These four American originals all achieved widespread notoriety for other reasons, but all of them were in the life insurance business at some point in their lives (and one of them still is).
While three of the people included here became famous for achievements unrelated to selling life insurance, one achieved fame in the insurance world during his life and even greater mainstream acclaim for his other talent long after his death. And another is a relative newbie to the insurance business, but he has brought his passion for the power of life insurance and talents as an incredibly shrewd marketer to a firm that caters to high net-worth clients.
Click on “next” below for quick stories about each of these four American originals and the role life insurance sales played (or is playing) in their lives.
Colonel Harland Sanders (1890-1980)
Nine years before he took his savings and opened a Shell Oil station in Kentucky, where he began serving the fried chicken made from his secret recipe that would eventually make him famous, Colonel Harland Sanders heard there was a job available as an insurance salesman for Prudential. What follows is a brief excerpt from the book, “Colonel Sanders and the American Dream,” by Josh Ozersky:
“He went out and bought himself a gray suit and a pair of shiny black shoes and pitched himself with such energy and conviction that the company took a chance on him. He was given the worst territory in Indiana, occupied by the poorest residents and the most deadbeats. A man used to working 20 backbreaking hours per day, he was not at all discouraged and went after commissions “like a possum after persimmons.” Through a combination of salesmanship, craft (he would show up at a home and say he was taking a survey, one of the questions of which was, ‘Do you have life insurance?’), and sheer force of will, the 32-year-old Sanders was able, in a little more than a year, to head up his own district.
“But just as with his career as a lawyer, his ungovernable truculence got the best of him. It was explained to him that he would be given his commission only after he turned in his accounts; the accounts, to his mind, were his only means to get paid, and so he refused. He was fired… Sanders crossed the river into Louisville and got another job, this one with Mutual Benefit Life of New Jersey… He redoubled his efforts to sell insurance as no man had sold insurance before. But it was obvious to him that he was not cut out to be a salary man. No sooner had he settled in Louisville than he decided to start a ferryboat company…”
By the time he was 65, circumstances left Sanders with his secret recipe for chicken fried in a pressure cooker with 11 herbs and spices and not much else. Believing he could market his chicken to restaurants across the country, he took his “original recipe” on the road and started licensing it to other restaurants. By the early 1960s, there were more than 600 franchised Kentucky Fried Chicken locations, and Sanders sold the franchising operation for $2 million in 1964.
KISS co-founder Gene Simmons certainly doesn’t need to be involved in selling life insurance, with all the other irons he has in the fire on top of the legendary band’s 100 million-plus in unit sales within the past 40 years. He just chooses to be anyway, because he feels passionate about the power of insurance — especially to protect the estates of the wealthy.
Simmons helped found Franklin, Tenn.-based Cool Springs Life Equity Strategy in 2010 after friend Samuel B. Watson recognized Simmons’ potential as an insurance pitchman. The firm specializes in providing life insurance for high net-worth individuals in a financially advantaged way that minimizes estate taxes. Simmons is a natural advocate, as per this quote he provided for an article on TheStreet in April 2011:
“Life insurance is a must. It’s the one thing in your life you are doing for everybody else. Once you are dead, you really don’t care, but while you are alive it is the one big, selfless thing you should be doing. And you should try to maximize the amount of money that you leave behind to your family, your loved ones and whoever else you deem.”
Cool Springs, which also includes former TransAmerica Chairman and CEO David R. Carpenter among its founders, utilizes “proprietary premium finance platforms” to provide life insurance policies of $10 million or greater for people with a net worth of at least $20 million — without spending their money on annual premiums.
The 63-year-old Simmons has been a visible face for the company, appearing on several cable news and business networks promoting Cool Springs’ estate planning strategy.
Read Kiss This to learn more about Gene Simmons’ involvement in Cool Springs Life Equity Strategy.