Salute to Service
A BRIGHT CAREER FOR VETERANS
Focus on teamwork, discipline and assisting others preps ex-military for agency ownership
By Christopher W. Cook
What a strange year 2020 has been, and the bizarreness continues as we enter November. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The U.S. presidential election. The invasion of the crab people—I wouldn’t eliminate that as a possibility quite yet. While we’ll soon be starting the holiday season and eventually wrapping up this interesting year, it’s important to pause and remember an important holiday this month: Veterans Day, an opportunity to honor those who have served in the country’s armed forces.
In 2019, Brightway Insurance was named a top franchise for veterans by the Franchise Business Review. Eighty companies made the list, with Brightway finishing 29th—its third consecutive year of being recognized. With head-quarters in Jacksonville, Florida, the company has an instant connection to former military personnel.
“Jacksonville is a military town,” says Michael Miller, president and CEO of Brightway. “I grew up here, and there are two military bases here so we’re very aware of the military and the critical role they play in guarding our freedoms.”
Brightway, one of the largest personal lines agencies in the country, empowers entrepreneurs to own and operate franchises. Today, the company has over 240 locations across 25 states. The system has nearly 1,000 people, including 270 employed at the home office based in Jacksonville. To support veterans, the firm offers ex-military personnel a discount when they start a franchise.
“A lot of the skills that military personnel needed for a successful career in the armed forces are exactly the skills that we find make a good franchisee,” says Miller. “To encourage them to own their own business and build their own business dreams, we give veterans a 10% discount on their franchise fee.” The discount ranges from $500 to $6,000, depending on which franchise model they invest in.
To connect with veterans in the area and across the country, Brightway became a member of VetFran. A program of the International Franchise Association Foundation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, VetFran’s mission is to educate both veterans and franchisors about the unique match between the skills and aptitude of entrepreneurial veterans and the demands and opportunities of being a franchisee.
According to VetFran’s website, veterans make up only about 7% of the U.S. population but account for 14% of all franchisees in America. Veterans are more likely to hire others and share the opportunity and prosperity. VetFran’s leadership committee includes a number of veterans who, because of their deep commitment to the veteran community, volunteer their time and expertise.
Two Brightway franchise owners shared with us their military stories and thoughts on why the insurance industry is ideal for veterans.
Air Force Mechanic (Crew Chief) Seuffert
Eric Seuffert, owner of Brightway Insurance, The Seuffert Agency located in Cape Coral, Florida, joined the Air Force in the late ’80s after high school.
“I served for over 14 years, starting out in Tampa at MacDill Air Force Base; I was an aircraft mechanic or crew chief,” says Seuffert.
Seuffert’s military career took him to South Korea, South Carolina, Germany and then Phoenix.
“When you were assigned to a base, you would be assigned an aircraft and that aircraft was your responsibility for as a long as you were stationed there,” Seuffert says. “You handled all the maintenance on it: airframe, hydraulics and engine work. If compon-ents were bad, we would repair them.”
Seuffert’s work as a mechanic would eventually end, but his maintenance career would continue.
“Toward the end, my knees were bad. I began teaching for the last few years of my career,” he adds. “I taught airframe, hydraulics and engine maintenance and was the lead F-16 hydraulics instructor for the entire Air Force for about two years.”
After leaving the Air Force, Seuffert worked as a senior loan officer for JPMorgan Chase, but he always had an interest in insurance.
“Right around the time of Hurricane Irma in 2017, my wife, who is a real estate agent, and I were thinking about how our incomes could be wiped out if the hurricane destroyed the housing industry,” Seuffert says. “I was always interested in insurance and called a few insurance agencies. Brightway stood out as the most responsive.
“I started my career as an agency owner. Brightway walked me through the entire process, with training, hiring and marketing, pretty much every detail needed to open. I could never have achieved my level of success on my own.”
Seuffert is planning to open his second agency location, in South Cape Coral, by the end of the year.
“I had thousands of questions, but Brightway always had someone there to help me,” he says. “Training is ongoing. You always have an individual you can go to each step of the way.”
Navy Petty Officer Third Class Fitzpatrick
Gary Fitzpatrick, owner of Brightway, The Fitzpatrick Agency in Marietta, Georgia, joined the Navy in 1983.
“I served on active duty for three years, followed by three years in the U.S. Navy Reserve,” he says. “I was first stationed at the Naval Air Station—located in Millington, Tennessee—for A school, which is technical training for a military trade.” Fitzpatrick’s rating was AE—Aviation Electricians’ Mate.
“I served in a bomber squadron in Virginia Beach, Virginia, then transferred to a fighter squadron,” he adds. “I served aboard the USS John F. Kennedy and the USS Forrestal, where I worked the flight deck as an AE troubleshooter for our squadron.”
Fitzpatrick’s duties during his time aboard included maintaining and troubleshooting the computer equipment on F-14 aircraft.
After leaving the Navy, Fitzpatrick became interested in the insurance business after talking with some friends about the opportunity.
“I spent many years in the healthcare industry, where I still own a business and do some consulting,” Fitzpatrick says. “I wanted a new career that would reduce my travel and allow me to manage my own future.”
A career for veterans
With its focus on teamwork, discipline and assisting others, military service provides a strong background for a career in the insurance industry.
“Insurance is an amazing industry, especially for veterans,” says Miller. “To enlist in any of the armed forces, in your heart you have to be the kind of person who cares about advancing the greater good, whether it be your country or your community. You’d never do that if you didn’t care.
“At the heart of every good insurance agent is the exact same thing. The industry is not a ‘get rich quick’ scheme; in a sense you’re a first responder. You’re going to protect every person you insure from a catastrophic event and financial ruin. Military people enjoy helping people, and a good agent does that every day.”
“Insurance draws on everything I learned in the military,” echoes Seuffert. “On the flight line, fighter aircraft are extremely lethal weapons. Depending on the mission or training objective, the aircraft was always loaded with missiles and bombs. They were literally designed for destruction. Everything on an aircraft could hurt or kill you; you can never let your guard down. Your first responsibility was always to protect your team and keep them safe.
“Insurance is very similar. We protect our clients and keep them safe from the consequences of car crashes, hurricanes or fires. Similar to the Air Force, my new team is also focused on safety and protection.
“My agents have their own niches, which is something I picked up in the military,” he continues. “One person could be a great engine mechanic who struggles with hydraulics or vice versa. Likewise, some agents are better with complex commercial accounts and others excel in life insurance, but everybody does their part. My military experience really helped: the discipline, the teamwork, building teams and keeping them together.”
Miller agrees with the value of discipline.
“Military people love the structure; they are comfortable following a system,” he says. “‘If I do these 30 steps, I’ll get to the end successfully,’ and that’s exactly what we hand them in our playbook. We spent years fine tuning our processes and procedures.”
Determination is also key.
“A big takeaway for me from the military was that with determination I could do anything,” Fitzpatrick says. “I have held leadership positions in large nationally known companies as well as smaller startup companies. My determination to succeed has always outweighed the possibility of failure. My military training gave me the confidence to step up and take on new challenges.
“The military is a melting pot. We help and serve each other. Insurance
is a great way to continue to help and serve others. It can be tough. We have to maintain our determination to succeed. Veterans can make great agents when they bring their experience of problem solving and relationship management,” he concludes.
For more information:
Are you a veteran working in insurance or know one who would like to share their military story and insight on veterans working in the industry? If so, please email details as well as contact information to Chris Cook, editor (firstname.lastname@example.org).