Growing up in Jacksonville, Ill., Reginald Rabjohns wanted to be a basketball player. In Illinois, as in much of the Midwest, basketball was king.
One small problem: Rabjohns stopped growing as a high school freshman.
“Where I had been average at least, now all of a sudden I was in the bottom half of the group as far as height,” he recalled.
Others may have made that setback permanent, but Rabjohns just switched to football and wrestling. As an adult, he won trophies in handball.
After he became an enormously successful insurance agent and leader of various associations, Rabjohns took up running and completed five marathons.
He drove a car with the license plate “YesUCan.” That attitude and the willingness to keep pushing forward to improve made Rabjohns enormously successful.
After 51 years in financial services, Rabjohns, 71, and his wife, Micheline, are “scaling down.” He remains chairman and CEO of Secure Futures, an independent insurance brokerage outside Chicago.
Rabjohns will receive the John Newton Russell Award this month from the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors. His sales and management style made Rabjohns an in-demand speaker around the world — and will be his legacy, say friends and colleagues.
“He certainly has all the characteristics of an outstanding individual — character and honesty,” said John F. Nichols, president of Disability Resource Group in Chicago. “Respect is a big one of those. He has done the work. He has served and he continues to serve to this day.”
A Role Model
Like many young men in the late 1960s, Rabjohns wanted to join the military and fight the communists in Vietnam. Although he was accepted into the Marines, an old wrestling injury prevented him from serving.
That left Rabjohns looking for a career. A college counselor asked him a simple question: “Who influenced you?”
Rabjohns named an old Boy Scout mentor from Jacksonville named Joe Grojean, who sold life insurance. And with that conversation, Rabjohns had his profession.
Hard work followed and success came quickly as the Rabjohns settled in Chicago. He became a State Mutual agent while still in college and qualified for his first Million Dollar Round Table meeting at 22 years old — the youngest ever to do so.
In 1974, Rabjohns became a life member of MDRT at just 27. He averaged 125 paid life insurance contracts annually, and “never has less than one appointment a week,” a brief bio from that period reads.
The secret to selling was never a secret at all, he says today. Believing in yourself, believing in the product, and being confident in approaching potential clients were and remain what it takes to be a successful agent.
“I had the discipline to go out and do it exactly as they said to do it — exactly,” Rabjohns recalled.
In the old days, that meant a lot of cold calls. The settings might be different today, but the idea of approaching a skeptical potential client and making a difficult pitch remains the same.
“It’s ridiculous because nobody has ever been hurt by talking to somebody on the telephone,” he said. “But instead people change it up. They say, ‘Gosh, this doesn’t feel right.’ Well, then you learn to make it feel right.”
Like many young professionals, Rabjohns sought mentors early on in his career. A pair of colleagues filled that role, industrious agency men who belonged to MDRT.
“Fortunately, I listened to them,” Rabjohns recalled. “I figured out these guys were the most successful. They seemed to have more smiles on their face than everybody else. Why wouldn’t I just do what they do?”
So, getting involved, being a leader and giving back to the industry became a key plank in Rabjohns’ credo. Leadership roles would follow not only with MDRT, but with The American College, GAMA International, the Life and Health Insurance Foundation for Education, and other Chicago-based organizations.
He became an in-demand speaker, delivering talks on financial services in 25 countries and 42 states.
“If someone needed a speaker for an event, Reggie would be there, and he had a wealth of experience and stories relevant to the people there,” said Brian H. Ashe, a colleague whose friendship dates to the 1960s. “He was able to successfully combine pursuing success for himself while at the same time giving back to the industry.”
All along the way, Rabjohns refined the timeless sales and financial advice approaches that delivered him to the top of the industry.
“My takeaway was that if you want to be with the big boys, you got to be acting like some of the big boys, and the big boys do things differently than guys who are average or below average,” he said. “It’s a little bit harder, but it’s just getting in the right habit.”
Those winning habits included pursuing membership roles in industry associations, putting in 12-hour days if necessary, and adopting a positive, winning mindset.
Rabjohns never needed convincing that life insurance is a must-have product. So he was able to talk to potential clients with a confidence that he had something they needed, and something they would want if he did his job right.
“The product is not the deal. The price is not the deal. The problem is the deal,” he said. “There are more people with the need (for life insurance) and the ability to pay than there are agents with enough courage to ask.”
Then there’s the other side of that transaction. Rabjohns once sold a woman who did clerical work in his office about $200,000 worth of life insurance. It was a bigger policy than she thought she needed at the time.
Later, after the woman left the company, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. After a period in remission, the cancer returned and she died in her early 40s.
But two days before her death, she called Rabjohns to thank him for the policy. Her children would never have to worry about what college to attend, or how to pay for it, she told him.
“She said, ‘You changed the life of the people that I love the most because you took care of what needed to be taken care of,’” Rabjohns recalled. “Times like those are just really life-changers as far as my sensitivity. I think they make me a better person overall by far.”
The Team Concept
After many years as a State Mutual agency, Rabjohns disagreed with the direction the company chose to go and switched to New England Life in 1997. His shop would become one of the top-producing New England agencies.
Along the way, Rabjohns earned an industry reputation for strong retention and recruitment of the best agent force. Nichols worked closely with Rabjohns on associations and felt the force of his positive personality and leadership.
“On occasion you would get that call from Reggie, who would just encourage you,” he said. “You know, just an ‘I’m proud of you’ along with a few words of wisdom.”
During trips to industry events, Rabjohns would rent “the largest suite I could get” and host as many of his team as he could fit. Those bonding trips made the agency closer and more productive, he said.
During his five decades in the industry, Rabjohns received most every award to be had. In 2008, he received the prestigious Huebner Gold Medal from The American College, the institution’s highest honor.
All of his success and time devoted to the business side of things never came at the expense of family, Rabjohns said. The Rabjohns had three children, including a mentally challenged son, Christian, who died in July 2017.
“I’m not the person who did it all by himself. If it weren’t for my wife, no one would have ever heard of me, and there is no doubt about that,” Rabjohns said. “And we have been a great team now for almost 51 years.”
From their home base of Northbrook, about 25 miles north of Chicago, the Rabjohns lived a thrilling life. Activity and adventure were predominant themes. Rabjohns got his pilot’s license and bought a plane. He owned boats and went scuba diving.
Daughter Stephanie and son Joshua were both Division I athletes and are married with their own families. The Rabjohns have four grandchildren.
As Reggie manages his departure from the financial world, there will be more trips to the beach. And plenty of family time. He remains heavily involved with community organizations such as Lutheran Church of the Ascension.
It is a life made possible by a fear-free commitment to being happy and successful, Rabjohns said.
“I’m just one guy doing my part in this happy life,” he said. “If it feels too good to be true, tough luck. It is true, so it may as well work for you.”