Stanley Dean, 74, has an answer at the ready when anyone questions his refusal to retire.
“Why should I tell my company to quit sending me a paycheck?” asks Dean. “I love what I do.”
Still, Dean is clearly in exceedingly rare company, a legitimate throwback in a demanding and high turnover business. He's been an insurance agent or manager with State Farm since 1971, first in his native Alabama, and since 1984, in Florida. Even more remarkable: Dean recently expanded his Venice-based State Farm business, when he was one of a handful of agents nationwide chosen by Bloomington, Ill.-based State Farm to open a second location.
Dean expanded with youthful exuberance. In February he bought a 3,368-square-foot building in St. Petersburg, a few miles north of the Skyway Bridge, to house the new office. He paid $516,500 for the property, a onetime Colonial Bank branch built in 2007, according to Pinellas County property records. Dean also hired two new agents, including one who will be the St. Petersburg office manager.
“I don't know what I'd do if I retired,” says Dean. “I've never even thought about retirement.”
State Farm has traditionally allowed agents to run only one branch, but it launched a test program for individual agents nationwide to expand earlier this year, spokeswoman Michal Connolly says. Agents had to submit long-term business plans to get the go-ahead.
The offices Dean runs have 13 employees and sell the full gamut of State Farm products. With the state of the current property insurance market in Florida, that means he's selling a lot of auto policies these days.
Dean splits his time between the Venice office and the St. Petersburg location. He works most days with Oliver, his curly white bichon frise dog, at his side.
State Farm financial representative Tracey Ganner, who is also Dean's de facto top manager, is blown away by her boss's work ethic. She tries, but normally fails, to beat Dean to the office. “He's the first one in and the last one to leave,” says Ganner. “His mind is always engaged in the business.”
But while Dean might look the part of distinguished insurance salesman, it's a business he got into mostly by accident. A veteran of the U.S. Marines, Dean intended to become a college chemistry professor after he graduated from the University of Alabama.
After college, however, Dean took a job as a chief chemist for a cement plant. He never pursued his professorial dreams again. “Once you make good money,” says Dean, “it's hard to go back to being starving, which is what I would have had to do to be a Ph.D.”
In 1971 Dean gave insurance a try. He sold door-to-door in several small Alabama towns. He discovered he was good at it, and it paid well. He liked the customer interaction the best.
Within a few years, Dean was on a management track. He moved to Florida in 1984, and opened the Venice office a short time later. Even though his work today requires a lot of management, Dean longs for the interaction of a salesman.
“I don't like management,” says Dean. “I'm pretty good at it, but I don't like it as much as a I do being an agent.”