Man was I ever a fish out of water. A 300lb fish out of water at that. I sat there in my mismatched “business” clothes and tried to look and act as professional as possible. Doing my best to portray confidence and ability. truth is, at age of 37, sitting in my first job interview in 14 years, I was terrified. Why shouldn’t I have been? My last job interview was 14 years ago, it included such things as measuring my arm length, testing my body fat, having me sprint 40 yards as fast as I could and bench press 225lbs as many times as possible. That was the 2001 Canadian Football League player evaluation camp. The yearly group interview for aspiring amateur football players hoping to impress the pro teams enough to hire you. I was fortunate enough to be one that made it, I got hired. From that point on my life was my sport. I didn’t have the mindset to do “other things” while I played, it was football 100%. For me, that’s what was needed to survive and play for so long. All in, it’s what it took, and I loved it. The highly technical skills I mastered over those 13 years gave me tremendous confidence in my ability to read late moving defenses and make the needed blocking adjustment or know the exact footwork and hand placement required to reach that wide 2 technique defensive lineman. These skills served me well on the field, unfortunately, they do not transfer well into the business world. So, there I sat, with a world of useless information and skills to lean on, trying to do my best to muster the presentation of confidence in a world I have never been in before and have no evidence of my ability to do well in. An awkward situation for someone to be in who is used to having extreme confidence in my ability with years and years of proof to validate it. I don’t think I’ve been the only one there.
Companies are always looking for a competitive edge. A big piece of that comes from the talent they recruit, hire and empower to help move them forward. Where companies look for that talent is as diverse as the industries themselves that make up our business world. Many though, go looking in the never-ending outlet of recently retired professional athletes. It makes perfect sense on the surface level. Athletes are generally competitive, driven, goal-minded individuals that probably have a long list of positive accomplishments and successes under their belt. This blend of mindset and resume of high achievements that commonly fits most high-level athletes usually is the lure that pulls businesses into the thinking that if they had what it took to make it that far in their sport, then they have what it takes to make it their respective sector. If you are a company that truly believes that, how then do you go about convincing that former athlete that your team is their next move? There are a few things to consider when you go looking, but first, this is exactly how Reliance Insurance got me.
Chris Ball is the CEO of Reliance Insurance Agencies. I first met Chris in November of 2013 when Intact Insurance brought me down to Dallas for their Preferred Broker Conference. I was the keynote. There to talk to about my life in sports, how I made it, what it took, how to win etc. It was a great gig because the event was wrapped around the NFL Thanksgiving game Thursday. I spoke in the morning, then off to Cowboys Stadium to a suite to watch the Cowboys/ Raiders game. Not a bad gig at all. Truth be told, I had zero knowledge or interest in the Commercial Insurance world, this was purely a speaking opportunity, and a fun one at that.
That all changed very fast. My time in the suite after my talk was mostly spent chatting to all the brokerage owners, maybe telling the odd football tale, but mostly talking about what I wanted to do next in my life. I would be retiring officially from football in a few months but I and everyone around me already knew my career was over. I knew I wanted to get away from football, to try something different. I wanted to prove to myself that I could be successful at something other than simply trying to drive another human out of the way. I wanted to learn business, to build a career that wouldn’t be depended on my body’s ability to hold up weekly, really, I just wanted a change. As you would expect from business owners in a relationship driven sales industry, they were great at asking questions, great at listening. Great at making me feel important. They let me blab on and on about whatever nonsense I wanted to tell them. Before I knew it, I had a few meetings lined up with some of them wanting to discuss opportunities for me with their firms. I still had absolutely no idea what they really did but was flattered by their interest in me, and curious of about a new opportunity.
Chris was one of maybe 20 brokerage owners I had the privilege of meeting and getting to know that trip. Chris was maybe a few years older than me but presented very youthful. Like all the others, Chris was outgoing, friendly and easy to talk to. The funny thing is, he was not the real aggressive one in terms of trying to sell me on working with him. Looking back now, what I see is that he was using this initial time with me to learn all he could about me. Letting me do all the talking, hearing what mattered to me, what drove me, how I saw things. Others got right into selling me on how great I could do in this industry and more specifically with them – Chris just wanted to really learn who I was. The sell came later.
Back home I broke the news to my family that I wanted to explore the wonderful world of Commercial Insurance. Knowing absolutely nothing about the industry, you can imagine what their reaction was. WHY? --- Why not? I’ll always explore every opportunity, and this one seemed so out of left field for what I ever would have thought I would have done post-football that it intrigued me all the more. I’ve always liked challenges and this one may prove to be the most daunting yet. Leave everything I’ve ever known and been successful at to enter an extremely competitive profession that couldn’t be more opposite with zero experience or even a baseline of knowledge of not just what it will take, but what the job even entails. It was time to find out.
