Let’s begin by talking about your life prior to joining the family business and discuss your educational background?
I went to Boston College High School and this school had a large impact on my life. For one thing, my father said I would get two educations one in the classroom and one traveling through the streets of Dorchester every day. Also, BC High’s motto is “men for others”; something that I took to heart and still to this day try to put others needs in front of mine.
I then went on to Johnson State College located in Johnson, Vermont, which is on the backside of Stowe Mountain and I like to joke that I majored in downhill with a snowboard minor. I have to be honest with you I wasn’t the best student; however, I was involved in everything I could be. During my second senior year, (I like saying that more than it took me 5 years to graduate!) I was the President of the Student Government as well as the Rugby Club. You often hear people never do what they studied in college; I like to think I do somewhat similar to what I did in college… I socialize. Now when I socialize, I am trying to make connections for business.
When you were growing up was it always your plan to enter the family insurance business?
When I graduated, I was sure there was a desk waiting for me at SB Goddard & Son. However I was mistaken, my father informed to go get a job somewhere else and I panicked. Wait a second what happened to nepotism!!! I don’t think I have ever told him this but that was the second best thing he made me do (the first was making me go to BC High).
I was able to learn how to conduct myself in a professional environment from someone other than him. I stayed in the industry at first. I went to work for one of the major life insurance companies. Got my license and then they gave me the marketing list… which surprisingly looked a lot like the Yellow Pages!!! After six months of calling people at dinnertime and asking if they have thought about Death… it got to me and I had to get out.
After working for this insurance company, did you then enter the family business?
I then got a job at a payroll services company working as an Accounts Receivable Rep. The employees referred to the company as Baby Blue after IBM. The rules were strict but also unwritten. For men it was shirts and ties… and it was frowned upon to where anything but white dress shirts. Women… dresses or skirts… but the skirts had better go 4 inches past your knees or you were sent home.
Another one of the company’s unwritten rules was you do not call in sick on a Monday. Now I had a good work ethic that was instilled in me by my father from birth. If I was to get to stay home sick from school (from kindergarten on) I had to vomit a lung or I was still well enough to go to school. As for Baby IBM, they had a front ended workweek and if you banged in on a Monday not only was it grounds for termination your co-workers in your department hated you because they had to pick up your slack.
How long did you work for them?
I work for Baby IBM from 1993 until 2000 and held 11 different positions in six offices located across five states. Every time I got a new position, I went to dinner with my father and asked him if I should take it or if he wanted to hire me. Every time it was the same answer, “Go and learn as much as you can and enjoy living somewhere else”. My last position, I was the regional recruitment officer for New England and New York.
Was your father now ready to let you join the family business?
This time, I was not ready as I had developed relationships with several college placement advisors and thought I might want to go into business for myself. This was at the time of the Dot.com boom and I saw how many companies where looking for recent grads and paying top dollar to these employees. I decided to open my own placement company. I did this for a year and then came the Dot.com crash. I closed the business and was ready to start my job search.
Dare I ask if this is when you joined the family business?
Actually, I am fortunate to come from a family where both my mother’s side and my father’s side had a family business. I was asked by my mother to consider her family’s business… a funeral home that her father started in the 1930’s. Her brother than ran it until he died in 1997. By this time, my cousin was running the business. And yes, my father also approached me to join SB Goddard & Son.
How did you decide which family business to join?
I thought about it for a couple days and decided to join the insurance agency because I liked the idea of repeat business. Somehow, I did not see the funeral home having that type of business model!
By the way, did your father start his career in the family business or did he work somewhere else first?
My father was a schoolteacher and when my mother was pregnant with the 3rd kid she told him teaching wasn’t going to put shoes on all the kids so he went into the family insurance business. The kicker is all his teaching buddies are all retired to their vacation homes and he’s still toiling around here.
So tell me about the history of SB Goddard?
SB Goddard has been in business in Woburn, Massachusetts since 1884. It has been controlled by my family for the better half of a century. Squire Billings Goddard started the agency in 1884 and passed it to his son. His son then sold it to a group of business men when he retired.
