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Agency Profile: From Safari to Successful Insurance Career

Feb 02, 2018

This article originally appeared in the January 2018 issue of The Agent’s Advocate, a publication of The Doctors Company and is reprinted with permission of The Doctors Company.

Hylant Columbus President Chris Godley’s entry into the insurance business began in one of the unlikeliest places—a private game reserve in South Africa.

After graduating with an ecology degree and a minor in business finance from the University of East Anglia in England, Chris moved back to his homeland of South Africa to become a safari guide. At the time, insurance was nowhere in his sights—only Big Five game was, such as elephants, lions, leopards, buffalo, and rhino.

It was on the prestigious Singita Private Game Reserve where Chris honed his skills that would help him later become a successful agent.

Skill-Building in the Wild

“The toughest part about being a safari guide was frankly managing expectations,” explained Chris. “I had some clients who wanted to see lions hunting prey, and some who didn’t want to see that at all. Some people wanted to stop and look at birds; other people hated them. So if we stopped to watch a bird, for example, I would talk to the other guests who were not interested in the bird about ecological things that were happening around us, to occupy their time, while people were looking at the bird. Then I’d come back to the bird and talk about the bird for a little bit.”

“The other thing is, when you’re a safari guide, you don’t know what you’re going to see. You may see nothing, and I mean nothing, for three hours because you don’t know where the animals are,” he said. “So I got really good at making conversation and managing expectations.”

Further elaborating on skills he developed as a guide, Chris said, “I learned a lot about human behavior and animal behavior. These were high-end safaris with wealthy business people. We would drive out and stop next to a male lion in the dark, in pitch black—maybe 10 feet from him. I’d turn off the lights, turn off the ignition of the car. The lion would roar and goosebumps would go down your back and arms. Everybody was just as in awe as everybody else, including me. So what I learned is that it doesn’t matter if you’re the president or CEO or owner of a company, you have the same fear as I do. Everyone has fears and everyone needs to be treated with respect—and that goes both ways.”

“I learned at a very young age working safaris that you could talk to a CEO and he would treat you with respect if you treated him the way he was accustomed to and what was appropriate at the time. So I think my fear of meeting CEOs at such a young age just went away. Because I’d see the fear in their eyes just as they’d see the fear in my eyes if a male leopard walked right past the vehicle and looked up and stared at us.”

Opportunity Knocks

One of these CEOs just happened to be Pat Hylant, the CEO of Hylant at the time, who was there on a tour with his family. Just three hours into the safari, Pat offered him a job.

“I asked him, why me?” questioned Chris.

And he said, “Chris, you sold me an experience. An experience is an intangible item—so is insurance. If you can sell experiences, then you can sell insurance.”

Feeling like it would be a smart move to start a long-term career at the agency, Chris accepted the offer, although it took another year to start the job.

“I came to the United States for my official interview, but couldn’t start right away because they needed to get me a work permit,” he said.

While they were doing that, Chris became a scuba diving instructor in the Bahamas, and then traveled around Australia and New Zealand.

In August of 1999, he began his career in insurance as an agent. He had to manage his own expectations, coming from such an adventurous background.

“It’s funny, I started in Toledo, Ohio, for a year and I had no family there, no friends, so for the first year it was quite tough and lonely,” described Chris. “On weekends I was bored out of my mind. I couldn’t wait for Monday. I’d be the first person making coffee on Monday morning because I just wanted to see some human beings again.”

After spending a year in Toledo learning insurance, Chris moved over to the Columbus office, where there was no real focus on healthcare risks.

“I decided it was something that I wanted to jump into. So I started calling physicians, hospitals, nursing homes, and over the course of 18 years I built a very successful book,” explained Chris. “I’m now the president of the Columbus office, but still handle a very large book of healthcare clients with an incredible team that supports me and makes me look good.”

Family-Oriented Culture

Chris is quick to point out that when most of his employees join the team, they’re not likely to leave because of the culture and strong client relationships.

“Our atmosphere here is incredible. In the Columbus office we have 50 people; three of them have 32 years at Hylant. We have another dozen with 15 years or more, and then we have a whole slew of employees with between five and 10 years. It’s a very good mix of experience. Most people who come here want to make a career at Hylant. And it’s really good for our clients because they’re not continuously dealing with turnover, which is a massive problem in our industry. That’s why people stay with us. Even if they do have a change in the team, because people retire, they get the same level of service and expertise to which they’ve become accustomed. This allows for deep relationships that often transcend insurance.”

“I’ve been invited to meetings with clients where insurance isn’t even discussed; but rather, because I’ve done business with the client for so long, they’ve invited me to the meeting and basically stated, ‘Chris is here because he knows our business as well as anyone in the company and I want his opinion.’ So it’s very interesting when you’ve developed those long-tenured relationships—how deep you can get into it.”

Hylant has been named among the best places to work in insurance by Business Insurance Magazine for an unprecedented nine years in a row, which Chris also attributes to the family culture.

“Hylant as a global company has an incredible culture. I was hired by the family, and that family feeling just permeates through the organization. It’s a very giving place. It’s a giving culture and we give to each other. I think that’s what makes this place so special. If people need help, everybody drops everything. And it’s not, ‘Well I’m the president so I’m above it.’ Everybody drops, everybody helps. It’s important—customer care comes first. And everybody who works here believes that.”


©2017 The Doctors Company

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