Leadership & Secrets of Sustainable Success

Richards, Phil

Dr. Relly Nadler: In this week’s show, we are very fortunate to have Phil Richards a life insurance industry and leadership author. He is a certified financial planner and a charter life underwriter and a registered health underwriter. In addition, he is the Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of the affiliated companies that operate under the name Northstar Resource Group.

Northstar represents a fully integrated array of financial services and products for individuals and business of all sizes and has over 70,000 clients with offices in 10 states.

Phil has a book that we are going to talk about, 25 Secrets of Sustainable Success, that was published in March of 2007 and company Northstar, has been a leading outlet for its largest supplier, Minnesota Life, for the last 16 years as one of two of the largest organizations of its kind in the world and ranked by the GAMA International.

He has been a featured speaker in over a dozen countries on topics ranging from college recruiting and selection, strategic planning and leadership, and author and distribution in the financial services industry in the 21st century. He has addressed annual meetings of over 60 companies.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Phil is a new associate of mine, we met in February in Las Vegas at a large national conference where Phil was the actual keynote; he was magnificent.

In 2007 Phil was named the recipient of the 66 Annual John Newton Russell Memorial Award. This is the highest honor in the insurance industry from the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors. That should give you some insight to the quality of Phil’s thinking, philosophies, his work and the caliber of ethics and moral compass he brings to an industry that’s always in chaos and always challenged.

Welcome Phil!

Phil Richards: Thank you Cathy and Relly, it’s a pleasure to be with you today and hopefully before the hour is out, I’ll learn a few things myself.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: You know, we did talk about the rankings by GAMA and we might have some listeners here that might not be necessarily in the industry of insurance. Can you just tell us what GAMA is?

Phil Richards: GAMA International is the only organization of its kind, internationally, which is involved in growing other people. In other words, every other industry organization, whether it be in securities, insurance, or real estate, is about the customer. It is about delivering the product to the customer. GAMA International is about growing the people who grow the people who deliver the product to the customer.

So, there’s an organization and originally it was called the General Agents and Managers Association, that is no longer the case. It’s now just GAMA International. It has members in probably 30 countries around the world, Asia and Europe included. Again, it’s focus is on how do we grow people.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Well, as I said before, you are one of the most touching speakers I’ve ever heard and you said it’s not about being good, you said something else? You said to before, it’s not about being good it’s about outliving everyone else.

Phil Richards: Outliving everyone else: if you just live long enough you have a better chance of optimum success.

Dr. Relly Nadler: That’s great Phil. Please give us a little bit of background—tell us about yourself and how you came to work in insurance, and then also your interest in the field of leadership.

Phil Richards: Well as I mentioned to Cathy and I don’t describe in my book, but I was actually born in the lower East side of Manhattan, so I didn’t have the silver spoon. My mother was a single parent-bartender in a very, very tough neighborhood in Manhattan.

I learned something that was very touching to me at seven or eight years old. There was a billboard at 11th and Avenue A, and it was it was of a very tall, slender man, stooped over helping what appeared to be a two or three-year-old child. The caption is what got me. It said, “A man has never stood so tall as when he stooped to help a child.” I can never get that poster out of my mind and it has formed the backdrop of my life in terms of wanting to grow other people, helping other people up.

I think if you read any of the great philosophers they all say essentially the same thing, and that is the key to happiness is in your relationships with and attitudes toward helping your fellow man.

So, from there, I actually ended up becoming a wrestler. I went to undergraduate school on a wrestling scholarship or I would not have been able to afford to go there. Coming out of Temple University in Philadelphia, took a position in the Insurance Industry with Penn Mutual.

I there met my mentor, a man by the name of Morrie Stewart who grew me. In many of the lessons that I know try and share with other people, are really those that I inherited from somebody who really cared about me.

We mentioned earlier about the different between a teacher and a mentor, and I think if only we make this one point on this show, there will be a lot of people who will be better leaders tomorrow. That is, that he was a teacher but I have had many teachers. But what made him a mentor was that he was a teacher who cared. Not all teachers care, but the true mentors, the true leaders, are not only ones that want to impart knowledge to their fellow man, they want to make sure we get it.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: That’s amazing. These are the kind of words that touched me when I was sitting in the audience. You were just talking a little bit about how you came into this industry and you said that Morrie was one of those people who influenced you as a leader and it sounds to me that having a single mother was also a strong influence on you.

Phil Richards: Yah, she was a tough lady. I was 13 years old before I realized that she was not telling me the truth when she said she could beat up any man on earth.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: My kind of woman! Here we are talking about strength and you evidentially instill a great deal of courage in people to be mentors. What do you think is the most challenging thing for you being the CEO of Northstar and its affiliated companies?

Phil Richards: The biggest challenge for me, as you know Cathy, everybody we hire comes right off college. We do that because young 21, 22-year-olds, young ladies and men, they are like a good wine. They’ll take the form and shape of whatever vessel you pour them into.

Our niche, our specialty, is hiring young people right off college campuses. When we want people who believe totally that the client’s needs always come first. So rather than trying to change people who are 30, 40 or 50, what we are trying to do is develop young people into our core values which are faith, integrity, growth, and service.

You can do that with young people. The two problems that we have with these young people; there are so many of them in the organization now that trying to connect with them when I’ve been in the business 40 years, gets tougher and tougher with each new class that we bring in. Being on a first name and personal level is a challenge for me.

The second thing is, because I’m not able to interface with them as much as I would like to, it’s very difficult for me to bring the very best in them out from the very beginning. In other words, I believe so much in what people are capable of doing and yet sometimes our biggest inhibitor to success are the limits and parameters we place ourselves.

Trying to get young people to believe in themselves and their capacities is really one of the functions of leadership that I have more and more challenge in terms of accomplishing given the distance in age and given the enormity of the company at this point.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: You were just talking about a common problem that obviously aren’t going to solve on this show, but the idea here, millennials, the generation that you are talking about coming out of college and coming into our workplace, are very different than the generations before.

You said there were four components in your company and I missed one of them.

Phil Richards: Faith, integrity, growth, and service. Faith can be either a religious or non-religious thing. We can have faith in one another. We can have faith in the customer. We can have faith in financial planning. There are many things that you can have faith in, yet we have many people who are very religious and for them faith means something different. So the umbrella is big enough to take everyone into account. So it’s faith, integrity, growth-meaning a commitment to lifelong learning, and service to other people. The acronym is FIGS.

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