It was a Saturday, and I wanted to get into the office and start setting up my cubical so I called the owner, Al Boenker and asked if it were possible for someone to give me a key. He told me to drive out to his ranch and he’d give me one.
The following Tuesday would be my first day on the job at the Al Boenker Insurance Agency in 1998. I could never have dreamed twenty years later Al would build not just a leading insurance agency, but a managing general agency, three international BPOs, and an insurance carrier and that I would get to come along on the adventure. Al is a visionary and a man of action, and I was fortunate to be included in these additions from their birth.
When I arrived on a hot Texas day at Al’s ranch there was a man in a straw cowboy hat throwing some hay bales up on a trailer. He had a long-sleeved shirt and gloves. Al had employees on the ranch so I was confident this man would point me in the right direction. I pulled up and asked where I could find Al. When he looked up, it was Al. That first moment in my service to Al Boenker, the Boenker family and the Boenker Group of Companies would define the character of the owner in all interaction over the next twenty years. Al lives out Max DePree’s definition of a leader in his book Leadership is an Art,
“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.”
Grand Opening of Our Managua Office
My initial responsibility to the organization was in marketing. After ten years in the radio industry I knew a little about marketing and nothing about insurance. I was 28 years old and had grown past the immaturity of pretending I had the answers to everything. I took the job because I believed there was much to learn from Al, and indeed, the education would prove priceless.
Al and Sue Boenker focus on what is important. They are the antithesis of the many leaders I served prior to my time at the BGOC who were pretentious, overbearing, lording, rude, demanding, and unforgiving.
The Boenkers weren’t attempting to be original, they were working to make something good.
C.S. Lewis wrote of originality,
"… no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth without caring two pence how often it has been told before, you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it. Give up yourself and you will find your real self."
They are originals. Building one of the largest personal lines independent insurance agencies in the United States, developing one of the largest auto managing general agencies in Texas. First in our sector to build and execute three business processing centers in three different countries, and currently executing the fastest growing Texas insurance company. Hundreds of people were part of the journeys, but without their vision, and above all, their servant leadership, none of us would have followed.
Celebrating Successes with Agents and Friends
Not once did they remind me of who they were or my position. Not once did they Lord over me. Not once did they ask of me anything intrusive or restrictive. Not once did they micromanage my activities. The opposite: they elevated me, gave me authority, encouraged me to run with ideas.
This style of leadership was a part of my education, and while I know I have not reflected at times what I was shown, it remains the pattern I work hard to imitate.
Over time I looked for more to take on within the organization: from marketing to sales, from sales to service, from service to software, from software to financials, from financials to claims, from claims to underwriting, from underwriting to reinsurance, and back through disciplines again and again. Going through these disciplines I learned from those willing to help me gain knowledge and much from those unwilling as well.
Celebrating Successes with Agents and Friends
In my twenty years, I’ve kept a reality before me. “This is not mine, but respect it as if it were.” The BGOC is not my legacy, that legacy belongs to the Boenker family and their willingness to take risk and to pour sweat, blood and tears into building a business. They built a business to care for their families, and with deep concern, they care for the hundreds of families represented by their employees. I am privileged to be one of their employees.
Being an employee is a great blessing. An individual, board, or shareholders give us the opportunity to influence what they own for a time. Timothy Keller says it best in his book, Every Good Endeavor,
“A job is a vocation only if someone else calls you to do it for them rather than for yourself. And so our work can be a calling only if it is reimagined as a mission of service to something beyond merely our own interests.”
The leadership I serve with, and many of our employees share this view of vocation. Darrin Kirby, our CIO makes this journey an incredible pleasure. We are of like mind and share the same worldview, however, willing to point out concerns in each other’s behavior or actions. His support has helped me through the countless trials which one should expect in business and leadership. Over these years he has grown into a great friend. Cicero says it best in his Treatises on Friendship,
“What can be more delightful than to have someone to whom you can say everything with the same absolute confidence as to yourself? Is not prosperity robbed of half its value if you have no one to share your joy?”
