Coffee Break: Byron Udell, Owner, President & CEO of AccuQuote in Wheeling
Q: Describe your company.
A: Serving families in all 50 states with financial protection for over 32 years, AccuQuote monitors the rates, features, and financial strength of hundreds of top-rated life insurance products and is committed to finding the best values for consumers in the life insurance marketplace, as well as providing clients with the best service in the industry.
As one of the nation's largest and leading independent life insurance quoting and brokerage firms, AccuQuote has helped over 200,000 satisfied clients and, since inception, has placed over $100 billion of life insurance in force. Our clients save time, save money, and skip the three-hour kitchen table faceoff as virtually all of our business is done right over the phone.
Q: Do you plan to hire any additional staff or make any significant capital investments in your company in the next year?
A: Yes. We continue to grow and are always looking for talented individuals to help us!
Q: What will your company's main challenges be in the next year?
A: There are so many opportunities in our business -- over half the people in the U.S. have no individual life insurance, and those that do, on average, have only about three times their income in coverage. We live in a tragically underinsured nation. Think about it: if you owned a home worth $350,000, would you even consider insuring it for just $100,000? No way! Why individuals continue to underinsure the economic value of their future income is incomprehensible, and we have spent the last 32 years shouting that from every rooftop. It's a big job and a constant challenge, but we continue to make progress.
Q: What's the hottest trend in your industry?
A: The life insurance industry isn't exactly a hotbed of innovation, but there are some interesting new developments. One is in the product arena; new products allow you to access your death benefit for long term care (LTC) needs. In other words, with these policies, you don't have to die to win. I own this product myself, and have one for my wife as well.
Long term care is something that two-thirds of us are going to need. Separate LTC policies are very expensive and don't have guaranteed level premiums, so the price you sign up for can and does change during the time you own the product.
Some major LTC companies have raised premiums 100% or more, and they continue to do so. With these new LIFE/LTC combo products, consumers don't need to worry about the price changing, as it is guaranteed level forever.
You can even pay it off early in a limited number of years so that you contractually own it forever with no further premiums due.
Q: If you had one tip to give to a rookie CEO, what would it be?
A: Whatever it is you do, chances are others have already done it, and some have done it very well and made a lot of money doing so. Of those, many have written books about their experience, sharing their secret sauce. These books are worth their weight in gold. Buy them. Read them.
Q: Do you have a business mantra?
A: Learn from the mistakes of others and study and copy those who have already done it well. Spending time to reinvent the wheel is stupid, and can be incredibly expensive.
Q: From a business outlook, whom do you look up to?
A: Gordon Bethune and Bob Benmoshe. Each was a transformational leader with an amazing track record of taking giant companies that are in the midst of chaos and failure and turning them around quickly. Their stories are incredible, inspiring, and useful to any leader hoping to make a difference.
Q: What is one interesting fact about you or your company that most people may not know?
A: Unlike virtually every other company in our space, I started AccuQuote without any outside capital. Everyone told me it would be impossible, but we were able to do it. Over the years we have resisted many overtures to go public. Instead, we decided to stay private and independent, and so far that has been a great decision.
Q: What do you like to do in your free time?
A: I love to spend time with family and friends at my vacation getaway in Colorado. I also like to ski, play golf, read, mountain bike, road bike, go hiking and play tennis.
Q: What book is on your nightstand?
A: The Essence of Success by Earl Nightingale
Q: What keeps you up at night?
A: The tremendous responsibility I have to communicate the virtues of our products with our clients and to get as many folks protected as possible. I also believe it's my duty to create protégés so that when my time is over, there will be others to share the passion I have for life insurance.
I know I'm unusual (almost freakish) in my passion for a product most people think is boring, but that I truly believe is the most amazing product mankind ever invented, with one exception (the wheel).
Q: If you were not doing this job, what do you think you would be doing?
A: Probably something in education because I believe our system is terribly broken. We have been doing the same thing for decades and it's not working. If I could, I'd change a lot about it, including making sure our young people are getting the information they need to have successful, productive and happy lives. The three Rs are simply not enough.
Q: What was your first paying job?
A: Cutting lawns and shoveling snow for neighbors in Lincolnwood.
Q: If you could put your company name on a sports venue, which one would you choose?
A: I absolutely love the Masters, but Augusta National is sacred and should remain that way! They never would, nor should, allow it to be commercially tainted! I have always been a Cubs fan, but Wrigley Field, too, is sacred, so I could never steal the naming rights there. This question is just way too hard for me!
Q: What is one funny thing that has happened to you in your career?
A: This isn't related to my career, but it's pretty funny.
Before we built our home, we had to knock down the old house that was previously on the lot. The builder called me during the final walk-through and told me they found a large bag of cocaine in the house. I was totally freaked out -- they called the police -- but over six hours later, when I finally was told what was going on, they told me, "Oh, no big deal ... turns out it was just a bag of dry powdered plaster of Paris!"
Q: Two people to follow on Twitter and why (besides your company):
A: My son, @imJQ (Jake Udell) because what he's doing in the music business at such a young age is beyond inspiring, and my daughter, @WholeSam (Sami Udell), who turned her passion for healthy eating into a gig as a personal chef for stars like Ludacris, DeMarcus Cousins, Two Chains, and many more that I am not allowed to mention!
Byron Udell Owner, President & CEO AccuQuote 1400 S. Wolf Road, Building 500, Wheeling, IL 60090 Industry: Life insurance Annual sales: More than $10 million Number of employees: 100 Website: www.accuquote.com Age: 60 Family information: Resi