Clients Motivated Bruce Etherington to Stay in this Business despite its Challenges

The story of one of my clients illustrates well what has motivated me to stay in this business despite its challenges. In 1965 Bill and I graduated from university where we became friends. Bill had majored in business and I had majored in fun and games, though I somehow managed to get a degree in economics. He went to work for his father, in the real estate business, with an eye toward eventually taking over his father’s real estate development and property management business. I went to work selling life insurance policies as an agent with London Life, a great Canadian company. The first year I was in business, I sold Bill a $10,000 policy, and a couple of years later he bought another $10,000.When he married his high school sweetheart Mary he bought a $25,000 policy. That was a big sale for me in those days. In fact, it took me about four years in the business before I had the courage to convince someone, first of all myself, to buy a $25,000 permanent life policy.

My love of competition helped motivate me to step out of my comfort zone to sell that bigger policy. The contest that motivated me was London Life’s June Campaign, a company tradition. During this annual sales contest, a huge amount of business is written and back in the ’70s, I competed in it with fervour. Now, Bill wasn’t due for his annual review in June, but I decided to give him a “semi-annual” review so that, strangely enough, we ended up with a June appointment in 1970. “What are you down here seeing me for in June?” He asked when I showed up at his office. “Well, Bill, you know, you’re going to get married and I think we should have a little review,” I said.

This practice of “June reviews” continued, fast forward to 1976. Bill was my last call of the day. We went out for dinner and wrestled back and forth the way we usually did. That night he bought a $50,000 policy.

A trust relationship

After our dinner, around ten o’clock, as I was driving the hour and a half back to Toronto, I kept asking myself, “Why is this guy buying from me?” I remember thinking, “This is tremendous. I’ve got a great relationship with him. It’s nice to do business. He’s got a growing family.”

Then I realized, “We’re building a trust relationship.”

That was the key; A trust relationship.

A couple of years later he had his first son, Allan, and Mary was expecting another baby. Again, I made my way to see him in June and, as usual, we wrestled back and forth. I succeeded in getting another application.

As usual, I sent the application to the home office. This time, however, about a month later, I received a decline slip from the underwriting department. When I checked out the reason, I discovered that London Life would consider additional coverage only if Bill would agree to go to a medical specialist for tests. So I tried to get as much information about him as I could.

I jumped into my car and drove down to his office and about an hour later I could see we were getting nowhere. The sale of that policy was going out the window because he had no intention of seeing a specialist.

In desperation, I said, “Listen, Bill, if this were the last time in your life you could ever buy life insurance, would you agree to go to a specialist?”

“Okay,” he said. “If you put it that way – all right”

So Bill went to the specialist and then to another specialist.

Three or four months later the doctors determined that he had developed a mild form of epilepsy. As a result, my company would not underwrite him but they referred me to a specialty company that would. In the meantime, his second son, Aaron, had been born, and Mary was expecting again.

I went back to see Bill with a policy that was going to cost five times what we had originally discussed. We talked for an hour. I had all the graphs and charts and figures and motivational phrases. Again the sale was going right out the window.

After about two hours I packed my bag. “Bill, I’m not getting anywhere with you,” I said. “You’re giving me nothing but resistance. I’m trying to help you. You’ve got two kids and another one on the way. I’m out of here.”

I packed up my briefcase and headed to the door. Then I remembered what I’d said the last time I was there. I thought, “It worked once. Maybe I’ll try it again.”

I stopped in the doorway and turned around. “Bill, if this were the last time you could buy life insurance, how much would you buy?”

Six minutes of silence followed. That’s a lot of silence. But Gordie Ross, the first manager I worked under in the business, God bless him, taught me that when silence occurs, the first person who speaks “loses.” So I bit the inside of my lip.

After those agonizing six minutes had passed, Bill opened his check book.

“All right, fine, you son of a gun,” he said. “I’ll take it.

But I don’t want to see you again for the next two June Campaigns!”

“I know why you shifted my review four years ago, he said with a smile.” Then he phoned the bank right in front of me and arranged for a loan to pay the premium.

Driving back that night I asked myself, “Why did Bill buy?” And I received two answers. The first: because he loves his family. The second: because somebody he trusted asked him to buy.

A year later the epilepsy had become worse. Bill couldn’t drive, he was having a substantial number of seizures and his physicians had advised he and Mary to take a holiday.

Bill loved wine, and they were going to go to the Burgundy region of France. The day they were to depart, I phoned to wish them bon voyage. The instant Mary answered the phone; I knew they weren’t going to France. Bill, at that very moment, was waiting for an ambulance to take him to St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.

The seizures had grown worse and the doctors had insisted that he go to Toronto for a neurological examination.

Mary telephoned me the next day and the news was not good. The doctors had decided to operate immediately. The next day the neurosurgeon confirmed that the tumour they’d removed from my friend’s brain was malignant. The prognosis was not good.

