Illinois Mutual: A Century of Success

Photo by Kevin May, kevinmay.com

Illinois Mutual Life Insurance Company, headquartered in Peoria, is a premier provider of life insurance, disability insurance, workplace insurance and annuity products. The company conducts business in 47 states through more than 18,200 independent agents, with approximately 200 employees working in the home office. Illinois Mutual was recently ranked no. 127 among the Top 200 Life Writers in the U.S., based on more than $1.2 billion in admitted assets.

Illinois Mutual is also a family business, with four generations of the McCord family having run the company since its founding 100 years ago in 1910. Michel A. McCord has been president of the company since 1990 and also serves as chairman of the board. Executive Vice President Katie McCord Jenkins, the fifth generation of the family, is poised to help lead the company into its next 100 years.

 

Michel A. McCord, CLU
President and Chairman of the Board

Describe some of the unique philanthropic activities and community projects in which you are involved, and what the company is doing to mark its 100th anniversary.
Community involvement is important to me. I currently serve on the Central Illinois Chapter of the American Red Cross, Salvation Army Advisory Board, WTVP Board of Trustees, Bradley Board of Trustees, Heartland Partnership Board, CEO Roundtable and Peoria Riverfront Museum Board.

Illinois Mutual is proud of our long-standing tradition of investing resources in area organizations to meet the community’s needs. In 2010, to commemorate our centennial anniversary, we created our Year of Caring Program, which allowed organizations to apply for grants and awards to develop projects or programs that will positively impact the community. Our support of the community is not only monetary but also demonstrated through employee volunteer work. Employees donate thousands of hours each year to organizations such as the Salvation Army, Red Cross, United Way and the Boy Scouts.

Without insurance agents selling our products, there isn’t a company. Agents have been and are an immeasurable part of our great history. A meeting and celebration was held for the “best of the best” Illinois Mutual agents in early May. At a celebratory reception, we recognized those agents and agencies that have 50+ year relationships with Illinois Mutual, as well as top sellers who are just beginning to have their mark on the company. Agents enjoyed networking with each other and hearing from company leadership that the best is yet to come.

What have been the biggest changes at Illinois Mutual since you were last interviewed for iBi in 1998?
The Internet and other technology advancements have produced many changes in the way we communicate and process our business. In fact, almost every aspect of our company is now in electronic form; we no longer maintain paper files. From new social networking presence and an internal corporate newswire to a web-based enrollment system and improved agent portal, we see such strides as new opportunities for us to expand the breadth and scope of our business.

How did the recent recession impact the insurance industry and Illinois Mutual specifically?
The recession has impacted all businesses and industries, and Illinois Mutual is no exception. Our more recent sales results reflect this impact, and we have seen diminished investment opportunities of quality high-grade bonds. However, we have experienced many economic cycles over our 100-year history and have managed through them successfully. This time is no different.

What did you learn most from your father and grandfather about running the business?
They both taught me hard work, dedication, honesty and integrity. I admire the passion they had for the business and the company, as well as the genuine caring nature towards employees.

Most family businesses do not make it past the third generation. How have you managed to grow the company and remain a family-owned business?
Running any business and remaining successful is difficult, but if you are skilled and in an industry that you enjoy and are well suited for, you can work to make a company grow and be profitable. Offering competitive products that are effectively and aggressively sold are all necessary to survive for 100 years and beyond. Further, the company must always have core values of personal and friendly service, honesty and integrity, and strive for fairness for all parties—all provided by hard-working, dedicated employees who like what they do.

Do you think that passing a business from generation to generation helps to keep the original vision intact?
A business can successfully pass from generation to generation if each succeeding generation of the family likes the business, has a passion to be in the business, has the skills to perform as an effective leader, and has an understanding of how to build on past success. Each of the first four generations had all those traits, as does the fifth generation. Katie, her leadership team and all employees will continue to make Illinois Mutual a financially sound, growing mutual life insurance company for many years to come.

How do you carve out time to just be with family and not discuss work?
I have always tried to balance my time and energies between business and family. It is important to separate business from family by having no discussion of business during family time.

