One of the most memorable presentations at the MDRT Annual Meeting this June was perhaps the one given by D. Scott Brennan, MDRT's incoming president. As Brennan stood on the main-stage platform facing thousands of MDRT members from all corners of the globe, he shared some powerful lessons he has learned on how to succeed in business and in life.
Beaming with pride, he told the audience that he is the ninth agent representing Mass Mutual who will serve as MDRT president. He has written life insurance on a garbage man and on a Fortune 100 CEO, and has had over 60 death claims in his career.
Brennan grew up in a "big small" town 80 miles from Chicago, "smack dab in the middle of the great Midwest of a gloriously young country," he said. His dad was an MDRT member, and as a young boy, he had him read and write reports on books like "How I Raised Myself From Failure To Success In Selling" and "The Power of Positive Thinking."
A shaky start
Brennan "took a vow of poverty" his first few years in the business and did not qualify for MDRT. "I don't think I would have qualified for an end table," he jokingly said. "I had a used car that I loved, a degree from a great American university in my back pocket and $400. When you don't have any money, any amount is a fortune."
He moved to a new city where he didn't know anyone to start his career. It seemed like a good idea at the time, he said. Plan B was to make Plan A work. On some days, "all I had were failures; and that was OK. I didn't necessarily need genius; I did need persistence."
Brennan remembers a time when he had 20 closing interviews and sold nothing. And then he wrote six applications in a row. "I wouldn't have written the six if it hadn't been for the 20," he said.
About that time, he attended a NAIFA breakfast and heard the great Bruce Etherington speak. An hour and a half later, he walked out of the meeting thinking he could make it. When the student is ready, the teacher appears, he said.
His "discovery" happened in New York City. He was in his 20s, was at his first MDRT Annual Meeting and saw what he wanted to become. Selling life insurance at the high end is an art form, he said, and he listened, watched and "met artists of the spoken word." His vision for himself and the family he hoped to have one day came into focus.
Brennan has been classically trained at MDRT, he said. "Most of us learned how to sell life insurance exceptionally well before selling other financial products. If you can write life insurance well, you can always do other things. Buying a life insurance policy is not a commercial transaction; it is an exchange of emotion." It takes character to buy life insurance, and it takes great character, a lot of persistence and a good sense of humor to sell life insurance at the high end over a long period.
He and his wife have two daughters. One took the fast track, and the other, the scenic route. Annie just graduated from Indiana University and made the Dean's List all eight semesters. She has started her first job in Chicago.
Their older daughter went on a self-destructive path that started in high school and continued to the point at which she was in and out of so many half-way houses, that he does not remember them all. Fortunately, this story has a happy ending. She married a nice young man, and they have two handsome sons he is proud of. She works part time in a veterinarian's office and "we take it one day at a time," he said.
When his daughter was on this self-destructive path, Brennan and his wife took some days one at a time, and some days, five minutes at a time, including the day he was diagnosed with leukemia. "In life, there are no ordinary moments, and this was one of the most fascinating in mine," he said. "Being a cancer patient isn't who I am, but it certainly helped me become the person I wanted to be—a genuine person. My wife and I celebrated our 23rd wedding anniversary during my third round of chemotherapy, eating grilled cheese sandwiches together she made at home."
The power of the briefcase
Toward the end of his presentation, Brennan showed the picture of an item that symbolizes the power of life insurance: an old briefcase he bought for $40 when he first started in the business. "It has been at my side when I have heard the word "No" [or the words "Hell no"] thousands of times," he said. "It's funny. The briefcase never took any of this personally even though I did. It has accompanied me into the homes and offices of some pretty grateful people who had enough money to pay off a mortgage, put a child through college, buy a prom dress or pay for a wedding.