Keep your promises. This is the most important piece of advice I can give. Tell people the truth, no matter how much it hurts. One of the things my dad told me is, “Everything that happens to you in life, good or bad, you can track it back to something you did or didn’t do to set that in motion.” Your word is the only thing you take with you to the grave.
As a part of our series about “Optimal Performance Before High Pressure Moments”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Allen Kerr.
Allen Kerr is the Senior Executive Vice President of Regulatory Affairs at OneShare Health, a non-profit Christian Health Care Sharing Ministry located in Irving, TX. Prior to joining OneShare, Mr. Kerr served as the State of Arkansas’s 23rd State Insurance Commissioner and was an elected member in the Arkansas House of Representatives, District 32, in Little Rock, AR.
In addition to his tenured career in state politics, Mr. Kerr brings to his current position over three decades of experience in insurance and financial services. In 1981, he opened the Allen Kerr Insurance Agency, and, by its first year of business, it was ranked Number One in production in a district of 40 established agencies.
Today, as the SEVP of Regulatory Affairs at OneShare Health, Mr. Kerr’s duties include navigating the regulatory industry as it affects OneShare and its Members. As a board member, he assists the company in maintaining its goals and ensures it has adequate, well-managed resources at its disposal. Mr. Kerr is an unequivocal asset to OneShare’s Leadership Team.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, on November 19, 1956. My parents were Depression-era folks; my dad spent 4 years in the Army during WWII, while my mother worked in the ordinance plant where ammunition was made. Eventually, they saved up enough money to buy a plot of land and start a chicken farm, and my three sisters and I spent our childhood cleaning chicken eggs (which, if you’ve ever cleaned newly laid chicken eggs, is just about the grossest job you could have on a chicken farm). By the time I was about 5 years old, my parents sold the farm after some of the larger chicken plants forced them out of business. We moved to Jacksonville Arkansas soon after.
Before long, our family was running a grocery store called the Handy Shopper. This time, instead of harvesting the chickens, we were retailing them. My dad was the meat cutter, my mother kept the books, and by the time I was 8 years old I was helping run the business.
I’d reached a minor turning point in my career as a grocer when, at 15 years old, I decided that $2 per week was a bit below my paygrade and my needs as a teenager. After a friendly discussion with my dad, I was, summarily, fired from my position at the Handy Shopper. Dad and I decided that I needed to find another job and learn how to work for someone other than family, so I worked at KFC for a brief period of time before moving on to my next retail store. (It so happens that, at the time, Arkansas’s Blue Law mandated that all retail stores be closed for business on Sundays, which sat much better with my mother, an extremely devout Baptist woman.)
Soon after applying at college, Dad was diagnosed with lung cancer — he was a heavy smoker — and the disease overcame him. At the time, I’d been steadily earning a paycheck as a RadioShack manager while taking classes, but after his passing I decided to quit school (and The Shack) to help my mother and three sisters run the grocery store. An entrepreneur at heart, I’d managed to start my own lawn-moving service, a horticulture business, and later obtained my real estate license. And that’s about the time I started feeling the “pull” towards insurance.
Every job interview I pursued seemed to be for insurance, but it wasn’t until I was sitting across from Jack Burchfield, a district manager for Farmers insurance, that I finally stopped resisting what I believe God intended to be my calling all along. Soon, I leased an office from another one of Mr. Burchfield’s agents and, despite not having a college degree, made a career out of selling insurance. Within 5–6 months, I became the #1 salesperson in Mr. Burchfield’s district, and by the time I left, I was the #1 salesperson in five districts. It was just a matter of believing in myself at that point and, quite frankly, the need to support myself and my family.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career as an entrepreneur or business leader? We’d love to hear the story.
