I met someone who knew Ben Feldman. It wasn’t the first time, but each time it happens I have to know everything about Feldman. Was he really the salesman of all salesmen?
Not many people even know who Feldman was. Beyond having sold the most life insurance of anybody in his time, $1.5 billion with New York Life between 1941 and 1993, many claimed he was the best salesperson ever. So, I wanted to know about the man and the legend.
Feldman certainly changed the approach to life insurance sales. He popularized selling by concepts that conveyed the value of life insurance. One story was that he would take a great sum of money — $100,000 or $1 million — under armed guard to a prospect’s office, and place pennies on the stacks to show the power of life insurance.
As he said: “I do not sell life insurance. I sell money. I sell dollars for pennies apiece. My dollars cost 3 cents per dollar per year.”
The person I spoke with who met Feldman was Rao Garuda, who was profiled in this month’s In The Field article.
Garuda met Feldman over breakfast at a conference and absorbed what he could. Here’s what Garuda told me about Feldman “He used to say one thing: ‘There’s a cost of doing something. There’s a cost of doing nothing. The cost of doing nothing is always a whole lot more than the cost of doing something.’”
He expanded on Feldman’s message about wiping out taxes with life insurance strategies. Garuda processed the wisdom he got from mentors with his own experience and is now paying it forward to the next generation. He is a speaker and coach, as was Feldman and other mentors.
Garuda was an excellent student and talented in many endeavors. He could have easily said he did not need to learn anything more from his colleagues. But he eagerly sought advice. Sometimes it takes a bit of humility to do the right thing for oneself.
The Real Legacy
Fewer people now know about Feldman, who died in 1993 before some insurance agents were born. But they will get the benefit of Feldman as filtered through Garuda and the countless others who Feldman affected.
These gifts we pass to the next generation are our legacy, more than dollars and cents.
Every news organization I worked for had some legend working there, or people there worked with the now-departed legend. The people I admired would invariably say that they weren’t to be admired as much as someone else who inspired them. There is a humility in the recognition that they are passing a torch forward.
I used to be a bit wistful about how people fade in memory after 30 or 40 years in a place or an industry.
One legend I worked with was Dave Rossie, a columnist for the Press & Sun-Bulletin in Binghamton, N.Y.. He was the voice of authority in that part of the state, writing smooth copy that carried you to the end of the column before you knew it.
I probably don’t even have to say he was an unassuming guy — kind to the janitor, but tough on the crooked mayor. But he would insist that he wasn’t the stuff. That was a columnist who came before him, someone who died before I worked at the paper. Rossie always gave him the credit.
I don’t remember his name.
Names don’t matter in the end. The stuff you own doesn’t matter. What matters is what you do. Karma is not a cycle of good or bad deeds coming back to you. It is the action you send out into the world, actions that affect events big and small and push other events that trigger others ... rippling on forever.
The Home Of The Brave
Something that fascinated me about Feldman was what he overcame. He was a small, portly, not exactly handsome guy with a high-pitched voice. And that is a charitable description given what I have heard. It probably took a bit of bravery to put himself out there to be judged.
But when he started speaking, he was mesmerizing. You had to agree with him — it was the only sensible thing to do.
Ah, to be remembered as mesmerizing. That is probably more than I can hope for. But we do have an effect on a large number of people every day. The way you treat a colleague ripples into how that colleague treats their family. How you behave toward the store clerk affects the next person in line.
We are changing the DNA of our society in many ways. We can take the best of what has come before us and hand it off to the next person in line. Or we can pass on the worst. Many of us do that as well, passing malignancy like a malformed gene.
The only choice we ever have is the one in front of us right now. My advice is to choose the brave one.
Steven A. Morelli