Enjoying Moments with Reinsurance Partners
I’ve watched many individuals thrive in our company. Pam` Lack rose to the presidency of the Al Boenker Insurance Agency and Clint Woodward to the presidency of our insurance carrier, Alinsco, both with patience and overcoming obstacles and difficult people. Maria Cortez moved from our file room over twenty years ago up to our COO and is the greatest keeper of our history, and influences every segment of our business. Today I continue to watch people work hard and achieve within our organization; watching them grow is exciting.
Celebrating Successes with Agents and Friends
Colton Williams is doing much more with our marketing today than his more experienced predecessors. Ernesto Argueta is leading in our new office development in Mexico. Rosa Espinoza is developing the Business Intelligence Analyst role in our organization. Kelly Orr continues to thrive and grow in claims leadership. Ileana Cruz built and is developing our Managua team. David Merrill is preparing us for the next generation of bodily injury management. Sarah Marsh and Lindsey Monreal are setting the pace for the agency in the twenty first century.
I serve with other super talented people: Jim Jacobs, Michael Scott, Bill Doherty, Tom Campbell, John Albritton, and Reagan Dillard. These people and so many more propel this ship.
The advice and support of one person launched my career, my wife Danae Owens. I spent two weeks going to radio stations and TV stations looking for an internship the spring of 1989. Danae found a flyer for 98.7 KLUV in the university center and said I should call them. I had no interest in working for an “oldies” station and was about to dismiss it outright. She quickly said that I should take any opportunity available and then see where it leads. So, I went up to KLUV in my one suit, and the day I showed up, Chuck Brinkman hired me. Without taking that step, I have no idea what other path I would have been put on. Upon meeting Al Boenker in 1997, she said she could see me working with him. Prophetic on her part, or perhaps pushing me.
Celebrating Successes with Agents and Friends at the Top of Texas
I’ve made mistakes. The good fortune I have, is ownership was willing to allow me to learn from them, and because of forgiveness, my bank of wisdom has grown.
Al Boenker cherishes Wisdom. He seeks Her in his reading and in his prayer life. He frequently will quote a Proverb relative to a situation. He often pauses before making hard decisions and asks us all to pray about it and come back later to discuss it. In our company events, he offers the blessing over the food and asks God for wisdom. He has been given much wisdom, and has gained much wisdom over his 50 years of entrepreneurship. His active pursuit of Truth makes him an original once again.
Al Boenker as I Celebrated my 20th Year at the BGOC
The investment and grace of Al, and the sharing of wisdom from hundreds of other people, improved my discernment. For this gift, I am most grateful. Discernment has assisted me in the most difficult of trials. I am spurred on by the words of, Antonie Arnauld who wrote in The Art of Thinking: Port-Royal Logic,
"Capacity for discerning the truth is the most important measure of men's minds."
I set my gait for this journey, but my path was made straight by the Lord. There is no way I could have sat down in college and created a map that would guide me to this point in my career. My gait remains fast and engaged, but I would not make any predictions about tomorrow, for tomorrow often comes not as we imagined. I however, will show up ready to play as long as my body and mind permit me. The disciplines to add are endless. Technology, law, and culture constantly change the rules and formats; there is no time to stand still or to stop learning.
I am grateful to be entrusted with so much and grateful to be in the trenches with so many. As we celebrate my twenty years, others will be celebrating 25, 15, 10 and 5 years. How fortunate to travel through life with familiar soldiers. LeRae Burton celebrates twenty-five years and Jan Morgan is working on thirty.
Christmas with One of Our Teams
The story of the last twenty years ends up not being about me and my career at all. It is the story of entrepreneurial family, a dedicated staff, and a gifted opportunity.
For many years there has been a name plate on my door. The plastic piece with my name engraved upon it slides in and out of the metal strip screwed into the door. My name can easily be removed with little to no effort. I occupy the office of the CEO. The office belongs to the ownership and to the employees of the BGOC; it does not belong to me.
COO Maria Cortez and CIO Darrin Kirby
My hope, whenever the name plate is changed, is I leave the office in great order, respected, and prospering.