So the other day I found out that one of the profound influences on my career was gone.
“Diamond” Jim Nemec, my first General Agent and as such the archetype to me of an insurance leader, passed on last year. The man who took a shot on a kid that wanted to leave the lab and had nothing but intelligence and drive going for him. Certainly Jim did not bring me into the profession because of my good looks, or social skills, or a large and rich family network, or a sense of style, or well anything other what was in my head and guts. I had called HIM and said I was coming to work at his office instead of being recruited, and I’m sure he was a little curious about me.
I remember my first meeting with Jim: tall, athletic, debonaire. Leaning back in his chair and looking at his nails with an air of indifference and confidence that I had never seen before. Now I can psychoanalyze the body position (expanded and off center to dominate space and project alpha male attitude), the subtle message of his coin cufflinks (as he later said: it’s not an expense problem, it is a revenue problem. Go sell more!), the use of the Prize Frame, and his ability to control the conversation and inspire with just an edge of intimidation. I wanted to be Diamond Jim after that meeting. Two and a half decades later, parts of me STILL want to be him.
After I made it through the interviews (I was kicked over to the Intern program and went on to be Intern of the Year 2x, then a Top 10 former Intern in the entire company) and pre-licensing, Jim handed me my College Intern contract and my NALU (now NAIFA) application and said “sign both or sign neither”. I have now spent 20+ years serving NAIFA in different capacities and have built amazing friendships, advanced my knowledge to serve others, and earned accolades because Jim made me join something bigger than myself. He believed in the professionalism and service to the industry and impressed that on a kid. Are you a member of your Association, and learning from your peers and those icons that are willing to teach you? If not you are spoiling a huge opportunity.
When I met him Jim was prepping for a marathon with another Rep, a chunky fellow who definitely was not svelte or fast but was able to suck it up and gut it out and still finish even though he was built more like a bear than a deer. He told me Jim looked at him about 20 miles into the marathon and said “C’mon, ANYONE can do a 10k. That’s all we have left!” At the 20-mile mark in all of my marathons I think of that and power through to the end, because anyone can do that last little bit if we have done all the other work beforehand. Guts will overcome talent.
Was Jim a perfect human, or leader? Of course not, none of us are. But do you focus on the flaws of those that inspire you, or draw from their best aspects to improve yourself? Don’t focus on their failures (learn from them though), embrace their best traits and emulate them where appropriate.
It was a punch in the gut realizing that this person who had molded so many components of who I am professionally will no longer be here, will not inspire others as he inspired me a lifetime ago. The greatest way for us to honor those that impacted us though is to share the stories, let their influence continue by capturing these stories to share with future generations. My career path has been very different than his, but Diamond Jim Nemec’s aura still shines for young professionals that want to build themselves and help others. That is a damn good legacy.