Insurance was a great training ground for now State Sen. Bill Ketron, who has been a member of the Tennessee Senate since 2002 while also serving as president of his own independent agency founded by his late father.
Ketron credits his insurance career and his involvement with his state agents’ associations with preparing him for politics.
He was first elected to the state Senate in 2002, then re-elected in 2006 and again in 2010.
Even while immersing himself in state politics, he has remained active in production and sales as president of Universal International Insurance in Murfreesboro, the agency his father started in 1968 and he joined in 1975.
He says his insurance career helped prepare him for legislative work by requiring him to know something about his clients and his community. “[I]n the insurance business, you have to know a little bit of something about every type of business there is, especially in the general insurance business, from environment, from landfills, to construction, to education,” he says.
He was active in the Professional Insurance Agents of Tennessee, serving as president of the agents’ group from 1992 to 1993. He was also a member of the other trade group, the Insurors of Tennessee, which in 2008 named him Independent Agent of the Year.
Involvement in his agent associations helped him politically by familiarizing him with issues, giving him experience speaking before audiences, and teaching him how to run meetings.
“The associations are very political. They usually have a day on the hill at the Legislature,” he said. “They’ll go to the state capital and then they’ll go to the U.S. Capitol in Washington and do the same thing and talk about the issues that are confronting our industry.”
Tort reform is one issue that was discussed when he was leading PIA and that experience factored into his work when the Senate took up and passed a damages cap years later.
He takes pride in his recent legislation that solved a problem in workers’ compensation involving general or artisan contractors being sued because subcontractors they hired did not have insurance.
Being both an agent and an elected representative requires juggling of tasks and a flexible schedule. The Tennessee legislative session is supposed to run 90 days starting in February, although it’s not unusual for it to run longer.
Ketron is within 30 miles of the capital, so even on a day when the Legislature is in session, he can be in the agency for a few hours in the morning before heading to the capital.
The lawmakers are in committees during the day and the session opens at 5 p.m. on Monday night. They are tied up with legislative work Tuesdays and Wednesdays all day and until about 11 a.m. on Thursday.
“I’m back in the office Thursday afternoon and then all day Friday. I get about two days in the agency,” he says of his time when the Legislature is in session.
Politics takes more than just showing up for committees and votes. Ketron says there are “always events at night, from spaghetti dinners, catfish dinners, barbeques, fundraisers for the local fire departments, pancake breakfasts in the morning I have to go to.”
He says appearing at these events, while it helps him politically in the district, can also help his business.
“We run into people and they go, “Hey, could you quote so and so for me? I bought a new car.’ Or, ‘I’m getting ready to start a new business.’ It just helps to network; they kind of go hand in hand.”
Has politics ever hurt his business?
“Oh sure, sometimes it has,” he says. But it’s rare. He says there may have been only “four or five people” over the cycle of his 12 years in the Senate who took their business elsewhere because of his politics.
Ketron’s daughter, Kelsey, a recent college graduate, is now learning the insurance agency business.
“She made a promise to my father right before he passed that she would continue on his legacy and come into the business,” he says.
But politics, like insurance, appears to be in her blood, too. Kelsey trained her dad’s previous campaign chairman.
“Her mother had a campaign sign rested on her belly when she was pregnant. It went through her navel and implanted the political side in her genes,” says the proud father.
“She’s already gotten into the insurance business. We’ll wait until she gets a little seasoned before she gets into politics,” he says.