When I meet Kendall Regen at a Panera Bread Co. outside of Knoxville, Tenn., he’s talking to one of the patrons. They didn’t know each other until just now, but you wouldn’t know that by listening to them; you’d think they’d known each other a lifetime.
Such is life with Regen, founder and owner of Dickson, Tenn.-based Regen Financial Services. It wouldn’t matter if he was in the insurance business or any other walk of life — he’s never met a stranger and never will.
When we find a table for our interview I ask him a question. Before Regen answers he says, “yes sir,” though he says it as one word: “y’sir.” It catches me off guard. The courtesy is one I’m not used to these days. Then again, I’ve been away from the South going on 13 years.
The question I’d asked him was about the baby boomer generation and what it meant to him growing up a boomer.
Regen’s eyes light up as they do on almost any topic. As a boy, he tells me, he didn’t watch much TV. Most of the time, he and his brothers would be playing outside.
If it was baseball season, they were out swinging a bat. If it was football season, they were running and tackling, playing for keeps. Regen’s daddy played football at the University of Tennessee, and Regen himself looks like he could still suit up, at least for a couple of plays.
And if the Regen boys weren’t playing sports, they were playing army or other games boys played after school in the ’60s and ’70s. In other words, they weren’t staring cross-eyed at videogames.
When he did watch TV, he had a favorite: “The Andy Griffith Show.” “I liked it for two reasons,” Regen says. “It was good, clean comedy, and it taught good core family values.”
He remembers one episode where Opie broke a window with a rock. With Aunt Bee looking on, Andy sat Opie down and talked to him father to son, but also man to man. That struck a chord with Regen because when he’d screw up as a boy, his own daddy talked to him in that same stern, respectful way.
Those values stuck with him. He was an Eagle Scout, played sports, went to church, and he’s built his business using those same traditional core values. “I’m a country boy,” he says. “I’m very family oriented.”
He recalls his father gave him advice that he in turn gave to his own daughters as they were growing up. “You can work your whole life building your reputation only to have it taken away in a minute by one stupid mistake.”
That’s how he approaches his clients. No screw-ups. Lay the foundation by learning about their dreams, hopes and desires. “I often take them out just to eat and to talk about life.” During those early get-togethers, they rarely talk business unless the client has questions.
Relationships are the key for Regen. Without them, he wouldn’t be in this business. “If you really build the relationship and you don’t go around overpromising and underderlivering, you’ll have a client for life.”
There’s stuff the client may not want to hear at times, but if you are upfront about it, they’ll respect you, he says. “You have to go over the full product. ‘Here’s all the great stuff and here’s all the potential negatives to it.’ If you tell them all of that upfront they’re not caught off-guard.”
He says there’s something advisors have to always keep in mind when working with clients. “This is not their expertise. We need to have the expertise.”
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I nod and begin closing up my camera equipment, thinking the interview’s over, but Regen scratches at his goatee and tells me there’s something else he wants to say. “My daddy (who’s 86) would smack me upside the head if I wasn’t doing things the right way. Doing right by people is how I was brought up. That’s what I have to do.”
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