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A Leader's Vision

Season 1 Episode 1

A Leader's Vision with Ryan Eaton

Season 1 Episode 1


[00:00:00] Welcome to the insurance leadership podcast. The podcast designed to bring you perspectives and principles from leaders in the life and health insurance industry. We trust you will enjoy today's episode.

[00:00:25] Good morning, everyone, and welcome to the first episode of the insurance leadership podcast. This podcast is designed to bring you perspectives and leadership principles from leaders in the life and health insurance industry. Most of our podcasts will have speakers with an insurance background but the principles can be used across all lines of business.

[00:00:43] My name is Ryan Eaton and I will be the host for this program, and as we get started, I wanted to share a little bit about the guy who'll bedoing the interviewing and bring you content each month. First and foremost, I am a Christian. My belief systems and my actions are based onChristian values. I miss it all the time, but thankfully I serve a gracious God.

[00:01:01] Secondly, I am a husband to my wonderful wife, Amanda. We met in college when I saw her get on the gray route bus on sorority row in Starkville, Mississippi-- home of the Mississippi State Bulldogs. And I leaned over to several of my buddies and said, Mrs. Eaton just sat down onthe bus. About a week or so later, I was able to get a blind date set up.

[00:01:21] And the rest is history from there. So very thankful I went to class that day and was able to meet the love of my life. While I was at Mississippi State, I majored in insurance, risk management, and financial planning. I am one of those weird guys who actually made a career in what they majored in. I went to Lloyd's of London for a study abroad while I was in college and fell in love with the insurance industry and just the relationship side of the business.

[00:01:47] It was a lot of fun to me and something I knew that I wanted to make a career out of. I have also two wonderful boys at the time of this recording. They are 14 and 11. And for those of you with kids in that age range, know how busy your schedule can be from sports and ball games and everything else that's kind of going on, but I'm honored to be able to lead these two young men. Professionally,

[00:02:08] I'm the chief marketing officer Morgan White Group. MWG is a host of companies that offer brokerage, TPA, and benefits services to roughly 50 different insurance companies across the country. We have, uh, Probably 25,000 agents we work with domestically, about 3,500 agents internationally. So needless to say, there is never a dull moment atour organization, but that is also what kind of keeps it fun

[00:02:31] and also allows us to see a variety of services and opportunities, challenges in the market and what keeps it fun. I'm honoredto serve on the board of several insurance companies that operate in the life and health markets. I also serve on the board of a PNC insurance company; however, I will say I am PNC licensed, but that is not my area of expertise.

[00:02:51] I do serve as a managing partner of a consulting company, which also manages several associations with roughly about 500,000 members. So I am all in when it comes to the insurance industry. I live it, I breathe it, I grew up with it. We talked about it at, uh, a Thanksgiving and Christmas at family events for years and years.

[00:03:11] But, uh, it is a great industry. I'm honored to be able to be a part of it. And we are honored to be a part of this podcast and where we think this can go. We will be having great leaders from the life and health insurance space speak on their business practices, their lessons they've learned, different buying and selling opportunities of companies

[00:03:30] from a filing standpoint. We will cover a wide variety of topics that we are excited to cover and look forward to jumping in on the insurance leadership podcast. With that let's go ahead and get started for today. At the time of this first podcast, I think it's important to say that we're still in the middle of COVID-19.

[00:03:48] Some areas of the U S are still shut down. Some are teeter tottering, and some are open for business with a new normal. There are a lot of leaders across the country that have seen their companies see record growth this year, certain industries we know have just skyrocketed while other industries and other companies have had to close their doors due to COVID restrictions.

[00:04:08] And it's, it's one of those things that. We're just seeing a wide variety of experiences across the industry. There are also a lot of leaders who are fearful of what is going on, so they have decided that inaction willbe their best action. I want to be clear as leaders, it is our job to set a vision for the teams we lead and give them something to chase.

[00:04:29] Some of you listening may feel, that you're unable to make a plan due to COVID. Uh, I want to stop you right there and say that's not accurate. Because as leaders, we're called to set expectations for our teams. Now, not everything may work out exactly like we're planning and most of the time, it won't. There, there are changes to the plans, but that is okay.