I confess, I didn’t want to visit Bill. I didn’t want to see him because I didn’t know what to say to a buddy who has been told he has six months to live, at best. I felt guilty. I was blessed with life and good health. Everything was going my way and this guy had run into a brick wall. However, I went because I had to go; he was my friend.

During the first brief visits, he would reach up, grab my wrist, and say, “Don’t worry. I’ll be back. I’m going to make it.”

God bless him, six months later he was back in his office working. When I went to review his insurance with him, in the month of June, he was wearing a wig. He whipped it off and asked, “What do you think? Do I look better with or without?”

He underwent the chemotherapy treatments, which were tough on him, but he stayed at it. During this time Mary had given birth to their third child, a precious little girl, Annie.

Unexpected tragedy The following August, on a warm Sunday afternoon while my wife Karen and I were in the garden enjoying the pool with our kids, the phone rang. It was a phone call that shattered that peaceful day and filled me with dread. Bill was on the line telling me their little one-year-old daughter Annie had fallen off the dock at their cottage.

Karen and I got in the car and drove into Toronto to Sick Children’s Hospital. We stood with Bill and Mary when the neurologist confirmed that there was a less than one in a million chance their baby girl would live. She had been in the water for more then twelve minutes before someone found her. Three weeks later she died.

About two weeks after that, I got in my car and took a check that I had hoped I’d never have to deliver, a check Bill and Mary always hoped they’d never be in a position to receive.

It was a check for the life insurance policy they had bought for Annie.

Because of Bill’s health problems, we had thought each of his children should have an adult-sized chunk of life insurance at a child’s price. We thought it made a lot of sense for future planning, so the children would never face being unable to buy later in their lives if their health should fail. Then, the one in a gazillion chance appended. I quietly slipped the check under a magazine on the coffee table in their living room while we all hugged each other.

A year later, on February 14, Valentine’s Day, Sarah, was born. I went to the hospital and left some flowers. Later I saw Bill and Mary at their home, and I can’t tell you the feeling of joy we felt when we held that little girl. As I was going out to the car with a tear in my eye, Bill followed me and asked, “So where’s the application?” – “The what”

“What’s the matter? You’ve lost faith in this product of yours?” he asked. “We got it for the other kids for good reasons and we got it for me, thank the Lord. Get me the application.

Bill passes

Six months later Bill went back into the hospital for surgery.

The neurosurgeon and the pathologist confirmed that they didn’t take the entire tumour because they wanted to preserve the quality of life for the time Bill had left. So he went home. About four months after that, just before Christmas, Bill moved into his bedroom. It was there, several months later, that he died.

Bill chose to die at home with his family and his friends around him. Every time I went to see him, sometimes with my wife Karen, sometimes by myself, the warmth and peace in that family overwhelmed me. They shared such love and showed such courage in the face of tragedy.

A few days after the funeral, at which I was honoured to be a pallbearer, I drove to their home with more checks that I had hoped I’d never have to deliver, checks that Mary had hoped she’d never have to receive.

As I walked into the foyer of their comfortable bungalow home, I couldn’t help noticing a little pile of bills on a shelf above the radiator, envelopes with the tell-tale plastic windows.

While everyone had come along and given their best condolences and assured Mary that “if there was anything they could do”…I was arriving with cash.

Long after the lawyer and the accountant had counted and distributed and figured out what was owing, long after the butcher and baker and candle stick maker and funeral parlour had sent their bills, I was bringing cash. Not because of me but on behalf of us and our industry, I was bringing cash that was going to keep a family together; that was going to prevent a “For Sale” sign going on the front lawn. I was bringing cash that would give a widow hope and a future, once time had softened her grief.

With the help of Bill’s insurance money, Mary, a beautiful woman who was in her late thirties when Bill died, took over the business her husband left behind. She kept the staff together. The business did well, with her going to the office one or two days a week. She did volunteer work and was on the board of directors of her hospital. However, most importantly she chose to do those things because she was financially independent and because Bill had loved her enough to pay for enough life insurance on his life to guarantee her and their kids a future.

Thank you

One day, years later, I was on the practice tee of my golf club with my then fifteen-year-old son Jay. We were banging out some balls when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around to see a good-looking young man about twenty-two or twenty-three years of age. He grabbed me by the hand and said, “Are you Mr. Etherington?”

“Yes, I am.”

“Well, my name is Allan Jones and I want to thank you for what you did for my mom.”

He told me he was at the club that day practicing as a member of his University’s golf team.

“Mr. Etherington,” he said, “if you hadn’t done what you did, I wouldn’t be here playing golf today and I want to thank you.”

Whenever someone asks me! “Bruce, how do you get motivated” That’s how I get motivated. By seeing the people; By asking them to buy this great product we have because very few advisors are asking them to buy it, because it’s so difficult to do. All I need is one Allan Jones in my life to keep me motivated.

One person like his father! Bill to serve.

(Note: the story is true. The names are changed to protect the family’s privacy.)