Anything else you would like to add?
The way we see it: At 100, we are just getting started! As we start our next 100 years with the leadership and skills of the next generation, I believe the best is yet to come.

I have been most fortunate to have had a career working with many hard-working, dedicated, good people. It could not have been a better career because of all those people.

 
Katie McCord Jenkins
Executive Vice President

Describe your current position and duties at Illinois Mutual and community involvement.
I have top and bottom-line responsibilities for Illinois Mutual’s lines of business, in addition to overseeing many operational functions. I play an integral role in developing corporate policy, strategy and objectives.

I chair the Strategic Planning Group, an internal committee focused on defining and executing the goals of the company, which has been paramount in solidifying Illinois Mutual’s position for long-term success. The company’s Leadership Development Group relies on me as committee chair; this group focuses on strengthening the organization’s general management team through personal awareness and growth exercises with the goal of sharpening individual leadership skills to better the organization. As chair of the Enterprise Risk Management Committee, I lead the committee in defining all risks (strategic, operational, financial, business and regulatory) that could affect the achievement of the goals and objectives of Illinois Mutual and ensures the risk mitigation function is embedded within the company’s decision-making processes. Finally, my role on our annuity, disability insurance and life insurance product committees, as well as work on our investment committee, helps to ensure that our corporate products are the most innovative and competitive in the industry and backed by financial stability.

» Illinois Mutual: Four Generations of Leadership

O.L. McCord founded the Illinois Woodmen Accident Association in Danville, Illinois in 1910. Under his leadership, the company relocated to Peoria in 1913. The company was reorganized in 1916 under the Old Line Mutual Act, resulting in the name being changed to Illinois Mutual Casualty Company. O.L. McCord served as president and general manager until his passing in 1935.

E.A. McCord filled his father’s position and became president of the company in 1935. The first home office, located on Liberty Street in downtown Peoria, was purchased during his presidency. The company initially entered the life insurance market in 1958, and the first policy was issued to his grandson, M.A. McCord. E.A. McCord led the company to its 50th anniversary in 1960 and became chairman of the board in 1963.

R.A. McCord became president in 1963 after his father was named chairman. He guided the company through major changes during his time as president, including the installation of the company’s first mainframe computer in 1964 and the construction of the current home office on Adams Street in downtown Peoria in 1979. R.A. McCord was named chairman of the board in 1983, after 20 years of serving as president. He became chairman emeritus in 1990.

M.A. McCord assumed the position of president in 1983 and became chairman in 1990. Under his direction, the company reached more than $6 billion in in-force life insurance premiums, launched its first website, participated in the first ever Life and Disability Insurance Awareness campaigns, changed its name to Illinois Mutual Life Insurance Company and celebrated its 100th year of business in 2010.

I’ve been involved with many great organizations in the community over the years. Simply put, Peoria is a great place to be. Giving back to a community that has given so much to my family and me is a great feeling.

Beyond the Peoria community, my commitment to industry-wide organizations is also evident by former membership on the Inter-Company Marketing Group board, where I was instrumental in developing key strategic alliances and business relationships with insurance and financial services companies for Illinois Mutual. My current role on the board of directors for the Council for Disability Awareness aims to help the organization reach its mission of helping the American workforce become aware of the growing likelihood of disability and its financial consequences.

What did you learn most from your father and grandfather when it comes to running the business?
I have learned a lot from them, most especially from my father because I have worked with him closely. He is an outstanding example for all of us at Illinois Mutual. Every day for the last 16 years, I have seen him live and demonstrate these principles:

  • “Nothing happens until a sale is made.” While there are many, many parts of the business that are critical to our success, none of them have a chance to contribute if we don’t have sales. We differentiate ourselves not only by our products, but also by being accessible and focused on helping agents develop their business. We’re looking forward to continuing to provide new products and tools to help them be even more successful working with Illinois Mutual.
  • “Policyowners pay our way, so give them top service every day.” As a mutual company, we are here to serve and keep our promises to our policyowners. Our service model is about providing—every time—the best personal service experience that includes compassion for those who are on claim or who are navigating a difficult time. We’re proud that our promise to them continues 100 years later and will continue for a long time to come. 
  • “Our business is about people.” At the end of the day, we need to remember that a company is made up of people. Policyowners and agents are people just like us. When you remember it’s about people and stay true to the core values of respect, integrity, teamwork and accountability, the company will succeed. 
  • “Work hard and never let up!” Every good business is made up of hardworking people who focus on continually improving and relentlessly pursuing the organization’s purpose and goals. Our team lives this every day.