[00:04:47] The key is for us to set a purpose and a plan so that we can all push forward. There's an old leadership principle I once heard that says, if you're not pushing forward, you are falling behind. So today we want to start this podcast off with setting a positive perspective and vision for the future. So first let's hit,

[00:05:04] What is vision? Vision is the ability to think about or plan the future with imagination or wisdom. Let me say that one more time for you.Vision is the ability to think about or plan the future with imagination or wisdom. So vision isn’t knowing the future. Or being able to predict exactly what will happen.

[00:05:21] Vision is preparing for the future with wisdom while combining imagination. A key component to me of leadership is setting vision for your company, your team, whatever group you're leading, whatever groupyou're managing, whatever group you are getting to chase a certain goal. You see vision sets future expectations, and gives you a path to run.

[00:05:43] It does not give you every detail. It doesn't provide you with the tools to fight every obstacle, but it lets you know, what you were waking up to accomplish. And when I think about vision, I can't help but think about Walt Disney. I think he was one of the ones who just had more vision than probably... probably one of the biggest visionaries of our time.

[00:06:03] And when I think about the site selection process, and I think about the Disney story. This was a guy who spent 10 years acquiring land, buying land, getting everything set up for this Orlando theme park before the door was ever even open. You know, part of his preparation process when it came to site selection was he was so methodical that he had his employees use fake

[00:06:28] names when they were going out, trying to buy land. He had his attorney and his real estate agent, both of those people had to use fake names and fake dummy corporations when they were trying to close transactions. See, he did this because he didn't want anyone tying anything back to the Disney corporation.

[00:06:46] He wanted everyone outside of the upper management to be kept in the dark and he did this so that he could acquire the land at low cost. Some of his initial land actually acquisitions were acquired for about $80 an acre. And through this process, he was able to acquire roughly 27,000 acres of land before anyone knew that Walt Disney or the Disney company was behind it.

[00:07:09] And his average acquisition price was $200 an acre. Now I wantto give you a little background on this land, I want you to think about it. This land that he acquired stretched across two counties, and it was 27,000 acres of swamp land, okay? Walt Disney had a vision of taking 27,000 acres of swamp land and being able to make it the world's largest theme park and be able to make it somewhere that he could bring people from

[00:07:36] all over the world to be able to come to, to the tune pre COVID of 250,000 people a day, you see? He believed that it would be something that everyone would want to come to. He believed that he could turn this swamp land into one of the most magical places on the earth. And remember that Orlando at this point was not the blue Orlando

[00:07:57] we see today. It wasn't Palm trees and huge international airports. It wasn't everything that we know it as today. And even the governor of Florida at that time said, this might be the most significant day in the history of Florida. That's how big it was. But I think we can learnthree things from this story of Walt Disney and kind of what he took when he was putting together his vision for this theme park.

[00:08:19] First of all, he had imagination. He saw something 99.9% of people would never see. And one of his famous quotes was always first think, second dream, third believe, and finally dare. To me, Walt was one of the best of all times of living at his dream. Secondly, it's setting a plan. He believed in his plan and the future so much that he secured 27,000 acres of land in Florida before

[00:08:43] anyone knew he was buying the property under the Disney corporation. And third Walt Disney used wisdom. He thought about his siteselection. He looked at multiple other cities across the country and he looked at Philadelphia and said, nah, it gets too cold here during the winter. He looked at Florida and said, this is somewhere that people will beable to come year round because of the weather and be able to view this theme park

[00:09:05] so it will be a 12 month theme park, which is obviously very important. When you're generating revenue off an organization, you want to make sure it can be open year round. He also was so strategic in buyinghis land. He knew that if others found out that he was buying the land thathis price would skyrocket, and that's why he was able to acquire it at roughly $200 an acre.

[00:09:22] So these were the three things that I see out of this story with Walt Disney was the imagination, the plan, and the wisdom. And we're going to break this down and kind of go into each one of those just a tad bit more before we kind of give an application principle and how we can apply that into our different insurance businesses.

