#SitkinsIsTheSolution

Improve Your People to Improve Your Agency

Mar 24, 2022

Brent Kelly:

Welcome to the Agent Leader podcast. My name is Brent Kelly, your host. Thanks so much for joining me on this episode. Today we have an incredible guest with us, someone who, listen, we've had some really great guests on this show, we'll continue to have great guests, and people that are just growth hungry, committed to success. Today we have Kevin Charleston, who's the owner of Specialty Risk Insurance, one of our partner agencies and someone who just is a good guy to talk to and learn from. I can't wait for Kevin to share his story and some of his thoughts, ideas, tips that he's learned along the way today. I'm going to give, Kevin, you an official introduction here just in a second. I do want to have a reminder for all of the agency leaders listening.

Brent Kelly:

What's the purpose of this podcast? Well, the purpose is pretty simple. We want to help you as an agency leader gain clarity. We want to help you build consistency and we want to help you make a commitment to truly be your best version possible. That really is our theme, and it will continue to be our theme of what does the best version possible look like for you as an agency, as an individual? Of course to promo that, we have our book out for sale now, Best Version Possible.

Brent Kelly:

If you go to sitkins.com/bvp, for Best Version Possible, you can take a look and order your own copy today. With that, I want to get into the interview because there's going to be some great stuff here, I know, in the conversation. Again, Kevin Charleston, president, owner of Specialty Risk Insurance, based in the great state of Missouri, or as my grandmother used to say, who lived, I don't think you know this, she was in Marshall, Missouri, Kevin. She would say Missouri, I don't know which way to say it properly, but Kevin Charleston, welcome to the Agent Leader Podcast.

Kevin Charleston:

Thanks for having us. You can pronounce it either way, depending on what part of the state you're in.

Brent Kelly:

That's right. Well, again, Kevin, share some of your story, but if you could, maybe just for the listener, and take as much time as you need, but just share a little bit about just your background, your role. I was just talking to you before we recorded here live that you're coming up on 10 years on the agency. Could you give some perspective of just the agency and, again, your part of the agency?

Kevin Charleston:

Yep. I've been in the business about 27 years coming up in March here, but I've been here it'll be 10 years in July, the 13th, Friday the 13th. I don't know if we put that same Friday the 13th rolled around, I think a couple years ago, but we started in July 13th and it'll be 10 years this year. We started with three of us and it's grown to quite a few of us now, at this point in time. We're very focused on agribusiness, but that being said, we do a lot of main stream business as well. Basically one of the things we talk about, we did an interview the other day for RFT TV the other day and one of the things we talked about was that we basically go from the dirt to the plate. If that makes sense. We insure the farm and everything in between, transportation, all the way to the plate. That's kind of the piece we touch in the middle, everything in the middle pretty well. About 20% of our agency is just mainstream business, but 80% would be focused in some way or tied to that part of agriculture.

Brent Kelly:

Yeah, absolutely. Well, and we could talk more about that, because I guess that's going to be obviously part of some of the success that you've had, but you said you started with three and you've grown to some people. How many people are part of the team today Kevin?

Kevin Charleston:

About 65.

Brent Kelly:

Yeah, 65. Again, if you're listening here, Kevin and his team, and I know he'll certainly credit his team as he should, but they've had significant, significant growth. Not that there hasn't been challenges and we'll talk about those too, but significant growth over the last 10 years in the agency and certainly in our relationship, Kevin, and getting to know your agency, there's been some key things that certainly have been impactful in that. I want to start off just by, we're going to get into successes. I think those are going to be fun to talk about, but just in your perspective, as someone who's taken into an agency and led an agency from three to 60 plus, right, and you're going to continue to grow and expanding and all those great things what's been, as you can see, your number one challenge, or maybe one of your biggest frustrations you're dealing with Kevin?

Kevin Charleston:

I think as we've kind of evolved in the last two or three years is we have to pick our opportunities, because a lot of them come at you. Whether you're hiring somebody or whether you are trying to buy another book of business or whatever those opportunities are, there's only so much time in a day. If you take that opportunity on, you make those people part of your world and you're responsible for them, and if you don't give them everything you have or your team, I don't think we fully capitalized on a lot of our opportunities that we took on. Now we're getting better at it as we've gotten more mature as an agency. I think the biggest thing that we struggle with, and I say that from the last three or four years of perspective is when we take on hiring somebody, we're sitting there interviewing somebody and we make them part of our circle.

