Veteran Gambled and Won in Starting Own Agency

By | January 20, 2012

A recent study from the Small Business Administration suggests there is a strong correlation between self-employment and past military experience. Veterans are at least 45 percent more likely to start their own businesses than those without military background, according to the report, “Factors Affecting Entrepreneurship Among Veterans.”

C.G. Caldwell is a case in point. Caldwell joined the U.S. Coast Guard at age 18 right out of high school. He served in the health services field in the U.S. Coast Guard from 1990 until 2001, stationed on large medical ships in ports from New York to San Francisco.

It was logical that his first job out of the military would be in a hospital. After leaving the Coast Guard, he worked in the hospital for four years before deciding he needed a change.

While looking around for a better opportunity, he spoke with his brother-in-law, a manager with a North Carolina Farm Bureau Insurance agency, about the insurance business. He knew some people in the business who appeared to him to be successful.

In no time, he interviewed and was hired as a sales rep with his own territory.

Caldwell looks back on that job as good experience, “a good introduction” to the insurance business, learning about various personal lines and commercial lines products.

However, it was not enough.

“I began talking with other agency owners and came to thinking about where I would be if I had my own agency versus if I were with the Farm Bureau. Hands down, it was better owning your own agency,” he told Insurance Journal.

After “some serious family talks” he decided to take the risk and go out on his own.

“I took a big gamble,” he said.

It’s a gamble he thinks he might not have taken if he had not been through the military.

“It’s the confidence they give you. You can do whatever you want to do if you’re willing to do the work. You have to give 100 percent,” he said.

Caldwell compares what he now does to his job in healthcare where he saw new patients every day, which he enjoyed. As an insurance agent, he continues to meet new people every day, he sees his customers out in the community, and he is able to build relationships.

And he’s getting paid better.

“The money can be made if you are willing to work to get there,” he said. “In my opinion, the agency route is the best route. You get out of it what you put into it. I made the right decision.”

He wishes more employers would give veterans a chance and urges the insurance industry to recruit more young veterans. Too many people think all veterans are “gun-carrying rednecks” and don’t give them a fair shake when hiring, he told Insurance Journal.

He wouldn’t hesitate to hire a veteran.

“Veterans don’t know how to do anything half-assed,” Caldwell said. “They give every ounce of energy. It’s ingrained in us. That’s the kind of employee I want.”

Today, Caldwell runs his own agency in Cary, a growing suburb of Raleigh with a population of about 100,000 —and has even managed to grow during the recession.

“Business is great,” he said. “We’ve done better than previous years—twice what I did last year with lots of growth in commercial lines.”

To listen to Caldwell tell abut his journey in his own words, click here.

More from P/C Insurance Mission: Military-Friendly Recruiting

Insurance Journal set out to learn more about how the insurance industry is turning to veterans as part of its strategy to win the talent war and how veterans are turning to the insurance industry for new careers. Insurance Journal asked several veterans who have transitioned to careers in the insurance industry to tell how they got into insurance, how their military training has been an advantage and how they made the transition into the private sector.

Insurance Journal is publishing stories from a veteran who is now a vice president of underwriting, former soldiers who are now members of a unique global crisis team and a Coast Guard veteran who is now a Main Street independent agent, along with a story about two agents and their dream of building a program to employ disabled veterans in virtual insurance jobs. Watch for:

P/C Insurance Industry Enlisting Veterans in Talent War

Aon’s Warriors Bring Core Values to Managing Risks

Mission Accomplished: A Post-Military Job with a Purpose

Veteran Gambled, Won in Starting Own North Carolina Agency

Agents Creating At-Home Insurance Jobs for Disabled Veterans

Topics Talent Training Development Market

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