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Lessons in Leadership

Is there another life after insurance?

Channeling creativity and wisdom elsewhere

By Robert L. Bailey

Successful people are successful because they have devoted their lives to a cause they believe in—large or small—and they do whatever it takes to get the job done.

Successful people tend never to have worked a day in their lives! What they are doing is so much fun that they don't consider it work. Their love of the job brought about an overwhelming commitment that nearly always translates into success.

But this same commitment and success makes more difficult a transition to another life after insurance.

A fork in the road is ahead. Is it time to retire? Should I sell my agency? Can I find challenge and satisfaction by applying my talents elsewhere?

Some people can make a clean break and adjust quickly to a new lifestyle. For some of us, including myself, the transition is more difficult.

A management transition

Based on personal experience, I believe the transitional process involves two phases.

The first is for your agency to transition to a new management team. Even if you have sold your agency with a clean sale—that is, full ownership has been transferred and you've been paid in full—you still want your former agency to prosper. You want your former staff to have security and opportunity. You also want your former agency to maintain its stellar reputation of providing outstanding service and great value. Whether or not your name is associated with it after a sale, your clients will still see it as your agency years afterward. You won't want to feel that your life's work is being shredded.

This means that a capable management team must be put into place. I'm a firm believer that management should be built from inside whenever possible. Too often we can see the weaknesses of insiders because we are exposed to them every day, but we cannot see the weaknesses of outsiders because they do not advertise their weaknesses in their résumés. My advice is to start today to build a management team that can assure your agency's success through the years.

The idea is to build and develop several people who may be up to the task of leading your agency when the time comes. Competition among several candidates is healthy as long as it does not involve political backstabbing or other tactics that are damaging to the business.

If you've done your job well, you should have several possibilities from which to choose when retirement comes. Then you may wish to stay involved at a distance (possibly as a board member) to ensure that the business stays on track. But don't stay so close that the new management team thinks that it doesn't have opportunity for independent thought. Give the new management team room to make mistakes.

Unless you have comfort with the management transition of your agency, chances are you'll have difficulty focusing on the next phase of the retirement transition—your new life after insurance.

Your new life after insurance

A transition to a new life after insurance is easy for some, difficult for others. One retired agent spends at least five days a week on the golf course and loves it. Several others have found golf is work, not a game, and have started looking for something more rewarding and satisfying. One retired insurance man spends most of the year traveling, both domestically and internationally. He never tires of it. He's been to more than 100 countries and is still searching for new countries to visit. Others get travel out of their system after three months or so. They find that travel wasn't as much fun as they thought it would be.

One agent sold his agency, moved to a new state, and started a new agency from scratch—selling only one line, medical malpractice, with one employee. He found his new agency was not as demanding as an all-lines agency, giving him time to travel and pursue personal interests.

A number of retired agents do volunteer work and find it fulfilling. There are many worthwhile charities that need capable volunteers. The key is to associate yourself with a cause you believe in strongly. Try one you believe you'll like. If it isn't satisfying, try something else. But don't become so overly committed to volunteerism that you don't have time for personal activities.

I've done (and still do) my share of volunteer work but found it not as fulfilling as I thought it would be. At many meetings, assignments are made: Bob you do this, Tom you do this, Jill you do this, and everyone accepts the assignment positively. At the next meeting, Bob, Tom and Jill all say, "I didn't have time to do it this month, but I'll do it next month." The minutes of every meeting are the same. If a volunteer assignment doesn't provide satisfaction and fulfillment, do something else.

Following my retirement, I could not work in the insurance field for one year. After about three days, my wife said, "Stop moping and write a book." I didn't realize I was moping, but she was probably right. So I wrote a book. It took about six months to write it and another six months to get it published. It was fun and rewarding. What can you do that's fun and fulfilling?

Some like consulting and some don't. Following my one-year non-compete period, I consulted with several insurance companies. I was paid more than I was worth, but it wasn't fulfilling. On one visit we would take one phase of the company, analyze it, and come up with a plan everyone agreed upon to fix a problem. I would return in three months only to find that nothing had been done because "we've just been so busy." I loved continuing my association with the insurance industry, but management inaction drove me crazy. I had been in business for more than 40 years and hadn't realized the reason companies fail is not because they didn't know what to do but because they didn't know how to execute.

My new life has settled down to public speaking, writing books (my sixth one will be out next year), and writing columns for several magazines. Why? For me it's fun. For me it's fulfilling. For me it's challenging and stimulating.

What's fun, fulfilling, challenging and stimulating for you? What do you have an intense interest in? What can provide physical and mental challenge and stimulation? I believe God has a mission for each of us more important than just taking up space in this world. What is your mission?

The process may involve some trial and error. Start thinking about it now.

The author

Robert L. Bailey is the retired CEO of the State Auto Insurance Companies. He is now a public speaker and author of five books. Check out his new book at or contact him at (941) 358-5260 or


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