[00:09:39] So let's look at the first principle envisioned from the story. Let's go back to remember what vision is. Vision is the ability to think about or plan the future with imagination or wisdom. So Walt Disney was referred to as friends, as inspirational, fearless, bold, a go getter. I mean, you name it. Uh, his friends thought highly of him from as a driver type personality.

[00:09:59] And as you heard from the story, obviously he was a true visionary from seeing swamp land, turning it into the largest amusement park in the world. But when Walt Disney went in with a plan with his team,I want you to realize he didn't go in saying, “I'm not sure if this will work. So let's buy about 200 acres.

[00:10:16] Let's buy about 10 acres, 20 acres, a thousand acres.” He wentall in, right? He was the guy who would burn the boats and say, “Go attack, go make it happen.” And it's hard for people to be able to follow a leader that does not have a vision for the future. The reason is because the quality people and quality leaders want someone that inspires them.

[00:10:37] They want someone they respect behind the wheel. They want a leader that will spend time looking for the opportunities ahead of them, not someone with the barely-get-by mentality or we'll take a stab at it next year. They want someone who's going to be pushing forward. I'm not saying that everything's going to be butterflies and rainbows.

[00:10:53] Everyone knows that isn't true. But I am saying that people want to follow a leader that pursues dreams and has a passion for why they get up in the morning. Leaders want to follow someone who is shooting for a higher purpose, than to conquer the day. And we all know with big dreams come big risk. And Walt Disney was noticed saying, I dareto take risks.

[00:11:11] He bet on the win every single time. He didn't win every time. And I'm sure he didn't acquire some of that land that he went after in his big land grab, but that didn't stop him from moving the ball forward. He spent his time, his energy, his talents, and his resources to see his dream become a reality.

[00:11:28] And as a leader, we have to pursue our corporate, our family goals with focus and imagination. If we're not, we're missing opportunities to see our dream come true. The second principle we say from this story isa solid and clear plan. After you have a vision for where you want to go as a company, your department, your team, your organization, whatever it may be, you have to put an action plan together on how you're going to get there.

[00:11:52] It has to be a plan that has clarity because as a leader, we can be wrong, but we have to be clear with our team. Let me repeat that one more time. We can be wrong as a leader, but we have to be clear with the team. And how do you be clear? You set specific goals, you set smart goals. Most of you have heard the acronym SMART for Specific Measurable, Attainable, Timely, Realistic.

[00:12:13] You have to have different things that are laid out for your team to be able to understand where you want to go and how you're goingto get there. It’s kind of like the big one we all hear at the beginning of the year. If you say you want to lose weight, right? If you lose one pound, Hey,you reached your goal for the year.

[00:12:27] Instead of saying, Hey, I want to lose five pounds, I wanna lose 10 pounds in the first quarter, you got to have specific goals that are laid out so that everyone will be able to follow those who see it. If your vision is years down the road, you don't have to have a perfect roadmap for how to get there.

[00:12:41] The key is to start today because we would rather have a good plan today than a perfect plan several months from now. And the third principle we see here out of this story is applying wisdom in market research, and that's in our business, we've got to look at what's going on. We got to do the due diligence.

[00:12:56] We've got to see the market needs. We get to see what the people we work with, our agents, our brokers, our carriers, our TPA’s that we're working with, figure out what's making sense and then formulate a plan that will stick. Our company is a part owner in several different Marriott hotels here in the state of Mississippi,

[00:13:12] and I can tell you that we had a very solid plan starting out 2020. However, when COVID hit, we had to go back to the drawing board and be able to figure out what we would do to make certain things work, how we were going to get people into the hotel doors when a lot of States weren't even allowing people to come into their state when everything was kind of shut down and quarantined. We had to figure out what we were going to do,

[00:13:34] right? And things will happen that will change your plan. Changes is one of the only certainties in this world. However, that's where we can step back, evaluate our processes, evaluate our procedures, maybe evaluate your sales tactics and feel what you need to be able to dobetter. But it takes being able to look at and evaluate just like Walt Disneydid in his initial land acquisition.

