Tri-County Agency of Brick, Inc.
Brick, New Jersey
I’ve been in the industry for more than 30 years, but I never envisioned myself being in the insurance industry. My dad was a branch manager at a regional company. He started in insurance in the late ’60s. My mom worked at a local agency. I heard insurance day and night, at dinner breakfast—that’s all they ever talked about. So of course I was not doing that.
I was applying for college, and my dad said, “Would you do the first two years at a local college and then transfer?” He didn’t tell me why. I guess I figured I would help my parents out since they were paying for everything, so I said, “Yeah, I’ll do that.” I worked at the agency my mom was working at part time for some money. The problem is you get a little bit of money and you don’t want to go to college. So I decided to get my insurance license, go find another agency, and I’ve been in insurance ever since.
I left the agency my mom was at for another agency. They were really good. I told them I knew how to do everything even though I didn’t because I wanted to get into a larger office with around 50 people. They got me licensed and they took good care of me. Then my mom passed away suddenly, so I came back to the agency she worked at, which my dad purchased a year later.
Insurance is one industry no one ever really promotes. It does have a bad stigma—you know, the older guy with the plaid pants selling auto insurance. And it is so different, but people don’t know that.
I don’t micromanage. I take a causal approach. I don’t want to say I’m their friend, but I am. They respect me as their boss, but they also know I’m their friend. We work together. We don’t have staff meetings and corporate-style work here. When we meet, we sit down in an open area and discuss the results of a company, commitments concerning volume, and then I ask for their thoughts. Should we stay with this company? Should we take something else on? Because they’re doing it every day. They’re writing the product. I know the product, but they’re writing it every day, so they know if it’s a need or not a need.
When you bring all your staff together and just sit down as a team and talk about the office, you get more out of them. I’m very real. I take clients. I take payments. I answer the phone. I’m hands on. A lot of owners aren’t. I think my employees respect that, and my clients like that I’m here. I get more work from them because we are casual. My one employee has been here 23 years, another has been here 17 years. I’m all longevity, no turnover.
I think I had more in the beginning. I was a CSR at another agency, then I come back to the agency my mom was at. Now all of a sudden I’m running an office. I had to figure out what management system to use and the whole nine yards. I took the agency management system that I used at my other agency as a stepping stone.
I also got involved with my county’s independent agents and then Young Agents and the Big “I.” I think all that really helped me with my agency and the growth because I met so many great business connections. I met company leaders. I got carriers because of being involved. You learn so much. I’ve been involved with the Big “I” since ’89. State and national has definitely helped me. I feel the success of my office is in conjunction with my staff and connections I’ve made over the years.
Advice for aspiring women leaders in insurance?
You have to do your own individual approach. Everyone tries to follow somebody else. In the beginning I tried to follow this other agency because I didn’t know enough. It was a good thought process but they’re not here anymore, and I am.
You also need to have empathy. Our office has been successful because we have an open-door approach. Our clients will come in, make a payment and stay here for an hour and talk. A lot of corporate offices would say no to that, and clients never make it past the receptionist. I think that personal touch has been a huge success with our clients.
As a woman, having empathy will draw clients to you. Sometimes when I answer the phone they’re like, “Why are you answering the phone?” I know everyone wants to be the greatest and latest. We all do. You still need to do it on your own terms so you can sleep at night and have your clients happy with you.
To continue growing. I don’t want to get huge, as long as we can continue to grow and be successful. Everyone has enjoyed coming to work every day. I think that’s huge. We also try to keep up with trends in the industry like social media and electronic delivery—definitely a challenge and a goal at the same time.
I also want our agency to be recognized as the go-to within the community. I don’t want to be corporate. If you asked me 10 years ago, I might have had a different opinion. I think age has a lot to do with it. At this point in my life, it’s not that I’m not focused on my business life. I want to continue my business’ quality. But now it’s about my personal life. I want to maintain a better balance because life is short. I talk to my friends who are 35 and they’re like go, go, go. I’ve done that. I don’t want to do that anymore. You just want to balance your business life and your personal life better. I have a friend who’s going to this trade show and that trade show. But not me. That’s a Saturday I’d rather spend with friends. I’ll work on my business the other days. We’re doing well. We have referrals all the time.
I was involved with Big Brothers, Big Sisters and The Lions Club. I used to do a lot of stuff but I’ve scaled back because I have a lot of friends who’ve gotten ill over the years and they’re like, “Hey, can you meet me for dinner?” And I can’t because I have to go to a board meeting. You know what? They’re sick. And they’re more important to me than going to that board meeting. My focus has changed. It’s not that I’m not involved. My husband passed away from cancer this past year, and he was sick for seven years. I definitely know life is short. So I changed my approach. It’s more important for me to go out to dinner than it is to go to a board meeting.
This article is the final installment in a series that profiles women leaders who are thriving in the independent insurance industry.
Jordan Reabold is IA assistant editor.