I'm always up for a good spy flick. The intrigue, gadgets, explosions, and disguises all provide serious entertainment for me. It doesn't matter if the movie is about James Bond, Jack Ryan (Hunt for Red October), Ethan Hunt (Mission Impossible), Jason Bourne (Bourne Identity), or Agent J (Men in Black), I'm ready to pop up a bowl of popcorn and settle in for a couple hours of adventure.
I'm fascinated by the cool gadgets and disguises the characters use to hide their weapons and conceal their identities. I've always thought it was the imagination of Hollywood that created this image of being a spy, but that all changed when I met James Olson, a former Central Intelligence Agent (CIA) undercover agent and now a professor at Texas A&M University. Jim opened my eyes to the realities of modern day spying, and let's just say, Hollywood has some catching up to do!
“Our gadgets are so much better than [Hollywood's],” Olson said. “When you retire, you're supposed to turn your gadgets in. Some of them are just too good.”
When I met Jim Olson, I'll admit, he didn't look the part. He's an unassuming man who grew up in Iowa. While he's incredibly fit for his age, you would be more likely to think he was a banker than man trained to kill with his bare hands.
Jim was recruited to the CIA after he completed law school and a tour in the Navy. He accepted a position with the CIA's clandestine service, which covertly gathers information and secrets from other nations. Originally, he thought he'd be a spy for just a couple of years and then return to his original plan of becoming a small town lawyer. Thirty-one years later, he and his wife, Meredith, retired from the CIA so he could accept a professorship at Texas A&M's Bush School of Government and Public Service. I guess he liked it more than he thought he would!
Jim and Meredith, who he met at the CIA, worked in tandem undercover. They gathered intelligence on the Soviet KGB during the Cold War. In other words, they chased a lot of Russians in their careers.
Jim told an amazing story about a time when he was to meet a Soviet KGB agent who wanted to exchange secrets for an opportunity to escape the Soviet Union. The meeting involved rolling out of his family's car on the way to the Embassy to escape Soviet surveillance, dressing as a Slavic worker with full face and hand masks and coveralls, dealing with the fear of being ambushed, wandering the streets of Moscow all day until the 10:00 pm meeting, and finally dealing with the consequences of getting off the Soviet radar screen when he finally returned home.
Parallels to the Insurance Business
To say that Jim's story was riveting would be a serious understatement. He definitely got me thinking about what freedom means in this country and how important it is to have men like Jim protecting us overseas. His stories also got me thinking about how being an undercover agent is a lot like being an insurance agent.
1. Serve and Protect
When you are a CIA agent, your job is to serve and protect your country. These men and women sacrifice their lives to live covertly and risk being caught by the foreign countries they spy in.
At Haas & Wilkerson, we also serve and protect our customers. We are here to understand and mitigate risk. When something goes wrong for our customers, it's our job to protect them with the right coverage and get them back on track as soon as possible.
2. Think Ahead
A spy is always trying to stay one step ahead of the enemy. They have incredible intelligence that keeps them up on potential threats. They are always on their toes.
At Haas & Wilkerson, that's our job too. We are always researching and examining the risks associated with running a business, theme park, carnival, rodeo, state fair, etc. The more we can anticipate liability and injury risks, the better we are at protecting our customers.
3. Look for Trends and Connections
A CIA agent is an expert in their field. When Jim was spying on the Russians, he learned to speak perfect Russian, plus he learned all of the customs, body language, and cultural affectations necessary to blend in. He was schooled in all the public policy issues of the Soviet Union. He was probably one of the most knowledgeable people in the world on Soviet foreign policy.
At Haas & Wilkerson, it is our job to be an expert in our customers' industries so that we can anticipate issues and serve their needs. Part of our business is in the niche area of rodeos, fairs and festivals, and water parks. To be effective at providing the insurance needs for these entertainment venues, we need to understand their businesses backwards and forwards.
4. Follow Through On Your Promises
As a CIA agent, Jim often had to make promises to potential informants that were tough to keep. He had to gain the confidence of people who could have easily turned on him when he was collecting intelligence, and he had to deliver on his promises when he got the information he needed.
At Haas & Wilkerson, our word is our promise. It's our job to stick it out with our customers through thick and thin. If we insure a business and it has a claim, we're focused on getting the business back on its feet, not how much we are paying out in the claim.
I'm proud to be an American and an insurance provider. I recognize how easy I have it in life because people like Jim and Meredith Olson are willing to serve in the CIA and protect our country from terrorist threats. Unfortunately, we live in a dangerous world, but knowing that CIA agents are giving their all to keep us safe is comforting. I hope that when our customers think of Haas & Wilkerson and the insurance products we provide, they too feel safer and more protected because they partnered with our company.
If you love spy stories as much as I do, please check out Jim's book — Fair Play. It's a fascinating read that will really make you think outside the box office!
What's your favorite spy flick or book? Tweet @haaswilkerson or comment on the blog!