After two years in the insurance business, Ed Parks Jr. was ready to throw in the towel for the sake of a steady paycheck.
“I was 25, and I was having a hard time dealing with the fact that all my friends had regular jobs and they were getting regular paychecks. And here I was and I wasn’t employed in the traditional sense – I was a 1099 independent contractor – and sometimes I would go weeks without anything coming in,” he said. “I was comparing myself to all my friends and thinking that they had it so much better than I did.”
Ed Jr. considered accepting a different job for the sake of getting paid regularly. But before he made the jump, he had a talk with someone who entered the insurance business 13 years before he did – his father, Ed Parks Sr.
Did Ed Sr. try to talk his son out of making a career change? No. Instead, he gave his son the same words of advice that his regional manager had given him shortly after he started in the business in 1961.
Ed Jr. said the advice was, “If you hang in there, give it time and stick with it, the renewals will come. My dad really carried me through a difficult time – those first two years were rough and I was under a lot of stress. He kept telling me, ‘If you stick with it, in a couple of years this will all be gone – trust me.’ ”
Ed Jr. never planned to join his father’s business. After graduating from the University of Georgia, Ed Jr. had the notion of pursuing a career with the FBI or Secret Service. But with no military experience and no foreign language fluency, he found he was not a candidate for a position with those organizations.
After six months of living at home in Jacksonville, Fla., with no employment opportunities on the horizon, Ed Jr. said, his father came to him with a suggestion – get licensed and work for him.
Ed Sr. had worked since 1961 for a company that is a household name today thanks to a feathered, raspy-voiced mascot. But back then, there was no “Aflac” and the iconic duck had not yet been hatched. So there was no brand recognition when Ed Sr. would call on prospects with the greeting, “Hello, I am Ed Parks with American Family Life Assurance Co. of Columbus, Ga.” and talk with them about buying cancer insurance.
“No one had any idea then what you were talking about when you told them who you were with,” Ed Jr. chuckled. “So the usual response from people was ‘You are who with what?’ or ‘What’s that?’ Now it’s, ‘I love the duck.’”
So Ed Jr. obtained his license. “But much to my surprise, my dad was not ready to turn me loose in his accounts. He said I needed to get my feet wet first, and he set up an interview for me with a local debit company owned by two brothers who were friends of his.”
Ed Jr. found himself selling debit life insurance, for which the agent visits the policyholder’s home on a weekly, biweekly or monthly basis to collect the premium. After Ed Jr. spent about a year collecting a few dollars per week from policyholders in some of the less desirable areas of Jacksonville, his father decided the time was right. Ed Sr. arranged for his company’s Northeast Florida regional manager to take Ed Jr. to lunch and explain the basics of selling cancer policies and accident plans in the workplace.
Once Ed Jr. went to work for his dad, he discovered that the company’s agent training was minimal, to say the least.
“Back then, when you got appointed with Aflac – well, American Family Life then – they sent you a box – one box – of supplies,” he recalled. “They sent you a box of brochures and applications and said, ‘Go get it.’ I was fortunate enough to have Dad, who had been in the business, give me some direction, and I made many sales calls with him to see how it was done. Of course he made it look easy. But it wasn’t.”
“He’s not a reticent person,” Ed Sr. said of his son. “He has persistence and he’s outgoing. He picked it up right away, and I was proud of him.”
Ed Jr. recalled one of his early sales calls with his father. “We went to the Jacksonville Electric Authority location where they had, I don’t know, 50 or 60 people, and he picked up 30 or 40 applications. I thought this was going to be a breeze, but it’s not when you do it on your own for the first several times. But it was a lot easier coming into it with someone who’s been in the business for a while.”
The life insurance business had not been Ed Sr.’s first career either. He sold real estate for a number of years before that. Ed Sr. said he found the real estate business had a major drawback – no renewal income.
“I could see that I had to sell a house to make a living,” he recalled. “I would sell one house, and then there was nothing coming in until I sold another one. And when that commission was gone, I’d sell another. I knew I didn’t have any future in that, so I got into the insurance business.”
The early days of selling insurance – particularly through a company that had little name recognition – were challenging, Ed Sr. said. “It was disappointing at times, but fortunately I had confidence in Aflac and knew the potential of it. You have to encourage people to stick with it and wait until the renewals build up. Fortunately I did that because I had no other place to go.”
Eventually, Ed Sr. would qualify for 18 consecutive national conventions. He made it into the company’s first President’s Club and qualified for it each year until he retired in 1981. Ed Jr. jokes that it would take at least one moving van to carry away all the boxes of his father’s plaques and framed letters for his sales achievements.
Ed Sr. is now 98. Ed Jr. is still appointed with Aflac but has branched out into the senior market, working mainly with Medicare Advantage plans and Medicare supplements. He plans to sell health insurance during this open enrollment season.
Ed Jr. said working together over the span of about a decade has strengthened his bond with his father. “From the business standpoint and a personal standpoint, we became better friends after I finished college and we started working together,” Ed Jr. said. “We were out fishing in the boat just about every Friday afternoon during the summer – or about nine months out of the year here.”
Ed Sr. said he is not surprised that his son has had a successful 40-year career in the insurance business. “I had a lot of confidence in him, and I thought he would be a success in anything he did.”
Looking back on the difficult early years in the insurance business, Ed Jr. said he is glad he took his father’s advice and didn’t give up: “I would gladly put up with those two years again in return for all the good years I had after that.”