[00:13:56] You have to use market research and you have to use wisdom when applying that. While this story is great, I'm a big believer that knowing how to apply something in your life is key to seeing benefit from different leadership principles. So I wanted to give an example of how we actually put some vision together and took something that wasn't working perfectly in our company,

[00:14:16] we had a vision for how we could make it better. Years ago, ourcompany was selling dental and vision entirely by paper and phone calls. However, we found out they became kind of expensive to be able to do that. It was lower premiums and lower commissions on those policies, so you already weren't making a ton of money, but there was so much different expenses that are involved from having someone who can man the phones, having someone who could man the mail room when the stuff came in, someone who could get the postage out and be able to pay for the posters that you just hoped an application would come back.

[00:14:47] Then you had to follow up with the people to be able to make sure it came back in and, needless to say, the expense of driving to someone's house to be able to try to get the signature, right? Or something comes back in and there's no check with the application and then you have to go back through the whole process again. Needless to say,

[00:15:03] this was a slow process and it was not efficient. So we all took astep back and evaluated what other ways we could sell dental and vision insurance policies. So we came up with a system that was an online quoting and enrollment platform that could handle 100% of the process online from the quoting, to the enrollment, to the credit card processing, to ACH processing, anything needed to be done online.

[00:15:27] And we built this system and it was great for our company. I think it actually catapulted us to the point for the past four or five years, we've been selling about 55,000 policies a year online for dental and vision insurance, where at the beginning, when it was paper, we were selling about 50 a month.

[00:15:45] And so it was a huge transformation in our company, but it wasn't anything that changed the world, right? Our vision wasn't something that had some huge grand scheme plan that changed everybody's way of doing business, but it was a vision for our company. And we did have a process. We did have a plan.

[00:16:00] We imagined how we can make our systems and our processesbetter. And it's been a blessing to our organization. So remember this a vision doesn't have to be taking over the world. It can be something small with a big impact in your organization, but whatever your vision is, it needs to have a purpose worth you and your team's energy every single day.

[00:16:21] So to give a summary of kind of the things we've gone over today, and this will be in the show notes for you. But remember, vision is the ability to think about or plan the future with imagination or wisdom. And there's gotta be three things to it. One, you gotta have imagination, you gotta have a positive outlook as a leader.

[00:16:39] You have to give people something that will inspire them to getup in the morning and fight for a purpose. You also have to have a great roadmap for your vision. It might end up having some detours, but you have to show your team the road that they need to follow. And the last thing is you have to use your core competencies to search for opportunities, to do what you do better. Doing this same thing over and over and expecting a different result

[00:17:03] is the definition of insanity as we all know. As leaders, we are called to bring people higher. Part of bringing people higher is imparting a vision that drives them to new limits that will push them outside of their comfort zone so that you can experience the extraordinary. You do not have to know everything that will happen.

[00:17:20] No one does. But as a leader, you are required to give a clear plan for where you are headed. And one final note before we go today, I just want us to tell everybody how excited I am about this podcast and for our industry. In the life and health insurance industry, we have so many amazing leaders. We have so many people who've been doing this for 30, 40 years and we have more and more people coming into the insurance industry

[00:17:45] who don't have an insurance background who don't know all the ins and outs of why insurance was done this way or why it was done that way. And this is a great time for us to be able to learn from our leaders, from the executives, from the trailblazers, really, of our industry. So we are honored to be able to start bringing in people, to be able to record these podcasts with, and be able to bring light to all those in our life and health insurance industry.

[00:18:09] That wraps up our episode for today. Thank you for listening to the insurance leadership podcast, where little hinges swing big doors, and a good plan today is better than a great plan several months from now. Please subscribe on your favorite podcast app or stream on our website at

[00:18:26] And thank you again for listening to us today.

[00:18:33] Thanks for listening to today's episode of the insurance leadership podcast. Make sure you subscribe on your favorite podcast app,so you'll be notified of future episodes or stream online at