Kevin Charleston:

We have to give them the best version of ourself. That goes back to Roger, when I started with Roger 25 years ago or whatever it was, that if you take them, you're responsible for them. They're a part of your circle and we've got to make sure we give them what they need to be successful, whichever opportunity whether you bought an agency or you hired somebody or whatever that is, we struggle sometimes. We get a little scattered and we need to make sure that we give them everything we can to make them successful. We don't want somebody to walk away and didn't feel like they got our best effort to make them successful. Whatever path they chose at that point is on them. That's one of the things we struggle, a lot of opportunities start coming as you grow and how you pick those is critical.

Brent Kelly:

Let me ask or go a little deeper on that because I think you hit it right on. We kind of joke about the fact, but there's truth to it. One of the greatest enemies to success is success and the fact that it does provide more opportunities, more people want to talk to you know, which is great, right but also then you got to be more selective. Right. I think what you're hitting on is being more focused on doing the right things, amidst all the stuff that's coming your way, right. Because when you're getting started, every opportunity's decent because you're just trying to survive and grow and do that. Then at some point you got to get choosier. I'm going to ask you, how do you and your team, Kevin, how do you stay focused on knowing on this is really important, this isn't, or at least it's not at the top of the list. How do you pick those battles?

Kevin Charleston:

We start every Monday morning at 8:15 or nine o'clock. We all, the departments all get together and talk about what's going on, what direction and seems like a really tough hour of the day but it allows me to get a feel for what's going on and how we've started to really handle it, I think it's helped us is we're very departmentalized now. Those teams focus on what they do and they do what they do and that's what they do and they stay in their lane. That's probably gave us more ability to train people, to bring people in, to look at, to really dial in and figure out which piece is working, which piece isn't. We talked, Chance helps me a lot and you work with Chance a lot. If you go three places and it smells bad, it might be you.

Brent Kelly:

Yeah good point.

Kevin Charleston:

As we've added new offices, as we added staff at other locations, we were perplexed and confused and then we figured out it was us. We figured how to kind of redirect some of the energy. It's been good though. We try and invest in people. This is strictly a people business period. That's all it is at the end of the day. We're protecting people's assets, but we're doing it with people in the middle. I think we're about as much a people business as there is. We just trying to pick the right people to invest in and the rest will follow as long it's in our lane of what we do.

Brent Kelly:

Yeah. Yeah. First of all, I love the quote there or whatever. Yeah, I was talking to someone who was joking to me. He's like, "I got married for the fourth time. I figured the fourth time, maybe it was me," and it's kind of what you were saying there with the agency and yeah. Listen, I think it's a challenge again, whether it's you, any other agency leader, really anybody, right that's trying to move forward in business. It's a challenge to say, "Hey, listen, you know what? I got to be honest. One of the problems is me." I think what you addressed, Kevin, which I appreciate and applaud is the fact that as individuals and you've heard us talk so many times, even back from the Dan Sullivan strategic coach program that Roger and I have been through, and we facilitate so to speak. At least we discuss the concepts of unique abilities.

Brent Kelly:

I think that's, from a leadership perspective, one of the biggest things we see with agencies is as you grow, when you start off and there was, going back to three of you, I'm sure you did about everything because you had to, and then it becomes, "Hey, listen, there's only a few things that I've got to focus on and do really well because A it's what I'm good at. Anything I get outside of that A, I'm not good at B, it sucks me dry of energy and I probably create more messes than I do growth." It's just being honest and finding those places.

Brent Kelly:

Then another thing you said, Kevin, and I want to get into this, because this is going to be, I know it's been one of the strengths for your agency is you truly, it's not just words that we invest in our people, right? "Well we invest in our people," but truly we invest in our people and I'm going to throw this out there, Kevin, and see what your take on is, but what I do in particular, sales leadership, and this is any leadership, one of the things I always ask is, "What's the number one job..." Let's just use the sales leader. "What's the number one job of a sales leader?"

Brent Kelly:

Most people say, "Well, geez Brent, that's probably to get more sales." That's the end result if you do a good job, but I truly believe, and I want to get your thoughts on this, I think the number one job of a leader, or certainly a sales leader in this case is to develop and grow your people. If I can develop and help grow you, the other stuff's going to take care of itself. A, do you agree with that and what have you seen that from your agency? Where has that transpired?