Honestly, some people are just born with a calling. My mother used to get so frustrated with me because she could never tell me what to do. She knew I was born to run something. And Jack Burchfield, the no-nonsense guy that he was, told me that if I wanted to achieve anything I needed to “Go out and do it.” It didn’t matter what number I hit; his concern was always “What have you done for me lately?” He always kept me on my toes.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
As survivors of the Depression and WWII, my parents had been groomed into no-nonsense people. My father, a WWII vet standing at about 5’5 always told me that I could do whatever I wanted to do, that if I focused on something long enough I would be able to do it. He was always encouraging me.
And, of course, my wife, Marliese. I wouldn’t have even a fraction of these professional accolades without her influence. When Marliese came to work for me (this was before we were married), it released me to be able to focus on the business side of things more. That kind of mentality was very natural to me because of how I was raised. A lot of people ask how we’re able to work together, and I tell them that it works as long as we don’t do the same job! Plus, we respect each other — we’re teammates.
When I decided to run for public office, she said, “OK. What do we do first?” And, together, we ran four successful campaigns for office before I moved on to being Insurance Commissioner. We worked side by side for almost 30 years. I’m the one who takes all the risk, and she’s the one who pulls back on the reigns if I go too far. She is, by far, the reason I’m successful.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
If you aren’t from the South, then the significance of football may be lost on you. People in Arkansas, well, they’re about as serious as a heart attack when it comes to Razorback football. One Saturday morning, Marliese and I decided to start campaigning before the games started — back then, going door to door was the only way to make an impression. It was about 9 o’clock, and a gentleman came to answer the door…buck naked, beer in hand. I’ll never forget it! I guess my big takeaway from this moment was that I needed to be ready for anything at any time.
The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?
Number One: Show up. This means bring your A-game, your enthusiasm, your knowledge, your confidence — not to mention, a pen and paper! — wherever you go.
Number Two: Show up on time. I’m not sure when we started to deviate from this, but “on time” means showing up 5 to 10 minutes before your appointment.
Number Three: Keep your promises. This is the most important piece of advice I can give. Tell people the truth, no matter how much it hurts. One of the things my dad told me is, “Everything that happens to you in life, good or bad, you can track it back to something you did or didn’t do to set that in motion.” Your word is the only thing you take with you to the grave.
Number Four (bonus): Dress the part. I’ve worn a suit ever since I was 18 years old. It doesn’t matter if I’m working from home, I still have a suit on. The only time I ever dress down is when I’m mowing the lawn, and even then, all I’m missing is my tie.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I have several. In fact, I have floor-to-ceiling bookshelves full of motivational books by authors like Tony Robbins, Michael Gerber, Hans Finzel, and the late Ronald Reagan. I’ve read all of Mr. Reagan’s life work, biographies, notes, you name it. But one of my favorites is called The Power of Failure: Succeeding in the Age of Innovation by former Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkenton. In it, he tells us that failure is an inherent part of being successful. You have to fail; if you’re afraid to fail, then you’re afraid to succeed.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
See if you can place this quote: “Never give up, never surrender!” The reason I like this quote so much is because perseverance has been one of the major themes of my life, especially when it comes to my education. I look back at what I’ve been able to accomplish in spite of not having a college degree, and I’m extremely proud. You would be surprised at how much information you tend to absorb when you never have a piece of paper that tells you you’re done learning. The fact is, there are all kinds of ways a person can get an education — I’ve read all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays (Hamlet being my favorite)!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
My current project is OneShare Health. I want OneShare Health to be one of the best — if not, the best — Health Care Sharing Ministries out there. We have potential to do really great things, and I’m going to take my business and life experience to help our CEO Alex mold this HCSM into something awesome. I want to help as many people as I can, especially when it comes to health care.
One of the reasons I entered the insurance industry is because my dad died without it. I think people should have as many options as they want, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be insurance. I would really like OneShare Health to be the household name when people think of HCSMs.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. As a business leader, you likely often face high stakes situations that involve a lot of pressure. Most of us tend to wither in the face of such pressure and stress. Can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to cope with the burden of stress?
