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Life Health > Life Insurance

4 notable people who sold life insurance

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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.

(AP Photo)


Gene Simmons

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.

(AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)


Charles Ives (1874-1954)

Most Americans familiar with music history recognize modernist composer Charles Ives as one of the first American composers to gain international renown, even though his innovative music was largely ignored by the general public during his lifetime. But people keenly familiar with insurance history might know that Ives was also a pioneer in the field of estate planning.

Ives, a musical prodigy as a child, could have followed the career path of an organist/choirmaster/composer/teacher and gone from Yale to complete studies in a European conservatory. Instead, he headed for New York in 1898 to begin as a $15-a-week clerk with the Mutual Life Insurance Company. In 1899, he joined the Charles H. Raymond & Co. insurance agency, where he stayed until 1906. Upon the failure of that agency, Ives and friend Julian Myrick formed their own insurance agency, which would become Ives & Myrick, where he remained until he retired in 1930.

While continuing to work as an organist and compose music in his spare time, Ives made a living entirely via the insurance business. He built the agency into a very successful enterprise, devising creative ways to structure life insurance packages for wealthy people. He achieved considerable notoriety in the industry in 1918 after publishing a book, “Life Insurance with Relation to Inheritance Tax,” which laid the foundation for the modern practice of estate planning and was considered “the Bible of estate planning” at the time. His insurance industry peers were often surprised to learn he was also a composer.

According to a biography posted on the Charles Ives Society website, Ives composed at a pace hard to believe between 1908 and 1917, given that his insurance agency was burgeoning. “From these years comes the completion of much of his greatest work: Three Places in New England; the symphony Holidays; the intense and mystical Second String Quartet; most of the monumental Fourth Symphony; the Second Orchestral Set; the Concord Sonata; the sprawling, raging Robert Browning Overture; many songs both progressive and traditional; and studies in various states of completion including the Tone Roads.”

He composed very little after suffering a heart attack in 1918, and not at all after 1927. Ives died in 1954, just as a pioneering biography of him was completed. It was not until a decade later that the musical mainstream began to take Ives seriously.

Charles Ives image courtesy of the Charles Ives Papers, MSS 14, in the Irving S. Gilmore Music Library of Yale University.


Homer Plessy (1862-1925)

Long after American civil rights pioneer Homer Plessy was at the center of the landmark United States Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, he sold life insurance for the People’s Life Insurance Company.

Plessy was the American Creole plaintiff in the case, who was arrested, tried and convicted in New Orleans of a violation of one of Louisiana’s racial segregation laws. In a calculated effort to strike down segregation laws, he was recruited in 1982 by the Citizens’ Committee of New Orleans to intentionally violate the state’s separate rail car law. The case was appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where Plessy lost in 1896, but the resulting “separate but equal” decision had wide consequences for civil rights in the United States for decades. The Supreme Court eventually overturned the doctrine in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, and it was later outlawed completely by the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964.

After the 1896 decision, Plessy faded from public view and lived a normal life, fathering children while continuing in religious and social activities in his community. It was during his later years that he sold life insurance and collected premiums for the People’s Life Insurance Company. He died in 1925 at the age of 61. A bronze plaque on the Plessy Tomb in New Orleans commemorates his place in history, and Plessy Park is located at the intersection of the two streets where Plessy refused to move to a segregated passenger railcar.

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