Kevin Charleston:

That's one of the number one conversations we had going into this year, as you bring that up, is I've always been a salesman so I've been very competitive even with my own sales people. I'm not the greatest a cheerleader because I want to win.

Brent Kelly:

Right.

Kevin Charleston:

I've had to switch my role to more of a cheerleader and that's one of the number one things that we, my daughter helps a lot here. and Quincy and Chance and Rob and Denise, is that I have to be a better cheerleader for my people. Obviously we develop them, but then, if we're all going out to sell, I want to win, and they follow that lead. They love it or they wouldn't do it, because we love to go out and make a deal with somebody and enjoy talking to someone. That relationship with those people that's, if we do a good job, that relationship becomes crucial to what we're doing. I think that's the number one thing for us is we had to readjust our thinkings. We have to be better cheerleaders and I'm not a great cheerleader.

Kevin Charleston:

I think kids will tell you that growing up. I'm a better coach than a cheerleader and I've got to develop people now so I need to be a better cheerleader. Just push them by kind of talking about their efforts and what they're doing. That's a hard part for me. I still just struggle. I want to go sell but I don't get to sell as much anymore and I've had to learn to kind of accept that in the last two or three years, maybe not accept it, but understand that the direction of that many people is critical and if it gets shifted a little bit left or right, it's very expensive if you missed that direction with that many people.

Brent Kelly:

Yeah. Yeah. That's great point, I think too, and I'll speak a little bit on your team's behalf. Again, it's growth of team of putting people around you too that can help facilitate some of that cheerleading and leadership, right? It's not just on you, right? You've got a team to do that. I was actually on a podcast, a different podcast. I don't know, it's been a few weeks ago, but this goes back to a book I read years ago. It says, some people asked the question "How fast?" Which is a good question. "How fast can I get to that? How fast can I get to that?" That's typically the mindset of really successful sales people, right? Because that's what makes them good. They got that engine, they just drive it. But it says, "You grow a business, the better question is how far."

Brent Kelly:

It's just like a sprinter. You could sprint fast, some point you run a gas and the other part too is if you sprint with a team, sometimes you're two laps ahead of them and they don't know what you're doing and where you're going and that's hard. From your perspective, Kevin, and knowing you it's like, I don't really like the term slow down, but part of that from a team perspective, you got to look at doing that. Let me lead into the other side. We've kind of talked about some of these things, the last couple minutes of things that you're learning and doing, but what have you seen from your agency, Kevin, that's been, it can be more than one, but a success or an area that you guys have done really well that not only have you done it well, but you need to continue to replicate it, to grow in the future? What's jumping out at you in that area, Kevin?

Kevin Charleston:

It's people. It's 100% people. The people make all the right decisions. We talked about in a meeting a minute ago where we no longer can have everybody bought in 100%. That 65 people, 100% bought in is a massive undertaking, but we've always got, we've added 16 people in the last say year, or six, eight months. Those people are six months to a year before they buy in so we have to make sure the other 40 are bought in all the time and if they're not bought into the process and by the way, we're still getting the process right. We've had to really go back and we were growing so fast that we missed a lot of the internal cogs and buttons and things that we can be better at.

Kevin Charleston:

I think it's picking right people and helping them find that spot. At six months or a year they really start to buy in and they become part of what we're truly doing. Some of them buy into the people early and some of the people that we've actually terminated said, "We hate to leave. We're going to miss the people." That's the conversation we have at the end of the day. I mean it's not always the case, but I'd say 80% of the people that have left through the last 10 years, they're still in contact with part of our team. We don't want, it just wasn't a fit or whatever that is, but the people are critical to what we do and we just have to make sure the mass is bought in and others are following and pick the ones that don't follow and buy in all the way to some of the processes we have or people or the culture per se.

Brent Kelly:

Yeah. We did a training yesterday, I had Roger on there with me and then you were talking about, "Oh 100% of the people doing everything we want," like that's not going to happen. What if you just got 80% of your people doing 80% of the stuff? That's pretty incredible, especially as you grow a team, right? I do want to piggyback on what you said, because I know one thing that your agency, if people would ask me, "Oh gosh, Brent, the agencies you work with, Specialty Risk," and we can talk about some of the, just the crazy growth that you guys have had. From my perspective, and I want to get your thoughts on this, what has been a big cause of this? I would say, well, number one it's culture. You keep talking about people, people, people, people, people, and then there's accountability behind the culture.

