We started in New Orleans in 2002 with one agent – me – and an overqualified client service representative, my wife, Olivia. After four months in the field selling insurance to families and business owners, we decided to build a team. And, build we did. We started our work day at 6:45 AM and worked until 4:00 PM scheduling interviews and interviewing candidates. From 5 PM until 10 PM and 10 AM to 4 PM on Saturdays I ran at least four appointments a day, six days a week. If we weren’t recruiting, we were training – in the classroom and in the field. What we didn’t know about the insurance business we made up for with good old-fashioned client service.
We hired over fifty agents in our first year, losing many by the end of the second. We were discouraged but pressed on. Eventually, Olivia and I took on different roles as our team grew. Through great diligence, we offered service levels clients had never experienced with other brokers. Our team flourished, and we enjoyed a normal family life with our children for the first time in two and a half years. We took real vacations and spent quality time together. It seemed like we were on auto pilot.
Fast forward to Sunday, August 28, 2005. We lost most of our book of business and simultaneously lost 16 of 17 managers. Within six weeks all of our clients were gone. Talk about disaster! What I did have was a car , a paper application and a pen. From a new temporary home, a hotel in Sunset, Louisiana, I set out in the field once again. Agent-less, Olivia and I gradually restored our book of business with the help of our only manager, who was also relegated to agent status. Finally, were allowed back into New Orleans to pick up the pieces – a daunting experience to say the least. Amidst the chaos and piles of debris, we began rebuilding a new organization.
Thirteen months after the storm, we put 83% back on the books and hired 11 managers. Performance under such duress got the attention of one of our carriers. Most of that carrier’s market was focused in the South and the Midwest. But, its growth plan called for aggressive expansion into other regions. The President asked if we would develop one of their sixteen proposed new locations. We chose Los Angeles.
The Wild West
So, off we went heading west, with the kids, our crap and a cat. As an aside, there is no debriefing station somewhere between New Orleans and Los Angeles to prepare Southern insurance nomads like us for the scale of the drawbacks of the city we were to encounter. Smog, traffic and too many people.
Six months into our stay in sunny California, the carrier who moved us out there cut our commissions by 50%. Fifty percent! In a place that costs three times more to live than anywhere else except Manhattan. This came as a bitter pill which we refused to swallow. At month eight, we knew another move was in order. Our income and savings were dwindling, and neither of us were crazy about the general attitude of Southern California.
Olivia and I hopped on a plane for a three-day weekend to the Mile High City to stick our toe in the snow. We immediately fell in love with the city, its people, weather and business climate. The decision to relocate from Los Angeles to Denver was extremely easy.
A couple of days after the truck was unpacked, I grabbed my laptop and my pen and headed out again to play agent. I cold-called until we sold enough insurance to get our feet underneath us. Then, we began to recruit another team. Genesis Health is now in its sixth year in Denver. Business has never been better, and we look forward to continued growth in Colorado and across the U.S.