EMPATHY AND EDUCATION
Young agency owner leaves teaching career and wins PIA national award
By Christopher W. Cook
American ragtime composer Scott Hayden once said, “Teachers have three loves: love of learning, love of learners, and the love of bringing the first two loves together.” Andrew Skaggs, agent and owner of Skaggs Insurance Agencies in Indianapolis, Indiana, began his professional career in the teaching field before taking over his family’s agency.
“I think teachers are some of the best insurance agents, and a lot of agents and agency owners I’ve talked to have had past teaching experience,” Skaggs says. “A lot of teachers have empathy or else they wouldn’t be teaching, and then our main goal as an insurance agent is to educate and make sure that our people are covered correctly and that we can verbalize and explain differences and needs.
“It’s really helped me being a lifelong learner with being able to use the know-ledge that I’m gaining to educate those that I’m working with,” he adds. “It helps you approach the business in a different way.
“We aren’t an agency that cold calls or really pushes,” Skaggs explains. “We just try to help people, even if that means that we’re not the right place for them. Our goal is to help find the right place.”
Helping others, especially those with special needs, has always been a priority for Skaggs, who double majored in elementary and special education at Indiana State University.
“I participated on a unified basketball team in college as I was studying for my degree,” Skaggs says. “Being around individuals with disabilities through volunteering has always been one of my passions; I think it was always something I was meant to do.”
After college, Skaggs took a full-time special education teaching position at Noblesville High School in the north Indianapolis suburbs, where he also helped create and coach a unified track and field program during the 2013-2014 school year. “The program started with 13 teams in the state and now there are well over 100,” he says. “They compete for state titles in track. My team never won at state, but we were state runner-up at one point.”
Although Skaggs leaves the field of teaching (more on that coming up), he still shows his love for working with individuals with disabilities by volunteering with Special Olympics of Hamilton County.
“My biggest worry of leaving teaching was not being around my students, and I wanted to make sure that without teaching I could still help,” Skaggs says. “The lessons you learn about life through Special Olympics; I’m lucky to be a part of it.”
Skaggs currently serves on the Special Olympics of Hamilton County board and as a basketball coach.
“The board helps get the program all the resources it needs, plans events, and gives the athletes the best opportunities possible,” he explains. “Our goal is to not have any athletes pay to play so we get involved with fundraising.”
At the time of our interview, Skaggs was planning the group’s annual golf outing.
“I’m a big golfer,” Skaggs says. “I don’t get to play like I used to, but I like to get out and play as much as possible. I also still play a little bit of basketball, but I’m older and slower now,” he adds with a chuckle.
Speaking of basketball, coaching is “probably my favorite thing with Special Olympics because I get to spend time with the athletes. It’s a chance to learn life lessons through wins and losses and trying to get better by practicing.”
Skaggs’s agency also benefits the Special Olympics by donating $15 to the organization in the name of each person who make a referral.
“Every referral, no matter what, whether we write the business or not,” Skaggs says. “There’s no stipulation to it; it’s just a way to pay it forward. It helps an organization that means a ton to me and has been part of my life for a long time.”
The move to insurance
Though not his original game plan, as with many children of family agency owners, the insurance industry eventually called out to Skaggs.
“My dad started the agency in the early 1980s, so I grew up around insurance,” he says. “He was thinking about transitioning out of the agency or looking towards retirement, and we just started talking more. I decided I was ready to make a career change.”
Skaggs joined the agency in 2016, where he was able to work with his father and eventually purchase the firm. The agency has seven employees, if you include the agency founder.
“We kept him on payroll as a mentor and to help with long-time clients,” Skaggs says. “He comes in when we need him, but he also gets to enjoy being somewhat retired.”
Skaggs credits his father for being his biggest mentor in the industry—his other being Mark Shoultz, vice president of commercial insurance services at Priority Risk Management in Fishers, Indiana.
“We grew up down the road together and he had a similar route; he joined his dad’s agency about five or six years before I joined mine, so when I came in, he was and still is a huge help to me,” Skaggs says. “He was involved with the Professional Insurance Agents (PIA) of Indiana, especially the Young Agent Committee, and started bringing me in and getting me more involved. I followed his lead.
“We have been involved as a PIA agency as long as I can remember, especially since I’ve been an agent here,” he recalls. “With the Indiana PIA, every-thing is focused on the agents and agencies, and they provide value to us through events, education or networking.
“Insurance can be a lonely business,” Skaggs notes. “When I left teaching, my two main things were to make sure that I can help people every day, but also, I was worried that I’d be losing that peer engagement that we had as teachers. The PIA brings agents and agencies together to where you don’t feel so alone in the industry.
“I owe a lot to the PIA for not only what they do for the industry,” he adds, “but for me individually, with education and meeting new agents and being able to network and find people I can learn from, and just gain knowledge and utilize it.”
Remember how Skaggs mentioned that he followed the lead of Mark Shoultz? This year, that statement couldn’t be truer. In 2020, Shoultz was named the PIA Indiana Young Insurance Professional (YIP) of the Year. This year, Skaggs was awarded the honor. But things went a step further when he was also named the 2021 PIA National Young Insurance Professional of the Year.
“I normally have words for everything but I’m a little speechless,” Skaggs says. “If you look at the past winners in Indiana—the last five or six years—that list has some great young agents on it. Even to be on that list was an honor and then to find out I won the national award, I’m in disbelief; it just means a lot.
“I believe in the PIA and what they’re doing for our industry; that partnership is important and to find out that they’ve given me this honor, it’s just the icing on the cake,” Skaggs continues. “Recognition isn’t why we do what we do, so when we do get it, it’s a good feeling.
“I’m just kind of starting with the PIA, so we can do a lot moving forward,and it’s going to be a long-standing partnership,” he notes. Skaggs is currently a member of the YIP Committee and will start on the Industry Relations Committee this year.
“Being around individuals with disabilities through volunteering has always been one of my passions; I think it was always something I was meant to do.”
“I haven’t been the chair of anything or the head of any committees, but I participate in pretty much any commit-tee they ask me to be a part of,” he concludes.
Although busy with the agency, PIA, and volunteer opportunities, Skaggs enjoys spending as much time as possible outdoors with his wife and daughter, who was born in early 2020. And as we all continue down life’s path, remember to continue learning and teaching others. As Irish poet William Butler Yeats once said, “Education is not the filling of a pot but the lighting of a fire.”