Brent Kelly:

One thing that we've talked, Kevin, even on just other conversations we've had in the past is that people know what you guys are all about quickly. It's not a surprise. What you stand for, why you do what you do, the expectations, the roles, responsibilities, at least and again, correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't, our conversations where nine months later it goes, "Gosh, Kevin, I never expected the agency was going to be like this." Right? They know pretty quick. Can you speak on culture and the accountability you've built into the agency, Kevin, because again, it goes back to the growth you've had. It's such a huge part of it and I think it's missed by a lot of agencies.

Kevin Charleston:

Well, I love interviewing college kids. That's one of my things. I get to interview part of them and I interviewed a girl that came from Cornell the other day. We talked through some stuff and she was good for me because she nailed me down on some stuff that I probably typically can get away with not having to be nailed down. I always just tell them we have a simple rule. "You work, I pay you. You're part of the team. You're part of our family and the rest will work out." They're like, "Well we need a package and I need to know how many days off," blah, blah, blah, blah. I said, "I'm going to tell you about your college professor. He doesn't have a job. You're going to get a job here and be part of a family. He's getting paid to teach you. Don't get me wrong, and they're great professors all over the world, but this is the real world and we're on your team. You come here, you'll pick it and if you don't like it, we'll help find a better job."

Kevin Charleston:

We know enough people, we can call somebody, but boy, when you tell people that they're like, "Well, that just can't be that way." Well, it can. "I'm not going to tell you how many sick days you have or how much vacation to take." We had some people last year probably take more vacation than they should. We talked about it at the end of the year and they're like, "Oh man, I didn't realize." That was how deep that conversation got. I'm not going to tell you what you can and can't do. I'm just going to tell you what you're expected to do.

Kevin Charleston:

If you don't find out responsibility on your own here, then you just don't fit here and that's okay. That's not a big deal. I take it very personal if somebody doesn't make it here, but to me that's your opportunity to be the best person you are. Nobody likes rules and you spend half your time trying to fight the rules or work through the rules so if you take the rules out and you just go work and be accountable to the people you work with and help them, then it's no problem. We have, I already see where we still have to deal with certain things, but they're very limited. We just don't have, the people there don't want to screw it up.

Kevin Charleston:

They don't want to be counting their vacation days. I don't have anybody at the end of the year worrying about taking their last week of vacation. We don't even have that conversation. Don't even think about it. "Oh, I already went and did what I wanted to do so all right, we're good." Half the people I work with in the insurance industry, finding an underwriter the last two weeks of the year and the biggest day of the year is January 1st, and finding an underwriter those two weeks because they're trying to burn vacation. I don't understand. I struggle with insurance companies. Why don't we make your year ends I mean August, so we're not, at the end of the year trying to put some of our biggest days together.

Kevin Charleston:

That being said, that's their version, this is ours. The big thing is we just try to let people be who they are. We guide them along. They learn accountability around here. As a team, they help each other and hold each other and like, "I'll cover for you. You cover for me." You still got to let somebody know you got other things to do but at the end of the day, expectations without 100% clarity, if we have the right people, it doesn't matter. It's irrelevant.

Kevin Charleston:

It's fun to watch people grow into that role, but it throws them off at first. They want this package, they want this outline of a perfect world. The perfect world is you work and I pay you and you feel satisfied with what you do and you go home at night and we want you to be part of a team. I don't want you to hate to come to work in the morning. If you do, it's not for you. You should do something else. But I do tell them all the first month, "This will be some of the most confusing days you'll ever have in the industry." Then pretty soon, about month two, it all starts to kind of come together. "Just bear with the process. It'll come together." Anyway, that's probably a little longer answer than you really-

Brent Kelly:

It's great. I love the way you expressed that. We even talk about definitions, and we talk about as culture is the language and behaviors that are normal in your agency. I say, "What are people saying and what are people doing? You can figure out pretty quickly what the culture is." You could have a bunch of legal-astic rules and this. "Can I leave at 4:31 or 4:29?" But to your point, Kevin, if we're asking those questions, we're probably asking the wrong questions.

