You started Thomas Financial at 25. Did you ever feel like you were in over your head?
The truth is, I started with one employee and myself and I think in the first few months we got hired a few times, but we kept persevering. And I had very good training. [My mentors] did a really fine job explaining to me what it took to be successful in this business. They all had great work ethics, and knowledge, understanding and work ethic have to blend together to make it in this business.
Why did you decide to stay in town after graduating from the University of Tampa?
It’s been great. I don’t think I could have picked a better place to live in America for the profession I’m in. The Baby Boomers were literally booming in this area and what they needed was insurance to protect their families, they needed retirement plans, they needed disability plans, they needed a lot of things that we had to offer and we just happened to be, I think, at the right place at the right time.
You’re still the youngest person initiated into the Million Dollar Round Table’s “Top of the Table.” What was that like?
The MDRT was around for 50 years before I became a member in 1972. But in 1976, they added an additional component to the MDRT which was the “top” of the table, which was the top 300 producers nationwide in the industry and I just happened to be the youngest one at that particular time. When they decided to do it and I was in that group I was the youngest one.
I wasn’t nervous, I was proud. We didn’t know we had done it until after we’d already done it. We had the volume but we didn’t know until maybe six months into the year that the MDRT was gonna start with the top 300 producers from the year before and I made the cut.
You grew Thomas Financial into one of the largest firms in the region. How did you set yourself apart?
What we’ve done, really, is do what we say when we talk to a prospective client. We apply to them for the job of having their insurance program, whether it be their life insurance, their disability insurance, their health insurance, whatever it is because we do quite a bit. We’re applying to them to do that job from now on. We have other people in our firm that are younger and are committed to our business and we expect this firm to keep on going to help these families keep their businesses going.
You played for some of the University of Tampa’s last football teams; what was that experience like?
Just think about it. When I was in UT the University’s football team was the biggest thing in town. That was where you would find the most people going to an athletic event, but if you look now… we’ve become a big-league city and we weren’t quite there in the early 70s.
It was a great experience and I still have great friends I met on the team, I was honored to be on the same team as great football players like Fred Solomon, Leon McQuay, John Matuszak, guys like that. We had a lot of really, really great football players on our team for the size that we were, as far as the University’s size. We beat Miami two out of three times I was there.
You’re Chair Emeritus of the UT Board of Trustees; how is it watching the largest period of growth in school history from within?
I don’t think anyone on the board of trustees, when I was there initially, had any idea that the University of Tampa would be where it is today. The main reason the school is where it is is because they have a visionary President that could see it before all of us could see it, Ron Vaughn. That’s the truth. Ron Vaughn made the difference. I was just happy to be there for the ride.
We had our first capital campaign and our goal was at that time something like $20 million dollars. We actually raised $100 million. Once again that began with the leadership of Dr. Vaughn and that was the stimulus of the growth that they have right now.
As long as Dr. Vaughn is still breathing they’ll keep growing, I promise you that.
What do you consider necessary traits in order to be a leader?
I think the important thing to be is someone who gives back to the community. You can get ten times out of life what you put in, but you have to put in first. I think that’s real important and it’s been helpful to us, both in the community, in the University of Tampa and so forth. We consider that a big issue, that you’ve got to put back into the community that you live in; once you do that you keep getting back tenfold. It’s been very helpful to us and our business and also our peace of mind.
What do you consider your proudest achievement?
It really makes you think, what is it? Is it the fact that I have a terrific family, I’ve been very successful, I have grandchildren that I adore? All of that to me is really an important thing and I think that it’s important to know that our business, because of the nature of the business, has helped this city grow economically.
We’ve had a lot of people that bought insurance over the years and have been able to pass their businesses down to the next generation and now we’re sometimes working with third-generation families that we have paid death claims on their parents and their grandparents. It’s kind of gratifying to know that we were involved in helping to continue that growth, there’s some big names in our city with businesses that have been here since the turn of the century.
We’ve helped families who have hundred-year-old businesses stay in business, I think that’s something that we take a lot of pride in. We were there to help do that. If anything, that’s one of the more satisfying parts of this business.