What a long, changing trip it’s been
Contrary to what many of my fellow agents think, I have not been with American Family for its entire 85 years!
I have, however, been here for more than half that time and American Family Insurance has been part of my family even longer than that.
My father, Earl, started as a Farmers Mutual agent in 1956. At that time, agents were required to have an office in their home, so I got to see how things worked up close. Needless to say, things were done differently back then. For one, sales were made and premiums collected in the customer’s home – a far cry from the billing system we have today.
In 1963, the company changed its name to American Family, and soon after that, I started as a part-time agent. I also was working as a salesman at Leed’s Shoe Store in Topeka, Kan., and I have to admit, I was a poor part-time agent.
In 1967, my National Guard unit was activated, and I was up for active duty in Vietnam. Thankfully, I never had to go, but I spent two years at Fort Carson, Colo. The last six months I spent with Project Transition and worked at a different insurance company in Colorado Springs. That agent showed me a different way of running an agency, and in June of 1969, when I was discharged from the Army, I opened my own American Family office.
I was following in my father’s footsteps; however, I wanted to do better. He had a great work ethic, but I knew there had to be easier ways to build a large business and still have fun and a strong work-life balance.
There have been countless changes through the years, and of course, that can be difficult. Around 1983, the company introduced the Wang computer system. It was supposed to solve all the problems of writing insurance and make our offices paperless. That’s when my father decided it was time to retire, as he had no desire to learn a computer system!
But technology continues to make us stronger. Here’s a personal example:
The hailstorm of 1989 hit my office hard. We had more than 1,200 losses. At that time, CAT loss forms were five copies, with carbon paper between each sheet. When filling out the form you had to press very hard to make the information go through – and it took a long time! With our current system, the customer or agent calls the claim office, and it’s all computerized. The process is so much easier for everyone.
The future of our success, as I see it, will be how we stay ahead of what customers and prospects expect. It’s about continuing to look forward – while also learning from and celebrating our great past.
Happy birthday, American Family!
Editor’s note: Read more about American Family’s 85th anniversary from this Dream Protectors blog post by Chairman and CEO Jack Salzwedel.