Kevin Charleston:

You're right, exactly. We work on that all the time. If you show up later around here, the team will have a lot of fun with you.

Brent Kelly:

I've used your agency as an example, because again, we talk about culture in different places and I always go to, I'm a big sports fan so there's some good analogies, even though they're overused. You think about some, even just the best organizations and sports and whether they take a player who maybe didn't fit in other places for a lot of different reasons, the interesting thing is the right organizations that are focused around excellence and accountability, they don't need the coach barking at them. You come into that organization, there's a level of expectation that other people on the team will let you know pretty quickly.

Kevin Charleston:

Yeah.

Brent Kelly:

"We don't do that here. That's not how we work." You don't want to be that one person and you'll find out pretty quickly if you don't fit with that. I just applaud your, I think the word is just consistency and commitment around that. I think that's been really interesting to see. I'm going to ask you a question and you've talked about working, going back Roger 25 years ago, but just in general and working with us because we keep things pretty simple for the most part. I say simple but not easy. What has been a big takeaway you've gotten Kevin, or your team has just from our relationship at Sitkins?

Kevin Charleston:

I think it's still, the basics haven't changed from 25 years ago whenever I went to Florida the first time with Roger. I got to be honest, I'd probably never been on a plane before, when I went down there. When I went, we had something... We were doing something or we drove, my whole life growing up. Whenever I went down there with Roger, there were simple things he talked about that still... I had a salesman yesterday, he was at a super high point. He just sold a county insurance. It was a $300,000, $400,000 deal and he's pretty green, just getting going. I've been on him pretty hard about being out, seeing people and suddenly he's got all these opportunities. I said, "Here's my opportunity today to be a little hard on you because you're so high it doesn't matter."

Kevin Charleston:

Roger taught me that early on from a sales standpoint, if you follow that path and the thing I was talking about, and the point I was getting to was that you're going to start finding you got a pretty good trajectory here, you got six, eight really great accounts you're working on and you're going to be out of work in 90 days. He looked at me kind of funny. I go, "Because you're going to slow down and quit calling people." That's been the number one thing that Roger talks about consistency, from that standpoint, just one of the points we talked about yesterday in our office. Day one, first conversation you had with us is that flow up and down and you follow it. Can you stay on path?

Kevin Charleston:

I still do. I'm as bad as anybody. I get caught here, I get four or five accounts I'm working on and I'm not working on the next four and the next five. But the number one thing whenever we started dealing with, he spent a little more time talking about niche marketing, he went from a niche down to a crevice and really dialing that in. My guys can walk into an account and they already know what the coverages are, what the rates are, which company's going to be competitive. Really the insurance is almost an irrelevant part of the conversation. It's who they want to buy from because we know we have everything they need when we walk into that account. From risk management to all the pieces but if we stay in our lane and do what we're really, really good at, it's really not that complicated. It really just becomes time management and then having the right people in the right place from an office standpoint.

Kevin Charleston:

It goes back to his original part was niche marketing, and that gives you that sense of purpose when you walk in there and you are recognized as somebody knows what you're doing, and then you just, it gives you a clear path. It's very clear. We talked to a group of college kids the other day and one of the things I told them was I said, "You're going to choose your lifestyle based on the job you choose and you know what they pay when you take it, and you know kind of what the path is. This is one of the greatest opportunities here is the upside is pretty unlimited if you really..." But you choose a certain kind of accounts you call on every day, you know how big they are, you know how much revenue goes with them. You're choosing your lifestyle by the actions you take every day with your...

Kevin Charleston:

That goes back to, Roger really brought that full circle for me. I have obviously, you can tell by looking at me, probably a passion for the livestock industry. I like being around livestock. I like agriculture so I just followed that, and put the two together, but Roger gave me the ability to see that clearly and then follow that. It's fun, when we got to get together a little more, when we're down there, I would actually use some of Roger's stuff on him sometimes 20 year later, in the last five years. We haven't forgot that path and just do what you're good at. Don't get too far left to right of it. You know what what the account sizes are, you know what the revenue is, you understand what your lifestyle is going to be like if you choose that path. That gave me clarity, I think, at that point in time to kind of move forward with that because we have different groups here. We write about 1,100 farm policies and they're $13,000 policies, but we can do them so fast.