So how did your family enter the picture?
My great uncle was pumping gas down the street from the agency and one of the business men frequented the gas station. One day he sold the man four white walls and then he said you should be selling insurance instead of tires. He went to work for them and over the next twenty years bought out the other owners. He then brought in his brother, my grandfather in the 60’s. In 1977 my great uncle passed away and my grandfather brought my father in to the business. My grandfather had a stroke in the late 90’s yet still managed to come to work up until I started there. He passed away in 2004.
Was there ever any process or plan for how the business changed hands?
My Grandfather and father bought the agency from my Great Aunt. Then 10 years later my father purchased the agency from my grandfather. In both cases attorneys and accountants, where used to prepare formal purchase and sale business plans that where acceptable to both parties.
What is it like working with your father?
I love working with my father. There are times we don’t see eye to eye but for the most part we are working together to grow the business. As I said before, if I had gone to work right out of school with him I bet I would (1) not be here anymore and (2) probably not talking to him. I was able to go out and bring back 10 years of business experience. Instead of quoting “case studies” from college, I can talk about real business experiences and how we overcame/dealt with them. Sometimes he actually listens!
There are still things I would like to change but right now I can wait.
So do you see your father ever retiring?
My father can’t sit still for more than an hour so I don’t think he will ever officially retire. He and my mother always dreamed of owning a house in Vermont but they were going to wait till they retired. Then two of my father’s friends died in separate and tragic accidents. It really shook my father and he decided not to wait till he retired to enjoy their dreams. Now my parents have a home in Vermont and they usually go up there three days a week. In the summer they hike and he golf’s and during the winter, he enjoys snowboarding and my mom will ski.
Within a small business, especially a family business, you often have to wear many hats. Is this the case for you?
I am in charge of updating the web site, our Facebook page, blogging and any other social media outlets that we utilize.
How has your father taken to technology and social media?
I just got him to get a Blackberry so other than the tutoring I have to give him, it is very productive. To be honest, I am still struggling myself with the social media stuff… but getting the hang of it. Mostly, I just have to build time into my schedule to figure out how to best use them.
So how do you grow your business?
I have tried to build my book of business through referrals. My best referrals come from current clients. My grandfather said “take care of your clients and they will take care of you”. I tell my clients you want to make sure you put the proper coverage in place and hope you don’t have to call me because if do call something has gone wrong.
The reality is that I have stood next to many of my clients as they watched firefighters battle a home fire, pumped out a flooded basement, watched a car being towed after a crash… It’s not easy watching your client’s in a tough spot, but it’s good to be able to say at least financially that everything will be ok.
Anything on the horizon for SB Goddard?
Currently, I am working on assembling a team to put together a manual on how to start up a successful business. We are planning to put on seminars to help people who are going out on their own or buying a franchise.
Will this be an SB Goddard program or something separate?
Our plan is to help educate people looking to start a business. If they choose to use our services that is bonus.
What else is going on in your life?
On a personal note, the loves of my life are my two sons and beautiful wife. My wife Jen works full time as well and as many people know daycare can get expensive so a couple days a month Jen and I take turns working from home (as you witnesses first hand). I like to joke with clients and prospects that they can hear my sales assistant in the background. That usually gets a laugh and the other thing it does is connect me with them. I will get comments like; I have been in the same situation. Suddenly they are no longer talking to an insurance agent; they are talking to someone in the same boat as them. If you can break down walls and find common ground than it becomes easier for them to trust you and hopefully to do business.
Sounds to me like your two sons are very good sales assistants!
They are excellent salesmen and they work for short money.
The other thing going on right now is my two sisters were pregnant and had two more grandkids for my parents 20 days apart. My sister Meeghan who lives in Vermont had her son Callum and Bridgid who lives in Woburn had her daughter Aislin. My brother Matthew who is also in Vermont is busy trying to find time to travel to see his niece and nephews.
Well I appreciate you taking the time for this interview.
Thank you for your time. I look forward to talking to you soon. Again thank you for all you do.