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Life Health > Life Insurance

Al Granum: 1922-2014

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O. Alfred (Al) Granum, CLU, one of the true greats in the history of the life insurance industry, passed away at the age of 91 on Thursday, Jan. 2, after a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease.

This is a man whose enormous influence on the industry cannot be overstated. His legacy will endure, as his famous One Card System and timeless principles have long and will continue to help countless financial services professionals. Tributes from around the industry came pouring in upon news of his passing.

Barry Alberstein, MBA, PhD, who along with wife Delia Alberstein, CLU, ChFC, co-authored Granum’s famous book, “Building a Financial Services Clientele,” says Granum didn’t teach the tricks of the trade – he taught the trade.

“Al Granum was one of the greatest of the Greatest Generation,” Alberstein told National Underwriter on Friday. “How does one judge greatness? Not by wealth, fame or power, but by character and contribution. Al Granum’s character was impeccable and was admired by everyone who knew him. As for a contribution, few have contributed more to our industry and country.”

The Albersteins have been close friends of Al and his wife Noreen Granum for more than 20 years, and have dedicated their professional lives to teaching and promoting Al’s brilliant contributions to the industry through the One Card System.

“Economists speak of the ‘multiplier effect’ of money that flows into an economy. That is, it is spent, invested and re-spent over and over again. Al Granum taught agents how to sell permanent life insurance, which is actually in force when people die. That money flows into a family … preserves lifestyles, shelter, businesses, health, education and opportunity. It cycles through the community, the country and the world,” Barry Alberstein said. “We talk of foundations such as Ford or Mellon, but I believe an accurate accounting of Al Granum’s contribution would dwarf them. Al was not a ripple in a pond, he was a tsunami in an ocean. Millions have benefited from his contributions who will never know his name. But we do, and we know we have all been blessed by our exposure to this wonderful man.”

Granum is the only person ever to be honored with the industry’s top three awards: The John Newton Russell Award from NAIFA for outstanding service to the institution of life insurance in 2002, the Soloman S. Heubner Gold Medal from The American College in 2003, and induction into the GAMA International Management Hall of Fame in 1983.

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A lifetime member of the Million Dollar Round Table, Granum also helped the vast majority of his agents qualify for the MDRT, as well. Two of them, Dave Hilton Sr. and John Cruikshank, went on to become presidents of the MDRT.

Granum received the Dennis Tamcsin General Agent Achievement Award in 2000 for his lifetime impact on Northwestern Mutual, where he started as an agent in his hometown of Amery, Wis., in 1946 after a combat-laden three-year stint on the battleship Nevada during World War II. He moved to Chicago to work for his predecessor as general agent, John Jameson, prior to being appointed general agent in 1963. There he saw an opportunity to develop a method to generate leads, which would become the basis of the One Card System. Extensive research over a long period of time led him to the conclusion that it took 10 leads (suspects) to generate 3 prospects, and 1 of those would become a client. Thus, the famous 10-3-1 ratio was born.

Granum built a truly legendary agency in Chicago, earning the No. 1 ranking at Northwestern Mutual for volume in 18 out of his last 25 years while breaking numerous volume record benchmarks. For more than one year, the 45 people in his agency produced an average premium which was the highest known in any large agency in the world.

“Al Granum will be remembered as a historic leader and innovator in our industry,” Todd M. Schoon, Northwestern Mutual executive vice president – agencies, told National Underwriter. “His many teachings, most notably the One Card System, have led to the success of tens of thousands of financial representatives and helped to make Northwestern Mutual’s field force the most productive in the industry.”

Granum stepped down from his post as general agent in 1986, but still came to his Downers Grove, Ill., office almost every day for decades. Granum was awarded a Chair in Practice Management at The American College, endowed to him by his peers in 2001. In 2012, to honor his legacy and commitment to lifelong learning, Northwestern Mutual and The American College formally launched the Northwestern Mutual Granum Center for Financial Security.

Dr. Laurence Barton, CAP, said one of his greatest honors in serving as president of The American College is holding the O. Alfred Granum Chair in Management. “I, like so many of you, have learned so much from Al and ask that we all commit to serve this profession with the same humility, honor, integrity and influence that Al has imbued in us,” Barton said in a Jan. 3 announcement of Granum’s passing.

“Al was a legend in our profession who made tremendous gains and innovations that continue to shape our environment today. His legacy is one of unwavering belief in the importance of the work of financial professionals, of uncompromising commitment to always doing the right thing for the client and of unquestionable generosity to share everything he learned for the benefit of the industry,” Barton said.

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Creating and publishing a system to build a life insurance clientele was not what Granum had originally set out to do, but he was indeed more than happy to share. As Barry Alberstein has stated, Granum wanted financial representatives to be able to understand the science of their business – “If I do this, I can expect to get this.” Prior to Granum, it was all based on anecdotes about what worked for another advisor.

As word of his agency’s monstrous success spread, Granum wrote about it in 1968, and the text was promoted by National Underwriter. That led to the subsequent “Building a Financial Services Clientele: The Ultimate Guide to the One Card System,” now in its 11th edition.

“The National Underwriter is so honored to be Al Granum’ publisher; a legend in his own time, but importantly, today more than ever, the Al Granum we memorialize is the legacy carried on by his disciples and embodied in their practice; providing ethical, knowledgeable and extraordinary service to their clients above everything,” said Rick Kravitz, vice president, managing director, premium content for Summit Professional Networks. [Disclosure: “Building a Financial Services Clientele” is published by The National Underwriter Company, a unit of Summit Professional Networks, the parent company of and NU Life & Health.]

Funeral services for Granum, who had five children from his first marriage and passed double figures in grandchildren, will be held on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014 at Christ Church of Oak Brook (Ill.). A visitation followed by a wake will be held on Friday, Jan. 10, at Russo’s Hillside Chapels in Hillside, Ill. Memorial contributions in honor of Al may be made to the Wounded Warriors Project or The Granum Center.


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