Host: Tim Martin
Episode 20: Five Leadership Lessons I Learned From Aflac Founder, Mr. Paul Amos
July 4, 2014
Welcome to Success is Voluntary, a podcast devoted to helping you become the salesperson you were always meant to be, where it’s all about helping you learn the techniques and tools that will enable you to win in the increasingly competitive world of voluntary benefits. Welcome your host, a guy who has hired and trained over 2,000 voluntary benefit salespeople in his career, Tim Martin. Success is Voluntary, selling voluntary benefits.
Tim Martin: Yes, my name is Tim Martin, and you are listening to episode number 20. Today is July 4, 2014. Honestly, I wasn’t planning on having a podcast today. In lieu of the holiday weekend, I felt like it would be appropriate to take the day off. Unfortunately, something changed. This podcast episode is dedicated to Mr. Paul Amos. Mr. Paul, as the Aflac nation calls him, passed away yesterday, July 3, from complications related to Parkinson’s. He was 88.
Mr. Paul is one of the three brothers who founded Aflac, together, back in 1955. As many of you know, I started my voluntary benefits career with Aflac. Even though I now lead a sales team for Aflac’s biggest competitor, Colonial Life, I have absolutely no ill will towards Aflac and treasure my time there greatly.
Just like any carrier, Aflac has their strengths, and they have their weaknesses. One of their greatest strengths has traditionally been a great senior management team. This legacy was started by Mr. Paul and his brothers and was something he was very proud of. I had the opportunity to meet and learn from Mr. Paul on several occasions during my time with Aflac. Mr. Paul’s example and words have impacted my life and career in many ways.
In today’s episode, I want to share with you five great leadership lessons that I learned through those interactions. The five leadership lessons were be interested, be generous, be humble, be working, and be optimistic. I have a story or a quick example of each of these lessons, so let’s get started.
1. Be interested. I had the great privilege of getting to sit next to Mr. Paul. I was honored at a lunch meeting, and I got to sit next Mr. Paul in 1998. During our conversation, we hit it off pretty well. It was my first time I had ever met him, and he asked me where I grew up. I told him Wyoming and all that. He said, “Well, I don’t think they probably have a lot of boiled peanuts in Wyoming, do they?” I said, “No, sir, we don’t have peanuts period in Wyoming,” and I said, “What is a boiled peanut?” He was almost incensed that I didn’t know what a boiled peanut was.
For those of you who grew up loving boiled peanuts, those of you from the South who love boiled peanuts, what I’m about ready to say next is probably not going to make you happy. I found out later that I didn’t like boiled peanuts. Let me explain.
After we get done with lunch and Mr. Paul being just, like I said, almost incensed that I didn’t know what a boiled peanut was and that I had never had one, I stopped thinking about it. Well, it wasn’t but two days later that I returned back from being out prospecting. I was fairly new in the company at that point and was still doing a lot, a lot of prospecting. I came home and found a FedEx box sitting on my doorstep.
Wouldn’t you know it, it was a tin of boiled peanuts with a little note from Mr. Paul, a note that I still have today. Like I said, I just was so impressed that he would remember me, and he just took such an interest in me that he would get home to Columbus, Georgia and send me boiled peanuts to Olympia, Washington. Unbelievable.
2. Be generous. Mr. Paul and his beautiful bride of 65 years, Jean, founded and endowed two nonprofit foundations that have made a huge impact on many, many people and organizations. They have set up scholarship funds, as well, and on and on and on. His philanthropic activities are almost legend in the South, even though he always tried to keep his involvement as anonymous as possible. He never would be the guy standing up there beating his chest, but just gave and gave and gave.
3. Be humble. You know, I have no idea of Mr. Paul’s net worth, but suffice it to say, it has to be way up there. He found and ran one of the largest insurance carriers in the United States. You know what, you wouldn’t know it talking to him or watching him. He was always the antithesis of flashy, always wore a nice suit, always was polished, but not flashy.
Jean and Mr. Paul could have bought any house and lived anywhere in the world, but he and Jean have lived in the same modest Columbus home since 1966, and Jean always said it was all the home they ever needed. In fact, one of the legends of Aflac is that, early on, they were having trouble making payroll, and they ended up selling all the office furniture back to a company and leasing it from them to generate cash so they could make payroll. I think those kinds of experiences really helped them to stay humble and realize how really truly blessed he was.
4. Be working. Even after he handed the CEO title to his son, Dan, in 1990, Mr. Paul maintained his 19th floor office in the Aflac tower. Even though he was “retired,” he still kept regular office hours and was a fixture at leadership conferences, national conventions, and shareholders meetings. I had the privilege to receive an award directly from Mr. Paul in his office in 1999, and I still treasure that experience and the photo from it as one of my most favorite awards ever.
There was no reason Mr. Paul needed to go to work other than it was just part of who he was, and he felt he still had something to contribute. I know a lot of people who are actively working who don’t work as hard as Mr. Paul did as a retiree. My fifth lesson I learned from Mr. Paul and probably the most important one was…
5. Be optimistic. Parkinson’s is a horrible disease, and I’ve watched it ravage my own grandfather, and it runs in my family. If Mr. Paul was discouraged by his disease, he sure didn’t show it. He continued to show up to big, national events and inspire the crowd from his wheelchair long after it would have been easy to beg off.
His message was always one of eternal optimism and hope. When he was done with his inspiring message, he would always end with this: “You ain’t seen nothing yet.” Especially in his later years, this proclamation would bring thunderous applause and standing ovations, usually reserved for rock concert encores.
Oftentimes, when I have a guest on the Success is Voluntary podcast, I ask them how they want to be remembered once they have finished their time on this planet. I tell you this with all sincerity: I hope my legacy has some of the same things I saw in Mr. Paul. I hope it will be said of me that I was interested, that I was generous, that I was humble, hardworking, and optimistic. To the Amos family, my sincere condolences for your loss. To Mr. Paul, let me say this: If there is a heaven, as I believe there is, you were absolutely right. You ain’t seen nothing yet.
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Tim: As I said in the open, I wasn’t planning on doing a podcast because my podcasts come out on Friday, and this Friday, today, is July 4, but I felt like I needed to say a couple of things about Mr. Paul. I also wanted to share it with you while it was still fresh in my mind.
Hey, you are going to be blown away next week when I have Les Heinsen on. Les works with Aflac. He has been a huge mentor of mine, a huge help to me over the years, and I can’t wait to bring him on to the podcast. We’ll see you next Friday. In the meantime, if you get a chance, jump on over to iTunes and rate the podcast. I would love to hear your honest feedback, and it helps me stay relevant, current, and accessible to others. Thanks a lot.
Hey, have a great Fourth of July weekend. Be safe and God bless America.