Ed Watkins, CLU, doesn’t like to take orders, and never did. So, in 1970, when he was a 22-year-old MBA student nearing graduation, he wasn’t too thrilled about what he saw as his best prospect for the future: working for someone else. But when Watkins stopped by the job placement center at his school, the University of Maryland, and learned that Connecticut Mutual (now MassMutual) was recruiting agents, he ended up finding the career of his life.
Since the age of 32, Watkins has run his own company, Watkins & Associates Inc., which operates out of his 17-room home in Vienna, Va. Along with two of his four children, Watkins sells group health insurance, 401(k) plans and other MassMutual products to businesses, which, typically have 50 or fewer employees.
Good training is key
He’s also been an MDRT member since 1975. The person who helped him reach that point, he says, is George Reese, the agent who signed him up with Connecticut Mutual way back when. “I was very, very lucky to be recruited by him,” says Watkins. “Because the first five or six years of training were with someone very good in the business, and not so much older that I couldn’t relate to him.”
On a recent morning, Watkins, a member of Northern Virginia AIFA, spoke about his career and what it takes to succeed. Time and again, he returned to one subject: mentoring.
Advisor Today: For young agents, do you suggest they find a mentor?
Watkins: That’s a real hot-button issue for me. People who come into the business today are poorly trained for what they do; 95 times out of 100 they’re reporting to a manager who’s a manager because he wasn’t successful selling product.
AT: Where does that leave young agents today?
Watkins: I think the retention rate [at a leading company] is two to five years in the business. Yet, if somebody came into this office today, and worked for me … as a mentor I could almost give them a 100 percent probability that they would survive.
AT: Would you recommend this business to a 22-year-old Ed Watkins, today?
Watkins: If he didn’t have some contact with a senior agent, I wouldn’t.
AT: How can a young agent even locate a senior agent?
Watkins: It’s much simpler than people think … I think a lot of them figure, “I’m 22, if I call Ed Watkins and say, ‘Can I go on appointments with you and see how you do it?’ he’s going to tell me to drop dead.’” I would be very happy to take them. But they don’t call; they don’t ask.
Watkins: I guess they’re afraid.
AT: Are you always working? Do you ever waste time?
Watkins: I try not to. I had a minor heart attack three years ago. But even three years ago, I was working 60 to 70 hours a week.
AT: Who helped instill a strong work ethic in you?
Watkins: John Youngblood, my high school coach. He ran a football program where the assumption was that if you did what you were supposed to do, you were going to be successful.
AT: What qualities are most important in any agent you’re mentoring?
Watkins: If you start thinking you’ve got a better way to do it, you’re going to disappear. I’m not going to tolerate that. I’m very stubborn.
AT: When and where are you the happiest?
Watkins: Probably when I’m working with my kids, here.
AT: What is something that few people know about you?
Watkins: On an individual basis, I am extremely shy.
AT: What’s your best sales tip?
Watkins: Tell the truth. Work with people [prospects] well below the radar.
AT: What are you reading these days?
Watkins: The World Is Flat right now. And I’ve been reading a good bit recently on Islam.
AT: Any final words of wisdom?
Watkins: There is no such thing as a completely honest person. But I want to be as honest as I can be.