Joseph W. Jordan didn't start out life well, owing to a big
mistake his father made. In 1952, Jordan's dad cashed in his life
insurance policy. But then his father died in an auto accident,
leaving the family in near-poverty. This shows how small errors
with money can bring huge problems.
Joe, an infant at the time of his father's death, and his three
siblings grew up hardscrabble. They lived in a small apartment in
New York's Bronx, unable to buy new clothes or a car. His mother
took fulltime secretarial work. Joe went to work at 13 in a
neighborhood dry cleaner. He worked his way through college at
Fordham, where he played football and rugby.
If his father, a lawyer who advised President Harry Truman,
hadn't cancelled the $100,000 policy, the family would have been a
lot better off. That was big money then, and in current dollars
amounts to $900,000.
Through grit and determination, Joe Jordan went onto a
successful career in financial services, with top posts at
PaineWebber and MetLife. But a large part of his success owes to
his belief in what he is selling - insurance, the very thing his
family didn't have and needed so very much. That's why he calls
financial services "the noblest profession of earth."
Lately, he addresses groups of insurance agents and other
finance folk about the crucial nature of their calling. Noted for
his dynamic delivery and emotional anecdotes, Jordan says, "People
sometimes think I am the industry chaplain."
He wrote a well-received
, Living a Life of Significance
, which shows how financial products like insurance bring people
freedom from want and hope for the future. It quotes savants
ranging from Albert Einstein to Winston Churchill to Joseph
Campbell to bolster his message. For instance, Campbell, the expert
in mythology, contends: "A hero is someone who has given his or her
life to something bigger than oneself."
That's exactly what providers of financial security deliver,
Jordan says. "Insurance brings people independence and dignity," he
The finance world attracts people with math backgrounds, but not
necessarily the people skills to show the public the vital services
they provide to improve lives, he argues. That, however, may
Jordan points to the desire of many millennials to have careers
that are meaningful to humankind. A
Wall Street Journal
earlier this year noted that a growing number of companies, from
retailer Kohl's to accounting firm KPMG, are seeking to inspire
employees to view their work as having a higher purpose.
The stories Jordan tells, using clients of insurance agents and
other finserv people he knows, are heartwarming, uplifting and
cautionary. Listening to and reading Jordan underscores how life
can go terribly wrong in an instant, and why insurance and other
financial assets are a vital bulwark.
There's a woman named Sally, for example, who took out a
$100,000 policy that, when she died, went to her ailing elderly
aunt, who very much needed the money. Jordan says he once saw a
video of an old lady filled with resentment because she was utterly
without resources. She'd say: "You don't want me to move in with
Another story concerns a young man named Joseph Steinberg, who
was dying from a long illness. But his parents had the foresight
years before to take out a life insurance policy with a feature
that cancelled premiums for holders who were disabled. So they
could afford to keep it in force amid his illness. When Steinberg
died, the proceeds went to fund a scholarship at his college,
benefiting needy students and giving them a chance.
But perhaps the most telling tale concerns a kindly insurance
agent who gives a lift in his car to two cocky young pilots
hitchhiking in a Massachusetts snowstorm during World War II. The
agent says he'll take them to their destination but must first make
stops at policyholders' homes to collect a few dollars each in
premiums - a practice common back then.
"That's quite a racket you've got there," one pilot says.
The agent abruptly pulls the car over and tells them: "At the
next stop I'm going to make, I won't be collecting a payment - I'll
be delivering one." Although it won't bring back the household's
beloved father, he says, the money "will make all the difference in
the lives of that family."
He finishes by saying to the young officers: "You boys should
understand the importance of service. Am I right?"
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