"Sir, I am now in Koramangala. Can I come and meet you at 2.30 instead of 2.00 PM as planned earlier?", R asks me over the phone.
I am impressed. I shouldn't be. R is a thorough professional, and communication is a major part of her repertoire.
"OK, I will wait for you", I tell her
The bell rings at 2.25 PM, she is there on schedule.
R works as an agent with a leading insurance company in Bangalore. She tells me that we had met for the first time in 2006 at my office in Bangalore, when I was working with TCS. I don't remember any of that. She keeps comprehensive information on each of her prospects and prepares thoroughly before each customer meeting.
We have been keeping in touch on and off for the last 10 years. Every year, without fail, she wishes me 'happy new year', earlier through SMS and now through Whatsapp. The other day, she called me.
"Sir, our company has launched a new product. I wanted to come and explain the same to you. Can you give me a convenient time?", she asked.
We planned to meet up at 2.00 PM the next day at my home and there she was...
After some initial discussion on the product, we got talking, general chitchat
"How did you get into this work? When did you start?", I ask
"I have been working as an insurance agent from 2001 onwards. I got this opportunity after completing my BSc. The company provided me with 20 days of training after which I had to clear an examination conducted by IRDAI (Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India). From then onwards I have been with this company, it is almost 16 years now", she beams a satisfied smile.
"How many customers do you have?", I enquire.
"Currently I have 486 customers. I add about 40 new customers in a year", she replies
That was an amazing number. I did a quick math. 480 customers in 16 years is 40 customers per year on an average.
"How do you get paid?", I am curious about the financials of being an insurance agent.
"For new customers, I get about 20% of the premium paid as commission, this reduces to 10% in the second year and further to about 3% in the year 3 onward.", she replies
Assuming that each customer pays an annual premium of 50000 rupees per year, her income would work out to about 12 Lakhs per year. That was very impressive.
Perhaps she saw me doing the mental math.
"Sir, it is not the money that makes me get up and go out for work everyday. Everyday, as I get up, I am grateful that god has given me opportunities to make people happy", she tells me.
This was new. First time an insurance agent is talking about making people happy as the benefit of their work. I ask her to elaborate.
"We add value when people are going through their most stressful and traumatic events in their lives. Let me give an example. There was a customer of ours, a school teacher by profession, who had taken a policy of 10 Lakhs with us. No one in his family knew about this. One year, we observed that his yearly premium was unpaid. We called up his number and it came unanswered. So we went to his home to enquire and found that he had passed away three months ago. So we helped the widow get the policy amount of 10 Lakhs. At that stressful time, when there is a lot of demand for money, when there are many unpaid bills to pay, to see the happiness on the widow's face as we gave her a check of 10 Lakhs was priceless. These are the experiences that keep me going", she is so happy
R is lucky to have a higher purpose to look up to every day. How many of us have a similar purpose as we get up in the morning to go to office?
R has a cleft upper lip. I ask her what she has done about it?
"Sir, ever since my childhood, I have had four surgeries for this. In fact, I think that my father passed away because the fourth surgery did not go well", she says in a matter-of-fact manner.
I ask her to explain.
"As you can imagine, while growing up with a cleft lip, I did not have any friends in school. Everyone used to make fun of me. Every evening I will come home and my dad was my best friend. I will unload all my frustrations on him and he will pacify me. He was a goldsmith and we were not well off. But he strived hard to finance my four surgeries. My fourth surgery was just after I completed my 10th exam. After the surgery, the doctor told that it did not go well. I think it affected my father badly. He was already suffering from high BP. A few days after the failed surgery, one evening, as we were having dinner, he collapsed. We took him to hospital and found that there was a clot in his brain. Slowly he slipped into a coma. My family never allowed me to see my dad, my best friend. Finally I forcefully entered his room as he was lying in coma. I shouted 'Papa', 'Papa' in his ears, but he never responded. Within a day or two he passed away", she was narrating this story in a very objective manner. My eyes well up, I try to act it off...
"Must have been terrible, to see your best friend pass away", I make an inane comment.
"I am very courageous and a positive person. But I was not able to handle when one lady relative told me at my father's funeral that had it not been for me, my father would have been alive now. That hurt", she tells me.
I explain that some people can behave badly, there are so many examples. She knows. She has experienced it first hand.
I try to change to more positive topics.
"What are the incentives given to the agents for meeting the target?", I ask.
"In addition to better commissions, we are also sent on company paid vacation to various countries", she answers
"Which all countries have you visited so far?"
"I have been to UK, UAE, Srilanka, China, Thailnd, Switzerland and Maldives", she replied
"All based on your achievements?", I was incredulous.
"Yes sir", she replies modestly
"You know, I am not going to give you any business", I tell her, "I do not like endowment plans. I only go for term plans and I am already insured"
"That is OK sir, I understand. But I also believe that no personal interactions can go waste. There is a purpose behind every personal interactions. I remember that I had gone to meet a customer, far outside Bangalore about a policy. He did not express any interest. Almost 10 months later, my company was planning to send people to China and I had to get a business of another 4 lakhs in the next 20 days to qualify for this trip. I did not know how I was going to achieve it. I had almost given up", she says
"One day I was sitting in my office and got a call from this customer. He asked me to reach his home in the next 45 minutes so that he can buy some policies. I expected a business of about a lakh from him. I and my colleague reached his home in 30 minutes and within 10 minutes of reaching his home, he took policy of one Lakh each for his three sons. I just netted a business of 3 Lakhs. I cajoled my family to buy some policies for the remaining Lakh and I was on my way to China.", she is very excited.
"In China, first we landed in Shanghai and we rode the fastest metro train from Pudong Airport to Shanghai City in 10 minutes.", her eyes lights up as she was telling me this.
"Every interaction has a purpose", she repeats.
"Now I see that you are a 'senior advisor', what does this mean?", I ask
"Based on the business we do, we get different designations. I started as an executive and slowly climbed the ladder to reach this level. At one time, I was made an associate, but I found that I had to manage a team of 40 members. I found this draining. So I asked the company to move me back to advisory. I like moving around the city in my two wheeler and meeting customers. That is where I get the energy from.", she tells me.
I couldn't help but admire. Here was a lady, born with a facial deformity, facing all kinds of insults growing up for a deformity that would have defeated most of us, doing some work that she absolutely enjoys, getting everyday with a clear purpose to life, enjoying life, adding value to the universe....
It am seeing the plot of the movie 'Wonder' being enacted in real life.
In his LinkedIn post on his Ironman journey, Atul Tuli writes about how endurance athletes make great sales people. Endurance need not be shown only in physical activities. Getting up everyday with a purpose and doing a honest days work and adding value to the universe is in itself an 'Endurance Event'. Add to that a physical condition that would have defeated most of them, R is an 'Ironman' in my opinion....