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A Letter From NAIFA-Wisconsin President John Wheeler

Friday, January 9, 2015   (1 Comments)
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It was late fall 1983, and the young man was ready to leave the business.  The rejection, the late nights, the blank paychecks, the missed meals with his wife and young daughters – if this was what the business was, he wanted something else.  What else, in recession-plagued Detroit, he wasn’t sure – but something.  Making his decision, he penned a letter of resignation and laid it on his manager’s desk.

The manager read the letter when he got back to his desk.  Knowing first-hand how his rep had been struggling, he said “I understand your decision – but before you go, I want you to meet someone.”

It was mid-afternoon, and a nice day for late fall, so they walked across to the Prudential Towers in Southfield, Michigan, to meet Burt Meisel, CLU – who the young man had seen and looked up to at a local NAIFA (then NALU) meeting his manager had taken him to shortly after joining the business.  Clearly out of his element in the spacious, well-appointed offices on the 31st floor, with a panoramic view of the city, the young man was nervous until Burt came out, shook his hand, and said ‘JOHN!  Thanks for coming over.  There’s something I need your opinion on.’

Unable to imagine what opinion this industry legend might need from a five-months-in-the-business green pea,  I went over to a huge drafting table, where the details of a $45,000,000 buy-sell agreement was spread out, while Burt asked my advice about placement, colors, layout of the presentation, and other small details.  Having never sold anything larger than a $25,000 whole life plan across a kitchen table in Detroit’s inner city, I wasn’t sure, but we spent a delightful half hour working on this huge case.

Burt then took me into his private office, sat me down, and said ‘so – Ken tells me you want to leave the business.’  And for the next two hours, like a father to a son, he detailed the struggles of his early career and how difficult it was for his wife and daughters.  He explained the difference between building a practice, and managing a practice once it’s been built.  And for the next 25 years (as you know, I didn’t leave the business that day) he’d check in on me occasionally to see how I was doing.

When I went to my first MDRT meeting in 1999, I met Burt in the hotel lobby, surrounded by about three dozen of his ‘students’ – all people like me that he had mentored throughout the years.  I was fortunate enough to have been mentored early in my career by one of our industry greats, but what was most remarkable about my teacher is that he had hundreds of us, his students, all over the world. 

Burt left us a few years ago, but his legacy – ‘Pass it on’ – lives on in all of the lives he touched.  I met Burt through NAIFA, and so I can honestly say that were it not for NAIFA I would be doing something else for a living today, instead of preparing to lead as your president this year.   All of us who have had success in this business have fathers, mothers, big brothers or sisters, who have encouraged us, reached down a hand, and mentored us through the rough spots.  For me, that’s what NAIFA is, and should be about.  Together, we are all stronger than we are alone.  Please join me.  Let’s make it a great year.

Best regards,

John Wheeler


That is a neat story. Being new to the industry I was lucky to see Burt speak in 2007 at an Assurity Life Insurance Company sales conference at the Cornhusker. It is hard to see the old legends go - hopefully the newer generation will find some similar experiences with mentoring with current high level producers.

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