Kevin Charleston:

Those are not big policies, but if you're very efficient at it, my guys, my people do it extremely well there. Our bigger accounts are in a different spot. It's finding that clarity and that path and it's really even followed through that we actually have everything kind of somewhat segregated, even our office to follow the same path. We have a farm department, we have agri-business, we have commercial and they kind of blend back and forth. We have our benefits team. We have our HR and safety and our personal lines, but we keep it very, very departmentalized because they're good at what they do, they know the answer when you pick up the phone. They don't have to fumble around and figure it out.

Brent Kelly:

Yeah. So many good nugget there. I'm just kind of going back. You hit so many things. A couple things just for the listeners on here, Kevin, and just the last part I'll start with, because we were talking about with the efficiency of some of those accounts, people are always like, "Oh, you guys at Sitkins just hate small accounts." No, we don't hate small accounts. We don't like unprofitable accounts. There's a difference, right? Just the awareness on that. Other thing too that you said, and I love, I think if I'm listening to what you said, and I'm just trying to kind of summarize this, is that it's about intention and clarity and planning. What is the model that you want to create? I always joke Kevin the independent insurance agency owners, like I said, the best part of this is you're independent. You can create whatever you want, really.

Brent Kelly:

The biggest challenge is you're independent. You can create whatever you want, right, which gets in your own way. I love the fact it's like, "This is the model we want to build," and you've heard, I'm sure Roger and I say this all the time now it's like, "Well, it's hard to be a million dollar producer writing $1,000 dollar accounts." If that's the model you want, right? Depends on what it is but you got to find your model. That may not be the right model for you or somebody else, so that was jumping out. The thing about this too, and I love this statement and we started sharing in our training programs the last couple years, but your current business model is perfectly designed to get you the results you're getting now.

Brent Kelly:

That's it. It's like, "Well, your model is leading to that." What I respect so much about that is the awareness of going, "Yeah, I guess it is." But you guys just keep evolving. It's, "Okay what is the model we're going to create? How are we going to find departments where people are experts and how do we get more efficient on this and make sure we're staying in our game?" Anything you wanted to add to that, Kevin? I didn't mean to go on your point there, but it was good stuff.

Kevin Charleston:

It's just focused. It's just focused and knowing the details of the focus that you want to do. We got a great team here that they can see that focus better than me. I do what I do and then they do what they do and I just try and keep the culture in their circle and let them do their parts of it. We've grown in other areas that I didn't really want to grow in but we've started doing it and we got pretty good at it and it just kept coming and it's kind of a snowball effect so we started replicating and it just kept coming. Sometimes you got to back away from some business. That's the hard part, is firing some customers sometimes to back it away because I'm an eternal optimist and I think we can fix anything. I love the underdog. I love that account that we got to fix. I mean I love those things, but sometimes you've got to step away because there's only so many hours a day.

Brent Kelly:

That's right. It's exactly right, and that's the hardest part is saying no to some of those things. Can I ask, and again if you don't want to answer this directly you don't have to, as far as the podcast, but going back to when you started it, and the reason why I want to ask this question, and if you're willing to answer, I want to talk about kind of where you've grown in revenues. The reason why is this Kevin, we have people who will like, "Well, like that's that basic stuff. It gets boring. I continue to do the same kind of thing." Of course we're making little iterations and all these kind of things, but we always say, "It's not boring when you start to have some success." Right, and what you can do with that. Are you willing to share where you've grown from a revenue perspective from the agency? If not, that's fine too.

Kevin Charleston:

Typically we just talked about premiums just because-

Brent Kelly:

Okay, sure.

Kevin Charleston:

... it works a little bit for us. We started with seven or eight million dollars in premium whenever I came here, when we started 10 years ago or almost nine a half years ago, whatever it is. We're at about $65,000,000, $68,000,000. We've doubled. I think we ended up last year, we had some staffing changes that kind of hurt us in the last two months of last year, but we still had almost $14 million in new premium last year. This year, we're trying to work towards, we're trying to double every two and a half years in premiums.

