Robert Jackson, partner at Jackson, Dieken & Associates, a full-service insurence agency, recently sat down with Publisher Terry Tanker and drew parallels between his experience as a pro football player and running an effective insurence business. Much of his companys success had built on applying team-based principles and communicatiing effectively.
1. What sport replaced football when you retired?
My passion is golf but I also love to play cards — can you classify cards as a sport?
2. What is your favorite card game?
Bridge. My parents taught me to play when I was in third grade.
3. I can’t envision you playing Bridge in the lockerroom — did you?
No the universal game in the NFL is Bourré (Boo-Ray). It’s fast-paced and very interesting to play when the pot grows.
4. Is there truth to the rumor you were a quarterback for Duke University?
Yes, I was a QB my freshman year; then was moved to linebacker, tight end, center and finally to tackle.
5. Did you expect to be drafted your senior year?
Yes, but I wasn’t drafted. In 1974 there were 17 draft rounds but I was too skinny at 6’5”, 215 lbs. The Browns signed me as a free agent for a $500 bonus and $16k salary.
6. What was your favorite season?
Probably 1980. We were known as the Kardiac Kids. It was a special year.
7. You played guard for the Cleveland Browns for eleven years. Who was the toughest competitor you ever played against?
Joe Klecko. But Joe Green and Howie Long were close behind.
8. How did you apply your economics degree in the off season?
I have the personality for sales and found I was good at it. I sold chemicals and then steel-related products. A mentor advised me to look for an industry that was less cyclical. I wanted to own my own business, and the insurance industry looked good to me. I could sell, it wasn’t cyclical and I could own my own agency in my five year time window.
9. What parallels can you draw between your experience in pro football and running a business?
It’s a team effort. First, you have to assemble the right people and leave the egos behind. Then you’ve got to stress that everyone is equally important and no job is too big or too small. We all have to work so let’s be in this together, let’s have some fun, work hard together and celebrate our success.
10. What is the most difficult thing about being an entrepreneur and business owner?
For me it’s confrontation, but as an owner it’s my responsibility to sometimes deal with unpleasant situations. However, because of good team members, effective communications and goal setting, I find this happens only on a rare occasion.
11. What is your best management skill?
Team building—there is no task too small. I would never ask someone to do something I haven’t done. I like to sell and I have a large book of business. Behind the scenes I have a terrific support staff that enables me to actively sell and manage the business. When staff members see that you’ll roll up your sleeves and do whatever it takes to be successful, you get their confidence and support. When everyone buys in, you’ve built a team.
12. Do you do anything special to promote team building and camaraderie?
One of the things I like to do for the staff on Friday’s is cook. We’ve got a big grill behind the office so, in the summer, you’ll find me back there making everyone lunch.
13. How do you find prospective employees?
The insurance business is a close-knit community—just like hvacr contracting. We are always looking for good employees. We could do something as simple as letting the insurance companies we represent know we need to expand in a certain area and word will get around. We have a very good reputation and have built that on trust, integrity and customer service.
14. What one thing do you take great pride in with regard to the overall operation of your company?
Our office chemistry—it’s very important to me. I want everyone to know that they play an important role in our success.
15. What is your largest internal management challenge?
The implementation of technology is not my strongest suit. However, I’m realizing that there are necessary steps to take in the electronic age to protect our clients’ confidentiality as we rely more on electronic communication, and we have done so at the agency. It is somewhat bewildering just how fast a technology becomes almost obsolete. For instance, I recall being frustrated getting a machine on the phone when I wanted a person, but now realize just how efficiencies can be increased with the implementation of some simple and not always expensive technologies (dual monitors, voice mail with forwarding capabilities, etc.). That said, a caller will always get a “live person” when calling our office in business hours. Those who prefer to do business electronically, however, have that option.
16. What special things should contractors consider when evaluating insurance agents?
One of the most important things to consider is customer service and support. On commercial jobs they need certificates or bonding that the agent needs to respond to immediately. Also, one of the most important services is to review contracts before our clients enter agreements to ensure that insurance requests are available and if at a cost, advise how much. They need to be able to trust the agent to get things done quickly and accurately.
17. What coverage(s) should contracts have that most do not have?
I would recommend running a Motor Vehicle Report (MVR) on new employees, assuming the employee will be driving a fleet vehicle. You’ll need a waiver from the prospective employee. This is an ounce of prevention that could save contractors a big headache and thousands of dollars. Also, having their agents review their contractsto confirm coverages requested are realistic and insurable.
18. How have the financial markets impacted the insurance industry, especially the collapse of AIG?
Actually, AIG’s insurance arm is very profitable and was on track to make $5 billion in profit this year. The investment side of their business is where they had huge problems, as did all of the carriers like Hartford, Chubb and Travelers.
19. How will it impact contractors and their coverage(s) moving forward?
We were predicting 2009 to still be a buyer’s market for contractors up until a few weeks ago. However, Ike may have changed that because, as that storm moved from the south to the north, it did a lot of damage and we still don’t know exactly how much that will be. Furthermore, the recent decline of the stock market and banks will bring on a hardening market very quickly.
20. It’s a perfect Friday, 72 degrees, sunny and almost noon. What are you cooking today?
Beef tenderloin, asparagus and pasta.