Can someone enter the insurance business and rise rapidly enough to found his own agency less than two years later? That’s exactly what I did. I am entering my third year in the insurance business, and I believe that I’ve chosen the best career path imaginable. Here’s how it happened for me.
I grew up as the son of an agency director for Guardian Life in Old Bridge, N.J. I have warm memories of going with my family to Christmas parties, Super Bowl blasts and noon-to-midnight barbecues at the homes of various agency directors. And there was, of course, those wonderful Leaders Club trips to San Diego, San Francisco and Disney World, among other places. These outings became for me not so much perks, but rather a lifestyle.
Three years ago, I was faced with a big decision: Could I live without the lifestyle to which I had become so accustomed? During my senior year at the University of Florida, I interviewing with several Fortune 500 companies for a position as a public relations director. My major was in P.R., and I was minoring in business administration. I interviewed with Disney, TouchStone, Turner Broadcasting and others. I was offered several positions, but the money they offered, beginning salaries ranging from $23,000 to $25,000, was not enough. I had to step back and reassess what I wanted out of life, and how I was going to get it.
Then I thought about my father and his 23 years with Guardian. It was his occupation that allowed my lifestyle to evolve. Ever since elementary school, I knew what my father did for a living—his agency sponsored my Little League team. Since the P.R. field wasn’t working out, I decided to try my hand at selling insurance.
I wanted to create a five-tiered financial advising firm that consisted of life, health and P/C insurance, real estate and securities. Was it possible for me to accomplish this?
Plans for a five-tiered firm
During the Thanksgiving break of my senior year, I came home to New Jersey and scheduled an appointment to visit my father’s agency. I showed up at the office armed with a five-page business plan that outlined my goals and objectives. I told my father and his associates that I wanted to create a five-tiered financial advising firm that consisted of life, health and property/casualty insurance, real estate and securities. I asked my father, Is it possible for me to accomplish this? And he said, With hard work, you can accomplish anything.
The first thing I needed to do was to get licensed to sell life and health insurance. So instead of going to Mexico with my friends over winter break, I stayed home in New Jersey and studied for my licenses. When I went back to school in Florida, I was not tan like my friends, but I was licensed to sell life and health insurance in the state of New Jersey. I think I got a little more out of my vacation than my friends did sitting on the beach for two weeks.
My graduation from the University of Florida came and went, but, unlike my friends, I had a job to go to the next day. At the age of 21, I started out at one of Guardian’s top agencies in central New Jersey, but I was not prepared for the seemingly endless rejections from my friends and family when I tried to explain to them that I sold insurance. They didn’t understand that this was part of my evolution to financial advisor.
After working several months at the Guardian agency, a recruiter contacted me and said he had been speaking with his associate who is the managing director of a local MetLife agency. They were interested in having me come in for an interview. I thought, why not? Their employment package was good, and they offered the training and structure I felt I needed.
My father was not happy about my changing companies, but he went with me to some of the meetings I had with MetLife. My father guided me, but it was completely my decision to sign with MetLife.
My career at Met Life began in October 2001, and things started off well. I was writing business, starting to build my clientele and beginning to see the Leader Club trips and lifestyle within my reach. But I felt I was being held back by management. They wanted me to be a nine-to-five employee, but I needed more freedom to be independent. It wasn’t long before I took a hard look at my goals and realized I wasn’t going to achieve them in that setting. I knew I had to start my own company.
I got a jump-start when I attended a continuing education class and ran into one of the managing directors from my old Guardian agency. He told me he had now moved to another Guardian agency and that I should talk to his general agent and see the operation. I didn’t know it at the time, but half the agents in the office once worked with my father at his agency.
On my own
I went back to Guardian with the stipulation that I was going to open my own Guardian affiliate. I can’t tell you how much support I have received from these people. They were happy to give me financial and technical support and help me open my one-man agency.
On Feb. 1, 2003, I opened the doors to Copperstone Financial Management in Matawan, N.J., and have begun hiring new agents of my own, all the while continuing to build my own practice. I run the show, and that was my No. 1 goal all along.
Craig L. Feinberg is CEO and director of Copperstone Financial Management, Matawan, N.J. You may contact him at 732-765-0808, extension 304.