Alum to Alum
EMBA Cohort 7’s John Chase
The holidays are a great time of the year for a feel-good story, and this year I encountered just that when interviewing Cohort 7 alum John Chase. This story involves the familiar elements: a bad situation, an admirable hero who acquires the tools he needs to prevail, determination, hard work, and best of all – a happy ending!
When I phoned John to schedule an interview for this column, it was just before Christmas, and he was standing in front of a store in Boulder City ringing a bell for the Salvation Army.
We arranged to meet at John’s AmeriSent Insurance office in Boulder City to talk about his experience in the EMBA program and what’s been going on in his career since he graduated.
When John entered the program he was Deputy Chief of Police in Boulder City, but the week before he was to depart on Cohort 7’s International Seminar he was informed his position was being eliminated. John had two choices: he could be laid off, or he could accept a demotion. The International Seminar, designed to be the capstone experience of the EMBA program, was even more so to John. It was during the trip that he had to make decisions that would form his career going forward.
“My EMBA experience gave me a comfort level,” he said. “There was no doubt in my mind that I could successfully own and operate my own business. I just didn’t know what it was going to be.”
Previously, John met an independent insurance agency owner who had asked him if he would be interested in working in the business. John was not initially interested, as he had no experience in insurance, and because he didn’t consider himself a high pressure salesman type. But the gentleman persisted and, in subsequent meetings, explained that his idea was for John to own his own independent agency in Boulder City. He was impressed that John had an MBA; he also pointed out that Boulder City did not have an independent insurance agency and that John was well known in the community. Now John’s interest was piqued.
John decided to accept the demotion and use the extra time the change in jobs would provide him to start his insurance agency. Remaining with the police department meant John would still have an income, independent from the insurance agency, as he got started. It also meant he still had to work 40 hours a week at night and work 20 to 30 hours a week at the agency during the day. This was a schedule he kept for the next four years until he retired from the police department in December 2014. During this time John’s wife, Elizabeth, gave up being a stay-at-home mom to work at the agency full time.
I asked how a guy with no experience, who wasn’t a high pressure salesman, went about building an insurance agency.
“We have primarily built our agency through word of mouth and relationship marketing,” he said. “We have invested time in building strategic partnerships in the community, things like volunteering at the Senior Center, because we realize people in Boulder City like to do business with people they know.”
“We also captured a fair amount of business as a result of the Affordable Care Act. The ACA exchange was such a pain for individuals to deal with that we approached it as an opportunity to provide service to our clients. We were persistent in following up with the exchange to make sure our clients’ needs were met. We signed up over 100 new clients as a result.”
Then surprisingly he added, “The sluggish economy has also been good for our business.” He explained, “Normally people don’t make many changes to their existing insurance coverage, but in the poor economy we find more people are willing to shop for better rates and consider changes in their coverage.”
While I’m talking to John I see what he means about not being a high pressure salesman; he seems to be very easy going. So I asked about his sales approach when talking to people about providing insurance.
“I like to have a conversation with them just as we are doing now. By insuring businesses you get to learn how other businesses operate, which has been very interesting to me,” he said. “The benefit of being an independent agency is we represent over 100 different insurance carriers in 12 states. That gives us the best opportunity to find the right coverage for someone at the lowest possible cost.”
Surprising me again he offers, “In cases where I know we can’t provide the best deal for the client, I will refer them to another local agent that can. We have also been sent customers by those same agents.” He concludes, “Our goal is to be a full-service, hometown agency where relationships are what are most important.”
It took about a year and a half for the agency to break even, and about another year for it to become consistently profitable. While working both jobs, John often got only three hours of sleep per night. Since retiring from the police department, John’s schedule is much more to his liking. John now says he gets to the office between 7:00 and 8:00 in the morning and he and Elizabeth try to leave between 4:30 and 5:30 in the evening. And, the goal is to be done for the week on Friday afternoon so they don’t have to work weekends.
A bad situation, an admirable hero who acquired the tools he needed to prevail, determination, hard work, and best of all – a happy ending!
How’s that for an EMBA feel-good story?
--Darwin Hopwood, UNLV EMBA Cohort 8 Alum