Kevin Charleston:

That's kind of our goal. It's become a little more cumbersome as we go, but I say that and other parts have gotten easier. Our hardest part is, when ask staff... Right now we've outgrown our sales team again with staff and then the staff sales team will get back. It's like the egg and chicken constantly. So that's just part of, it's part of the growth. Then our sales people really take off and we can't really, keeping the two even with each other or one ahead of the other staff ahead of sales, and we're ahead again because we slow down a little bit, so they're going to speed up and by midyear we're going to be running off. I just got to make sure I have a proper amount of people coming behind them to do that.

Kevin Charleston:

Salespeople as well, that's probably our biggest struggle at this point is keeping ahead of growth either internally or as a sales team, we just go back and forth, but I don't care what business you're in, you can't ever map that out perfectly. Hopefully you can see the future a year from now, but those are pretty big bets when you add 10 or 15 people at a time. We try and the economy has obviously been great for us and what we've done the last two and a half years, during COVID. It was some of our best times, but I mean internally from a sales standpoint, agriculture never slowed down, I suspect.

Brent Kelly:

Right, right.

Kevin Charleston:

But it make sure we have enough staff and keeping people in those places but it'll be a constant struggle until the end. You can never have those four perfect people walk in the perfect time. You just have to work with the sales team. Yeah, and that's our goal is we'd like to be, in another eight years we would like to double this thing two more times, three more times maybe, two more times for sure. That's going to get a little harder as we go. It is. I mean staff and people, but people talk about having staffing. We have more people call us wanting a job than, we turn people away pretty consistently. I can't tell you why. I mean, I don't. Probably the number one thing we probably have learned in that area is that I'm 51 and I'm too old to hire this generation. I have to recruit from within that generation, I have to have them recruiting for me. I have to have that 22 to 30 year old recruiting. I'm the fourth to oldest person in the office of 65 people.

Kevin Charleston:

We had that talk. We had that talk a few years ago. He just said, "You guys don't even speak the same language. You do, but you don't." You got to make sure if we have some of our really aggressive younger people here out hiring people like them, kind of got to get out of the way because they're coming at us pretty hard. Our biggest role is to make sure that they feel like they're fulfilled and have purpose here because that generation has a different thought process and it's not, I don't think the same, but they've got to learn how to put up with me when they're here because that's part of the job too. I tell them that day one.

Brent Kelly:

Yeah.

Kevin Charleston:

Anyway...

Brent Kelly:

Again, if the listener here. One of, if not the number one, top one or two frustrations is how do I find more good people? The great resignation and no one wants to do anything and you're at a spot going, and you ask a question I don't really know. Well, listen, there's probably a multitude of factors, but I do think Kevin, and this is my opinion, but coming back to what you said earlier is I think a big part of it is you know exactly who you are, what you stand for and what you don't.

Kevin Charleston:

Right.

Brent Kelly:

Now is there a different way to communicate that with a younger generation? Sure but the point of it is I think there's clarity around that and I think it speaks volumes. The other thing too, last thing I'll add to that is, and you've heard us talk in different trainings before about culture and process that, there's culture and there's process. A lot of agencies we see are like, "Well, we want to make some changes so here's the new process." What I'm hearing from you is that, yeah, there's going to be some processes, but we're going to be tried and true on the culture we're representing so those processes support it.

Kevin Charleston:

You better have buy in.

Brent Kelly:

I mean you're right. You're never going to get 100% as you said, but gosh, darn, I want to get as much as I can. People go, "Even though I don't quite get what we're doing here exactly, I get why we're doing it." There's power in that. "I understand what we're about and we're trying to do here," versus "I don't know what he's talking about. I'm not going to do that." And all that resistance that we hear all the time. Hopefully the listers are taking some notes there because that was some pearls of wisdom, Kevin, that you shared there. All right my last question. I know I've gone a little long on my interview, my promise. I appreciate your time. It's usually the most powerful question that I ask, or at least people tell me it is. If you were talking to a younger you, let's just say 20 years ago right, and you met yourself 20 years ago as you are today, what piece of advice would you give that younger version of you Kevin?

Kevin Charleston:

You just have to stay focused on what you're good at. You don't even know what you're good at then so that's the hardest part hard. I had some opportunities with different agencies earlier on in my career and the good Lord didn't let me capitalize on them at the time, for whatever reason and timing ended up being right later on. It's interesting to find and focus on what you do and staying with it and it's not going to be easy. That's the other part that I tell them. Whatever path you choose, you go down and the first three or four years are pretty tough from a sales point, sales standpoint. This industry, they're tough.

