Playing college football gave Owen Thomas a competitive spirit that makes the insurance industry a perfect career: “I love the challenge and the freedom.”
Agent and Senior Account Executive
Dial Insurance Agency
Pembroke, North Carolina
iPhone or Android? Team iPhone
Favorite streaming service? Pandora
What’s in your earbuds currently? Today's Country Radio
What brought you to insurance?
I finished up graduate school in spring 2013 with the thought of either being in some sort of sales/marketing position or going to get my doctorate. I decided to go the sales route and started working for a publication firm that did professional relocation guides and membership directories. After about four projects moving hotel to hotel to hotel, I got tired of getting into a community and having to leave immediately without creating relationships.
I’m actually the president now, but at the time I was a member of the University of North Carolina at Pembroke Alumni Association board of directors. One of my fellow board members had the largest agency in the county, and he said, “If you’re thinking about a career change, let me talk to you about insurance.”
What keeps you in it?
It sounds a lot easier on paper than it is. I’m a competitor—I played college football, so I love the challenge and the freedom of it. I got involved with the Young Agents immediately, and I’m on a few committees with the Independent Insurance Agents of North Carolina (IIANC). That’s helped me learn faster than I would have if I just tried to sit in the office and learn that way. I have friends all over the state. We go up to Washington, D.C. for the Legislative Conference. This was my third year attending and this is my third year in the industry, so I got involved immediately.
Definitely my boss, Jarrette Sampson. For a month straight when I first got here, he would take me on all his sales, and if I had sales he would come and sit down and help me out if the client had any questions I didn’t know how to answer. It was one of those things where he kind of put me in his pocket. If he didn’t, I might not have been as successful.
And also the women here in the office—having a team that’s as helpful as they are has really helped me out a lot. I’ve also got a lot of contacts in Young Agents—any time I have any questions or want to know anything about another company, anything like that, they’re always there for me. And the CEO of IIANC, Aubie Knight, he and I kind of built a friendship that’s really been great. We both teach university classes part time.
I teach management and marketing classes at my alma mater, and something I’ve learned being on the other side of the fence there is that students aren’t learning how to create relationships or create the opportunities necessary for them to become successful. All my friends went to these big schools and they all have awesome degrees, but everyone has those degrees and everyone’s sending out resumes. It’s just one of those things where a lot of times in college, students aren’t surrounding themselves with the right people. Maybe they’ll have mentors, but it’s about understanding the relationships and how to connect with different generations, different people, diverse groups—it’s kind of going downhill a little bit.
I think that might have to do with technology. We had a visiting professor who came in and did a class on social media, and it ended up being that she was trying to teach social media to these students who were way ahead of the curve. I told my students, “I understand you know about social media, but do you know the research behind it? Do you know how powerful it is?” And a lot of times they don’t. If I could give any advice to someone coming up, a young star, you’ve just got to keep continuing to build relationships and sell yourself. Show people how you can be valuable to them.
This article is the eighth in a series that profiles 10 millennials in independent insurance, based on IA’s July cover story. Keep an eye on IAmagazine.com and upcoming editions of the News & Views e-newsletter for more insights into how young people are working to secure the future of your industry.
Jacquelyn Connelly is IA senior editor.