The first strategy I would recommend is to get plenty of sleep; it’s the only way you can get your mind, body, and spirit right. Secondly, devote a small part of your day — and doesn’t matter when — to contemplating what the rest of the day is going to bring. I do this by reading the newspaper first thing every morning after I’ve settled into my office chair and eaten my Chick-fil-A breakfast. Thirdly, you have to learn how to triage problems quickly and effectively. Don’t overcomplicate things. Establish the core issues and deal with them one by one. Finally, find time to commune with God. Before those high-pressure moments I always recite this prayer: “God give me the courage to say what I need to say and to keep my mouth shut when I need to keep my mouth shut.”
Aside from being able to deal with the burden of stress, can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to optimize your mind for peak performance before high pressure, high stress situations?
Over time, I’ve learned that we’re built like racecars: the more resistance we endure, the better we perform. When I’m preparing for high-stress moments, I take a deep breath, clear my mind, and dive right in. I’m not always conscious that I’m doing these things, though, so I’m not really sure you could call this a ‘strategy.’
Do you use any special or particular breathing techniques, meditations or visualizations to help optimize yourself? If you do, we’d love to hear about it.
No, no breathing techniques or meditation. I don’t hunt, fish, play golf, or even go bowling, although I have tried it all. I am, however, a certified open water diver and self-proclaimed movie buff. All of my kids have grown up sitting on my lap or beside me watching all kinds of movie genres from Star Wars to Indiana Jones. But the genre I am most drawn to is the Romantic Comedy. My kids, wife, and I all talk in movie linesto the point of basically creating our own language.
I am also sort of a renaissance man in that I can rebuild a Mustang from the frame up, build a room on the back of the house wiring, plumbing and all (which used to really be something, but of course, nowadays, all you need is a YouTube video).
Do you have a special technique to develop a strong focus, and clear away distractions?
I wear a rubber band around my wrist a lot of times to try to “draw energy away” from subject matter that makes me nervous; it’s a Toni Robbins technique. Every time I snap it against my wrist, it helps me redirect my emotions, refocus, and “snaps” me out whatever spiral I’m on so I can reset. It’s quick, easy, and very handy.
We all know the importance of good habits. How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?
First impressions are everything, and you make the best first impression when you look professional. When you look professional, you’ll feel and act professional. My wife has always told me that it never hurts to be the best-dressed person in the room. You want to dress one notch above everyone else because when you do, people tend to look at you in a different light.
What is the best way to develop great habits for optimal performance? How can one stop bad habits?
First, you have to recognize the bad habit. Then, you have to put things in place to prevent that bad habit. For example, I know someone who leaves their phone at home all the time. If they’d just put a note on their mirror or steering wheel, they could easily prevent this habit. It also all depends on what you consider a ‘bad habit.’ Is saying “um” or stuttering a bad habit? If you think so, then you just need to focus on how you can change those things.
At the end of the day, everybody is a work in progress. I’m 63 and there’s still tons of room for self-improvement.
As a business leader, you likely experience times when you are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a state of Flow more often in our lives?
You’re talking about ‘being in the zone.’ I love being in the zone. When you get into something that you’re really good at, be it insurance, politics, or helping manage a grocery store, it’s a high. How do you get into the zone more often? Know your subject matter; know what you’re talking about, and you’ll achieve that ‘Flow’ more often.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
The best way to inspire movement is to live a life inspired by example. That is to say, be an example to as many people as you can. Every day you get out of bed and leave the house, you’re inspiring a movement, and if my movement, my example, can help just one person, then my day is made.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
Sadly, the person I would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with is no longer with us. What I wouldn’t give to have an hour with Mr. Ronald Reagan. I’ve read everything about him: his memoirs, his notes, all of it. The way the man’s mind worked was phenomenal, and he’s one of the kindest men you’ll ever meet. I’d also be privileged to dine with Bill Gates, Fran Tarkenton, or Pat Riley.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Please feel free to check out my LinkedIn profile, Allen Kerr, at https://www.linkedin.com/in/allen-kerr-45b692106/.
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.