Kevin Charleston:

I don't care what anybody says that first three years, I don't care Roger can give you all the tools, I can give you all the tools. You're going to do everything wrong anyway. You're not going to listen because good sales people don't listen very well. You just got to remember to stay the path and be able to see the carrot at the end. That's the hardest part. If I had to go back, I should have been more focused, a little more precise in some things I did and I need to learn my craft a little better early on. I didn't really learn insurance as well the first three or four years of my career. In my second part of my second job I took, I worked for a guy that was previously an adjuster and I learned insurance because an adjuster knows every piece of language and policy.

Kevin Charleston:

That's whenever things started changing for me. I learned how to really... I knew how to sell. It just was a natural thing. Nobody taught me that. It just kind of came. I was naturally a pretty quiet person actually but in a sales role, I could do that. I had to transition from selling something tangible to intangible. I would grow up buying and selling cattle, horses, cars. I mean I bought and sold everything, but to that intangible piece, but I didn't learn it until I actually learned the business. I learned the policies and I had to learn it the hard way. There were some casualties along the way trying to learn that. But once I became better at that part, it changed my career.

Brent Kelly:

Yeah. Again, some great points there. I chuckle Kevin, because I got, I told you I've got five kiddos and my oldest is a senior. Great kid. She does some wonderful stuff, but it takes you back when even I was younger. It's like people could tell you a thousand times, but sometimes you just got to live it and feel it, right? "Here's what not to do so you don't get punched in the face in sales." You're going, "I can tell you a million times, you're still going to do it and you're going to get punched in the face and then you're going to feel it," right? Then when you feel it you're going to go, "I don't like that. I don't want to do that again."

Brent Kelly:

What I took and I'm trying to take and just summarize, because it was so good, was truly listen to yourself in the sense of, "What am I uniquely good at? What draws my attention and captivates me" Learn as much as I can about it and leverage the heck out of it." Stay focused on it and just keep replicating those things because what you think you know, and this is what I've learned Kevin. I'm 44 so hopefully I got a lot of years left, but it's funny the older I get, the more I realize that there's less that I know.

Brent Kelly:

At 25 I'm like, "Oh I got that figured out." Then at 35 I'm like, I got some stuff figured out, a lot I don't know." 45 I'm like, "I don't know anything," in the sense of, because there's so much more that I haven't lived and learned yet, which is exciting, but I love that advice to younger self. Listen, learn and leverage and just go deep into it and by the way, you're going to get kicked and punched in the face a lot, deal with it. Anything else you want to add Kevin? Again I so much thank you for your time. Anything you want to add to the audience or any final words?

Kevin Charleston:

No. We love working with the Sitkins Group and Roger, that relationship goes back a long ways for me. It's fun to watch you evolve with Roger as well. We make this industry too hard. It's not that hard and you guys simplify it. My team, they kind of looked at me funny sometimes I'll say, "Well you just sat in there and heard that conversation. Were you awake?" We talked about that all time and we have a good time with that. That's the fun part. This industry's a lot of fun. You've got to enjoy it, be part of it and help people and the thing that I've always thought that your group does, it also allows you to enjoy what you're doing because you have a playbook. You're not lost so those young guys are trying to learn. We got, I don't know how many, six or eight and your meeting every month and they're trying to learn this industry. One of the guys is pretty new to industry, three years in, maybe four now and he's five or six years older than me and that was a big career change, but he loves your path. I wish I started with his wisdom at 50 at 25. What I could really have leveraged at that point in my career.

Brent Kelly:

Likewise. We say this again, this is a relationship business in so many areas and we appreciate the relationship certainly with you all and it's just, again, this is a feather in your cap, but for your agency and your team, there's such a different feeling and energy when you work and see people who just truly care, I mean about your people, about results, about like you said the last part, it's not just about the money, it's about the freedom. It's the fact this business should be fun. Why not? Right? I mean we always say, "Every opportunity serves your very best, go make it happen today and have some fun doing it and live full out." Kevin, again, thank you again so much for your time. I appreciate it. For all the listeners, if you didn't take a bunch of notes, what were you doing? Reminder too that our book, Best Version Possible, go to sitkins.com/bvp. Wish you all the best in your success. Thanks for listening.

 

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