I waited about a month or so to fully recover from season (career) ending back surgery (More on that another time) before starting the wonderful excise of interviews. My unofficial resume read – 13-year professional Football player, 5-time team captain, 3-time all-star and 2-time Grey Cup champion. Years of public speaking, radio work, some newspaper writing and a phone book of relationships built over years of being involved in my community. My official resume was a handshake – That’s what I brought to the meetings. Football is the only job I had ever really had. I mean seriously, the only “business card” I ever had was my yearly action sports card. Should I have brought that?? I was so used to autographing them for kids I could only imagine myself scribbling my barely legible Angus Reid #64 with a sharpie before trading cards with them out of habit – now THAT would have been funny, right up until they laughed me out of their offices. I guess you could say I was completely unprepared. It was just me and my open mind. I figured I had spent my life lining up against 300lb angry men who wanted nothing more than to run directly over me, to physically humiliate me in front of thousands of onlookers, how hard could this be?
One interview followed another. Each firm did an amazing job of making me feel comfortable and welcomed. Each went into great depth about both the industry itself and their way of doing things. There was fantastic selling of why their firm would be the right fit for me and the amazing opportunity I would have there. It all sounded great. The problem was I still had no idea, or no real ‘feel’ for what this career was really about. What were we actually doing?? It all sounded so foreign to me, and it was. It was great to have and be told of this wonderful opportunity but none of them separated themselves from the other. It was the same pitch, again and again. By the time a sat down with Chris I was pretty sure this wasn’t the right option for me, it was too different, too foreign, I had absolutely nothing to internally lean on to give me confidence that I could be successful. I really was questioning my choice to even bother continuing to explore this option. Maybe I should retreat back to football, back to what I know, back to where I had some confidence, but would that be just giving up?
There I sat, oversized and underqualified. Waiting to hear another spiel about why theirs is a better option than the others for me, when the truth was I still had no idea what any of them were even talking about in the first place. Everybody was selling themselves to me, selling their firm to me, selling the great opportunity they are offering me.
- SEPARATING YOURSELF, BUILDING COMMON GROUND
Chris sat down and started talking football. Seriously, we said our hello’s and almost immediately he started asking me about the huddle. “What goes on in the huddle, what’s the point of it?” It was all strategically set up but I was so excited to talk about something I actually knew and knew well, I jumped at the bait. “That’s where we come together to communicate the upcoming play – what we’re going to do next” It felt so great to feel confident in a conversation again. My body language changed, I perked up, I came alive. “What happens next?” Chris had a very calm, even keel way of talking, soothing, non-threatening, innocently curious. “We head up to the line of scrimmage and get ready to run the play” really? He didn’t know? Come on!? He leaned in and exaggerated his focus on my replies. “Ok, but what do YOU do next?”. “I start scanning the defense, I need to know what issues they are presenting us with so I can make decisions on how best we will block what’s in front of us”. “Why?” he volleyed back, squinting as if to really be digging deep with me now. “If we don’t get it blocked right, we’re done”. “Tell me about the thought process you go through, how do you make your ultimate decision on which way you’ll go about blocking that play?”. “Once I’m completely clear on the play call in the huddle my eyes and mind go to work.” “As I leave the huddle all my focus is on where the defense looks to be lining up and predicting where they probably will end up and ultimately do to defeat our play”. “Where do you draw that information from? How do you have that ability to predict where they may end up or try to do?” This was starting to get weird… what did this have to do with insurance?? And why did he care so much about how I read defenses? Maybe he was just some crazy super fan and this would end up being a colossal waste of my time.
“I always worked backwards” I told him. “Based on hours and hours of opponent study I knew the worst things they could do that would kill our play.” “That’s where my internal checklist starts” Are they showing us that worst case scenario? Based on all my research of them, are they tipping that they will move to that worst-case scenario?” “I need to make sure I can account for that disaster and have an answer for it”. “I move down the checklist from there. As I get closer to the ball and we get closer to the start of the play, defenses usually start to settle into their final attack position. The internal checklist and external communication of what we need to do continues”. “Tell me about the communication part – how does that go?” He had me on a roll now, right in my comfort zone, I could talk all day about this stuff. “In the huddle, all attention is on the quarterback, he’s communicating the play, once we break the huddle though, all eyes and ears are on me. People need to know how are we going to execute this. What am I seeing out there and what adjustments do we have to make based on the visible current issues and possible issues that may be presented. It’s very fluent and always changing. I’m pretty much communicating with everyone around me, (yelling and screaming really ) figuring things out right up to the snap of the ball. In fact, most people don’t realize this, but the verbal communication many times continues DURING the play itself” “Adjustments never end, neither does the communication. Right up until the whistle blows to end the play. Then we head back to the huddle and repeat all over again.”