Tell us about your progression through the company.
I was exposed to what a great company Illinois Mutual is when I started working as a summer employee during college in areas such as the supply department, policy processing and eventually, the sales division. I joined the company full-time shortly after finishing my bachelor’s degree from Boston University as a management trainee, focusing my skills in building the sales and marketing divisions. I became an officer of the company by 2001 and in 2006, was elected into the board of directors, a position I still hold today. I recently earned my master’s of business administration from Bradley University, and took on responsibilities related to the company’s overall operations. I love what I do and enjoy the challenges each day brings.

Four generations of McCords have made their mark, not only on Illinois Mutual, but on the Peoria area as a whole. Do you feel pressure to live up to that legacy?
I think it is natural to feel some pressure, but I don’t mind that because no matter what you do or who you are following, you want to do a great job. This is a component to the challenge every leader has to embrace, or why do it? I know there are comparisons to leadership styles too—yet my goal is to be a successful leader for our organization that is authentic to me and for the times in which we are living.

What is in the future for Illinois Mutual?
As my dad stated, at 100, we are just getting started! We’re working on new technology platforms that will enable us to provide agents and policyowners better, faster and more efficient ways of doing business with us. We will continue our leadership in the disability insurance market with an upcoming new product release in 2011, along with a new critical illness product. We are focused on continuing to develop our life insurance market as well through new cross-selling strategies. Our policyowners have put their trust in Illinois Mutual, and we will continue to manage our business conservatively to ensure our promises to them are always met. iBi


The following article about O.L. McCord, founder of Illinois Mutual, was published in 1924, most likely in the Peoria Journal-Transcript, precursor to the Peoria Journal Star.

 

“Smile and have a lot of fun out of life, and you’ll succeed.”

Hooray!
You can have a lot of fun in this life and still make a big success in business.

In fact, you not only CAN, but you SHOULD have a lot of fun, if you want to succeed.

That’s the pleasantest rule for success which the interviewer of these successful Peoria men has yet discovered.

It is formulated by O.L. McCord, president of the Illinois Mutual Casualty Company, and Mr. McCord has a perfect right to make such a statement, for, starting only 14 years ago, he organized the Illinois Mutual company without any capital of his own, and he has built it to its present proportions.

Of course it is a rule which must be modified and defined, if you want to make it workable, just like all rules.

Mr. McCord does not mean that you can neglect your business all the time for some sport, or that you can ruin your health by dissipation and late hours, or that you can indulge yourself constantly and pamper yourself and let your work slide when it interferes with your pleasure, and still be successful in business. That, on the face of it, is impossible.

But he does mean that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, that plenty of wholesome fun puts pep and vigor into a man, makes him clear-headed and full of purpose, and gives him a sense of ability and poise, that laughter and jollity takes the kinks out of a man’s disposition as well as out of his mind, and, in short, that having fun doesn’t make a man neglect his business, but gives him more energy and more desire to do his work well.

All the Same
This point of view was so interesting to the writer that she inquired into it thoroughly. Should “fun” be considered a relaxation and a relief for work, or should work be considered just another kind of fun?

Mr. McCord didn’t think that successful businessmen look upon fun as a relief from work—something for which you tear through your day, something to escape to, after slamming down the lid of the office desk with a sigh of happiness that another dull day’s tasks are finished.

He thinks that the men who are successful are the men who look at work and play alike as fun—just different kinds of fun or play. Of course, he admits, some men don’t like all kinds of play. For instance, he himself doesn’t care about boating, but he pointed out one successful Peoria man who is crazy about boating. And, on that basis of thought, some men may consider their work fun, and that may satisfy them so thoroughly that they don’t need any of the kind of fun the rest of us call recreation. But Mr. McCord thinks that most successful men have so much vitality, so much natural enthusiasm and exuberance, that they will enjoy their work, whatever it happens to be, and will enjoy one or two forms of sport or exercise in addition, and will work hard at the sports, and get a lot of fun out of the work—if you get the idea.

