me. But I had a totally negative attitude–I was the cancer of the office, the guy that always said that everything sucked and everything was bad–and because I was 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, nobody wanted to deal with me. It was so hard to replace an agent back then that they were willing to live with me.
Finally, I got fired–and I still fall to my knees, thankful that this happened, though at the time, I didn’t know what to do. So I picked up the phone and called James Gaylord, who was VP of training for a life insurance company, and I asked for help. He told me, “Van … you’re a moron. But I can fix your career, if you do exactly what I say.” He told me I needed to take care of people and not worry if what I did was going to earn me a profit. It needed to be about them, not me.
Almost immediately, I began public speaking and learning to put my information out there and let people look at it. I thought I was going to starve to death, but in my 17th year in business, I made the MDRT, and now, in my 37th year, I’ve been Top of the Table for 20 years. Much later, I asked him, “Jimmy, what can I do to say thank you for what you’ve taught me? He told me, ‘just pass it on.’”
SMA: Which of your roles do you enjoy more?