Chris leaned back in his chair, “Interesting” is all he responded, his eyes still fixated on me. Then a looooong pause. I have never been good at pauses, particularly long ones, my high energy and probable insecurity would never allow for such a gap, I had to fill that void – “Chris, what does any of this have to do with what I’d be doing here?” I blabbed at him in my usual overdramatic, semi-rushed way.
Chris took another short pause, he stayed rocked back in his chair and calmly stated something that changed everything. “Angus, what we do here is the exact same thing you have been doing your whole life.” “HUH????” was all that came to mind. “We are risk managers for our clients. We are their center so to speak. Our clients are the quarterback in the huddle, they outline their business goals for the upcoming short and learn term, the play. Just like in the huddle, our job as the center is to shut up and intently listen to the call. Then our work begins. In-depth knowledge of their industry and business itself, our film study, enables us to start building a plan to make sure we
1) Account for all potential problems that could delay, derail or destroy those plans.
2) Have proactive answers (blocking schemes) for these problems, and a communication system to implement and adjust these solutions fluidly as needed.
This will allow our clients play (business plan) to.
1) Have the best chance for success by proactively accounting for and having answers for those potential issues.
2) Recover as fast as possible and keep moving forward if an issue (defender) does end up causing a disruption.
“Just like any given play. A business starts with a clear-cut outline of what they want to get done. Once we are crystal clear on that call, we go through that exact same checklist. Starting at worst case scenario and working our way back. Constant communication is the key. Our solutions need to be related in a way that all understand and can be acted on with confidence. Just like any football play, this process is fluid and never-ending. We re huddle as needed to hear any new play calls or adjustments, then right back to scanning, solving and communicating our best solutions that will allow the play to work.”
This all sounded a little too much of a smooth sell job to me, I had to bring this back to reality “I thought we sold insurance policies?” “Absolutely we do” Chris was quick to throw back. “An insurance policy is one of our answers – or blocking schemes. As we run through our checklist, our first priority is to set up best practices to prevent the issue in the first place. Then as an added protection, we put together an insurance policy program to help mitigate damage if something was to still get through. It’s the exact same process as you have always done. Scan, process, then dig into your toolbox of knowledge to bring the best answers to the problems you are seeing and predicting.”
He made it all sound so clear, so understandable, in language that not only made sense to me, but gave me great confidence that I could do this and do it well.
Every other meeting was an attempt to show me why they were better, better at doing the same thing as everyone else. This meeting was DIFFERENT. Different doesn’t always equal better, but when you are trying to separate yourselves from everyone else, sometimes different is what it takes to make someone take a longer look at you. I was now wanting Reliance to be my best option. That’s a powerful mental shift, considering 30 minutes earlier I was sitting there feeling quite defeated regarding this entire exercise exploring this industry. Now I was fired up. I was ready to go! Chris had made such strong emotional connection that I was put in an emotional state where I wanted to play for his team RIGHT NOW. I felt at home again. It’s a skill every single college sports recruiter works hard to master. Separate yourselves from all the rest, make a personal connection on a level that matters.
That was all for that meeting. He wanted me to digest that conversation. There was no rush to sell me to join, not even a discussing on compensation. He was smart enough to know a decision this big for me SHOULD take some time. I needed to fully process what I had heard, calm down from my emotions and think, stew on it.See how it sat with me tomorrow and the day after. He told me it would be good to get together maybe in a week. That gave me time to chat with my family, come up with any questions and concerns that may arise. If I was still interested, we could dig a little deeper. He shook my hand, thanked me for my time and left me with one final question – “did you enjoy that part of the game?” “I loved it” I lit up again like I was back on the field. “I loved being charged with finding answers for my team, I loved figuring out those solutions and I really loved orchestrating the communication and implementation of the plan” (I doubt I said it as eloquently as that, but you get the idea) “That’s great to hear Angus. Must have been a ton of fun”. It was left it at that. He let me know he was looking forward to connecting again next week. Next week?? Ha! Chris Ball didn’t have a full understanding yet of who he was dealing with.....