By MICHAEL G. MANES
Manes and Associates
I call these lessons the wisdom of scar tissue.
My older son, Slade, was and is a risk taker. At age two he was sitting (more correctly standing) on a chair at the kitchen table. It was the Christmas season, and we had an Advent wreath on the table. Three of the candles were lit. Slade kept reaching for the flame on the candle nearest him. I kept stopping him – protecting him from himself. Finally, I remembered that experience is the best teacher. Who was I to deny him an education?
The next time he reached for the flame, I facilitated his education. He touched the fire and cried briefly. At age 18, over a drink, we were talking about the crazy stuff he had done. Some I knew about; some I learned about that day, and other things I discovered and wished I hadn’t. About halfway through our conversation, he said, “Dad, one thing I never did again was touch fire.” This was a lesson learned and recorded in his memory bank.
My younger son, Seth, was small for his age. He looked like he was 10 years-old when he turned 15. My wife took him to get his driver’s license. He passed the written exam that day, but it was raining, so he couldn’t take the driving test. The next day, I brought him to the DMV to complete the process and get his license. The examiner called Seth’s name, and he approached her. She loudly exclaimed, “You’re 15?” My heart sank. I could see the hurt and humiliation in Seth’s face.
As the “bimbo” examiner walked past another examiner, she screamed out, “Can you believe he’s 15?” Another dad standing near me said, “He’ll never pass the test today.” I agreed. About 15 minutes later, Seth walked up smiling like the Cheshire Cat. He had passed and was going to get his license.
I approached the aforementioned “bimbo” and asked her, “What if one of the candidates for a license was well endowed and a male instructor said, ‘Nice boobs’? What would happen to him?” She said, “He’d be fired.” I assured her if it was within my power, I would have had her fired on the spot. I could see in her face that the message was received. I believe, that day, she was wiser leaving than when she had arrived.
What follows are other examples of the wisdom of scar tissue that I learned by listening to and observing others. None of us is perfect. We all make mistakes. If we relax our egos, we can learn much from what happens to others and save ourselves mistakes and/or make us more effective in life and efficient in the marketplace. Squint your ears. Read between the lines.
-John was in a GAB training school with me in 1973. His rookie year as an adjuster, he called on a bubba who lived as a recluse in the backwoods of South Carolina. John wrote an estimate on the damages done to the cabin. The insured pointed to a shotgun in the corner and said, “There’s your depreciation.” John’s appraisal was absent the aforementioned depreciation. John was wise. The home office examiners corrected his error when he was safely back in his office.
-Big John (not the John mentioned above) was my first boss at GAB. He said, with great emphasis, “When handling a windstorm loss on a home, do not deny the claim when you are still on the roof.” He did one time and found himself stuck on the roof. The insured went down the ladder first and took it away from the house. After an hour of screaming, a neighbor with a ladder came to his rescue.
-Charles was a friend and client. I insured him. His restaurant was not pretty, but it was very successful (read profitable). His restaurant was the place to eat in the town where I was working. Charles was very conservative (read tight). He hated insurance. He intentionally “misunderestimated” the value of his building and contents. Annually, I’d have to “force his limits up” to make co-insurance work for him and not too much against him.
Over his protests and with his financials, I had included the maximum amount of loss of income coverage on his restaurant. One night a fire reduced his restaurant to a slab. The adjuster from the Travelers home office flew in the next day. She took a quick look at the town and the surrounding properties and provided him with a proof of loss for the building and contents and a minimal amount of earnings.
When he asked about his loss of income insurance, she said (reluctantly), “I provided some coverage.” He handed her his financials. She paid the policy limits on the spot. Just because you’re from Hartford doesn’t make you smarter or more successful than a “poor Cajun” from Louisiana.
After the loss, Charles acknowledged that he had never read his policy in all of the decades that he was insured. In the morning after the loss, he read it 13 times.
-One of the most powerful Senators in U.S. history was from Louisiana. He had a theft claim under the homeowners policy on his residence in Baton Rouge. A rookie adjuster was holding up payment for lack of a receipt on a $50 item that had been stolen. As soon as his agent called the company and explained the reality, the claim was paid and apologies made.
I believe in the wisdom of Forrest Gump, “Stupid is as stupid does.” Don’t be stupid. More often than not, common sense is more valuable than “book learning.” I also believe in the wisdom of scar tissue.
MICHAEL G. MANES is the owner of Manes and Associates, a New Iberia based consulting business focusing on planning, sales and operations, and change. He has over 46 years of insurance industry experience, including serving as an instructor of Risk and Insurance at Louisiana State University.