26 years ago my life changed forever when I boarded a plane and headed for Chicago.
I had been running a Goodyear store for several years and was growing very tired of retail. The long hours and weekends were really getting old. On top of that, I wasn’t making any money. I was literally bringing home $914.00 every two weeks as a “manager”. Something had to change.
I decided that change would be starting an Allstate agency. My Dad was an Allstate agent and he set up a lunch meeting with me and the local manager. That meeting went about as bad as a meeting could go. He thought I was just a redneck kid with no college education. And you know what? He was right. At the end of the meeting the manager told me that while he wasn’t very optimistic, if I could pass an assessment we could talk again. It wasn’t really what I wanted to hear, but it was much better than a no.
He gave the assessment to me and I took it that night. It actually seemed pretty easy to me. There were no math or tough questions to answer. It was really all about me. I finished it pretty quickly and turned it in to the manager the next day during my lunch hour. He called me back a few days later and said, “I’m sorry, but it is a no. You scored low potential.” I was floored. I told him that I had rushed through it and begged to take it again. He wasn’t crazy about the idea and reluctantly agreed.
I went by his office the next day, got another assessment and took it that night. This go around I took my time and turned it in the next day. He called me a few days later and once again, told me that it was a no, that I had scored low potential. He went on to tell me that he didn’t think I was cut out for insurance or any business at all, and told me that I “should find something to do with my hands”. I was 24 years old at the time and completely full of myself. To be told that I needed to do something with my hands was the last thing I wanted to hear.
I went home and called my Dad to tell him what happened. Luckily, he knew the state manager pretty well and got me another opportunity to interview. I drove to Birmingham Alabama the next day and met with him. I could immediately tell that this was just a favor to my Dad, that he didn’t really have any intention of hiring me. But I just kept talking. And talking. And talking. After an hour or so, he offered me the job. I’m not sure if I actually sold him or if he just got tired of listening to me talk.
So, off I went to training with all my new suits and loads of optimism. Training was easy and I enjoyed meeting everyone from all over the country. We were all full of hopes and dreams and couldn’t wait to get back to our agencies.
When I got back I learned very quickly how difficult starting a scratch agency really is.
Our new business guidelines at the time were 0 incidents in 5 years and clean credit only for both home and auto. Hurricane Andrew had just been through Florida and the company had pretty much shut us down. The leading agents were writing 20-30 items a month and needless to say, I was not a leading agent. There were no enhanced commissions, agency bonus, additional incentives, etc. It was tough.
My wife was in school at the time working on her degree and I was responsible for all the bills. I had no money, no experience and really no idea what I was doing. There were a lot of sleepless nights trying to figure out how to make this work. My Dad was helping me with system issues and general questions but he did a great job of allowing me to fail forward, never bailing me out of anything financially. I scratched and clawed and managed to get by as my classmates from Chicago were dropping like flies.
Eventually, I developed a pretty good process (totally by accident) to get some really good referrals from mortgage companies. This helped me tremendously as these people typically had good credit and many of them were new homeowners with no losses. Within a year, I was the #1 Homeowners agent in the state and got an invitation to attend a Line Leaders event where all the top agents exchanged ideas. It was there that I met lots of bigger agents and learned all about duplication and delegation.
So, I came back and hired three people. But I had a huge problem – I had no way to pay them. My book was still tiny and I didn’t have any working capital. My plan was to sell life insurance and use the commissions to pay my team. I needed about $10K in monthly commissions to pay them and doing it solo, I was able to make that work for a little over 3 years. It was difficult and required a lot of sacrifice, but it was well worth the effort as this really set things into motion for what was yet to come.
We started rolling and were having tremendous success. We were growing, I was winning trips, dominating the kick off awards and making pretty good money. But I was a terrible manager. I did not care about my people at all. I simply threw them in the deep end of the pool and if they didn’t work out, I would blame them. I had no hiring process, no training and certainly no development. I was just convincing people to give it a shot and then used them to get what I wanted. This went on for years.
In the spring of 2008 everything came to a screeching halt.
My youngest son had been having lots of health issues and on a Friday afternoon I got a call from his doctor. He called to tell me that my son had been diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis. I had no idea what it was at the time, but I could tell from his tone that it was bad. After I hung up the phone with him, I got online and began researching it. It was bad. Really bad. My son’s life expectancy was less than 30 and he would have a very difficult life as the disease progressed. I was devastated for my son and now I had to go home and tell my wife. As you can imagine, it was a very tough conversation.
All weekend long I thought about my son. I thought about my family and I also thought about the people in my agency. I made a decision that weekend to change what I was doing and even though I couldn’t do much to help my son, I could do a lot to help my team.
I went into the office Monday morning and had a meeting explaining that things would be different.
I told them that I would help them get where THEY wanted to go. That I would invest in THEM and play a role in THEIR development. That I would provide all the resources and tools THEY needed to be successful. They all looked at me like I had three heads because this was not the person they knew.
I fully expected my production to go down and was completely ok with it because I felt at peace with doing the right thing. But a funny thing happened. When I stopped managing with intimidation and fear and started LEADING by showing people that I cared, they actually did more. We had some of the best months we had ever had – right in the middle of the financial crisis of 2008. It was amazing and I was very proud of my team and also of myself, wishing I had done this years ago.
Then, in November of 2008 my son’s doctor called me. They had been running tests for months to monitor my son’s progress and how he was doing. The most recent test came back “inconclusive”. I asked him what that meant and he said that it could mean a variety of things and that the only way to know how to proceed was to do a genetics test that was not covered by insurance. The cost was significant, but I agreed to the test and we waited for the results.
Several weeks passed and just before Christmas the doctor called me on my cell. I was at home and I told him to hang on, that I wanted my wife to hear what he had to say. I got my wife as we both listened in on speaker. I told him to go ahead and he then told me that my son DID NOT have Cystic Fibrosis. He told me that he was just small for his age and that his symptoms could be managed through traditional care. My wife and I were overcome with joy and tremendous relief. I felt like 10,000 pounds was lifted off of my shoulders and I now had a clean slate to tackle life with my family.
Through the years everything just continued to improve. I ended up growing that scratch book to over $40,000,000 with locations in multiple states.
I have traveled the world and won lots of awards. I was even inducted into the Allstate Hall Of Fame. I built a team of people who are doing amazing things for themselves, their families and their customers. And for the last several years, I have worked with thousands of owners and staff all over the country helping them do the same. It is truly amazing the way that things have turned out and extremely rewarding for me personally to have helped so many other people.
It’s also sad, and honestly, very embarrassing that it took something like my son’s misdiagnosis to get my head right about how to treat people. Ever since, I have been on a mission to help people. In 2017 I started Craig Wiggins Coaching and Consulting and started working with Agency Owners and staff all over the country. I want to make a difference and truly help others with the challenges they face. I can still be a hard ass and will certainly hold people accountable, but I do it for THEM. Why? Because in a selfish way, I get so much out of seeing people succeed. It is the best feeling in the world.
You may ask why I am writing this? Well, I know for a fact that there are many of you in similar positions. Whether it is the inability to sleep at night, the unknown of how you’re going to build your agency or maybe even the way you treat people. Learn from me. I promise, if I can do this, anyone can.
I have made tons of mistakes. I did a lot of things I wish I could take back, but at the same time, I think they made me the person that I am today.
So yes, 26 years ago my life changed forever. Boarding that plane to Chicago was one of the best decisions I ever made. If I can ever help you in any way, please reach out. If you are part of an agency family, I want you to be successful in your business and more importantly, I want you to be successful in life!