In other words, Mr. McCord feels that work and play are interchangeable and that it is enthusiasm, interest, the kind of keen delight in excelling which makes a man work like the very dickens at anything he does, whether it’s the grain business, or golf, or selling insurance, or collecting butterflies, or law, or swimming, which makes for success.

So Mr. McCord’s recipe for success is not so very different, after all, from the rules which say that you must work hard, and apply yourself. I think he means that one must meet one’s work in a spirit of enjoyment, that one must look at life and work as a tremendously exciting game, and then throw oneself into it with every ounce of enthusiasm and interest he has.

Be Happy
You can’t worry, you can’t gloom, you can’t be irritated, you can’t whine, you can’t scold, you can’t let yourself be blue, he says. You’ve got to use courage and confidence. You must not let yourself feel unhappy.

“Smile and have a lot of fun out of life, and you’ll succeed,” insists Mr. McCord. “I never have scolded an employee. If he’s no good, I fire him. If he’s rotten at his work, but has possibilities, I encourage him. It doesn’t pay to growl. Make friends with your employees and your patrons both, and your business will grow.

“Health and vitality are big factors in success. How can a man be happy when he feels rotten? You can’t do good work if you’re sick. You can’t be well if you worry. The three all go in hand in hand. Don’t worry, keep well, be happy. What if you have bad luck? Other men have failed in business. You can always start over. It’s never too late to begin if you’ve got your health. Honesty, promptness, application—these, too, are all good rules. But the main thing is to have a lot of fun.”

Mr. McCord’s life bears out his statements. He has lived by these rules.

He was born in Granville, Illinois, in 1865 and started school in that town, but soon after his family moved to a farm near Danville in Vermillion County, and he went to school there.

“I didn’t have any education, except what I gave myself,” states Mr. McCord. “When I was 20 years old, I left the farm, went to Danville and got myself a job as a salesman in a men’s clothing store. I stuck to that job for 17 years, playing a little bit in politics on the side.

“Then they asked me to run for county treasurer, and I did, and won in every precinct of the county. I was county treasurer of Vermillion County for four years, and all this time I had an agency with an insurance company.

“When I finished serving as treasurer, I decided to organize my own insurance company. I had learned the insurance game in the meantime, I knew insurance law, and I decided to write a different kind of policy. I organized the Illinois Mutual Casualty Company. It took hustling to write enough business to put that company on its feet, for you see, I started with no capital and it was not a stock company, but a mutual company. I rented a little office for $20 a month, left a girl in charge, (and she was a good office girl too), and I went out and hustled. Then I got agents, and I made it a point to get good agents.

To Peoria
“The company grew. At the solicitation of the Peoria Association of Commerce, I moved the home office of the company to Peoria 12 years ago. We now do business in five states and have made a net gain every year but one, during the war when the flu was so bad. We have a premium income of $200,000 a year and an $80,000 surplus, and we have paid out about $100,000 in health and accident claims in Peoria city alone. I have about 600 agents.

“I have a number of offers of good salaries with other insurance companies, but I prefer to manage my own company. It’s more fun. I expect to build a bigger company before I get through.”

Mr. McCord likes to dance, he plays golf, raises a garden, and is a poultry fancier. He has a hobby of judging poultry shows all over the country and is judge every year at the Illinois State Fair, as well as serving as chairman of the committee on the poultry show at the Greater Peoria Fair.

He claims to belong to nearly every club in town. He is a member of the Peoria Country Club, the Automobile Club, the Creve Coeur Club, the Optimist Club, the Ad Club, the Elks, the Shrine, and a number of others.

He believes in picnics and dances and lots of good times for his employees and is always planning something to take them out-of-doors in summer, or gives them a party in winter.

“They work all the better for the fun,” he claims.

He believes in women in business, and says they can do all that men can, and often more.

Mr. McCord looks 40 instead of 60 and has the look of a man who gets what he preaches—lots of fun in life. iBi

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