Staying Ahead of the Game: Lessons From a Former CIA Agent


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's Story

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.  

Final Thoughts

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!

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Transforming Autism: Making a Difference in Kansas City


Have you ever thought about what it would mean to have an autistic child in your family? The diagnosis, the education, the costs, the day-to-day realities?

Today, more than 3.5 million Americans live with an autism spectrum disorder. According to the organization Autism Speaks, autism is the fastest growing developmental disability with the diagnosis of children in the U.S. increasing by 120 percent since 2000.

Here are some sobering statistics on autism from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Autism affects 1 in 68 children.
  • Boys are nearly five times more likely than girls to have autism (1 in 42 boys).
  • Autism costs a family $60,000 a year on average.
  • It costs more than $8,600 extra per year to educate a student with autism.
  • Lifetime care of an individual with autism spectrum disorder is estimated to be nearly $2.4 million.
  • There is no cure for autism.

A Bright Spot in Kansas City

In the Kansas City metro, it is estimated that there are more than 8,200 children living with autism. Luckily, we have an incredible resource focused on serving this community —the Kansas City Autism Training Center (KCATC). It is a school, a resource, and a “teacher of teachers.” We at Haas & Wilkerson are so impressed by the work they do and the impact they are making on our community.

KCATC transforms lives daily by bringing the latest science in autism treatment, research, and teaching techniques to the families that need it most. A unique quality of KCATC is its focus on building individualized and hands-on programs for children and their families.

A Little Background

Kansas City Autism Training Center accepted its first students in 2006. Since then it has grown into a community that currently serves 50 students. Year-over-year growth is 30 percent, and KCATC is expected to reach capacity in its current facility by the end of 2015. The good news is that the services of KCATC extend beyond the four walls of the school. Annually, the organization provides countless consultation, referral, outreach training, and autism support programs throughout the region. Last year more than 70 additional children and their families were assisted by KCATC outside of the school.

Autism advocacy and education about the science underlying successful autism treatment is a cornerstone of the KCATC mission. The 30 staff members all have degrees in applied behavior analysis or a related field. Seventeen percent have master’s degrees and another 15 percent are working toward their advanced degree. These teachers have studied with the leading scientists and researchers in autism education. As KCATC grows, it continues to focus efforts on improving autism education methods and sharing those practices locally and nationally.

Importance of Autism Education

Autism education is not just important to children and adults living with an autism spectrum disorder, it is also important for our society. Autism services cost Americans $250 billion annually, and the majority of that money is spent on adult autism services. That is why Kansas City Autism Training Center is so committed to supporting and teaching children early, so they can live the best life possible.

According to the Autism Society, the lifelong costs of autism treatment can be reduced by two-thirds with early diagnosis and treatment. Thirty-five percent of autistic young adults have not held a job or received a college education after leaving high school. KCATC dramatically improves that reality for young adults with autism who have participated in their programs. Outcome-focused autism programs like KCATC make a world of difference.

How You Can Help

In 2013, Haas and Wilkerson began sponsoring the monthly breakfast meeting for Accelerent, a national organization bringing business leaders together to grow their respective companies. At that breakfast, we saw an opportunity to highlight a regional not-for-profit to raise awareness and engage the business community to support causes important to the health and well being of our region.

At our February 2015 Accelerent breakfast, we chose to highlight KCATC because of the incredible work they do in serving the autism community in our region. They are a hidden gem that deserves greater awareness and support!

We invite you to learn more about KCATC and participate in their civic leader orientation program that offers an up close look at what they do daily. It’s worth your time. To learn more, please visit KCATC’s website at

What community causes are important to your business? Please share by tweeting @haaswilkerson or commenting on the blog. 

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January Accelerent Breakfast powered by Haas & Wilkerson Insurance

Thank you for attending the January Accelerent Breakfast powered by Haas & Wilkerson Insurance.

I would like to thank my Accelerent Partners and their guests for embracing the Accelerent nonprofit initiative we launched in January 2013.  As a collective, we have made an impact in our community and have provided support to several local nonprofit organizations.  At the breakfast last November we asked that you re-engage with one of the 16 nonprofits already touched by our Accelerent community.  Today I want to shift your attention to Art Bra KC.

Art Bra KC  is a unique and fun auction event showcasing eclectic work-of-art bras modeled by breast cancer survivors to celebrate their triumph over cancer.  A tribute to survivors’ fighting spirit, Art Bra KC’s mission is to uniquely celebrate breast cancer survivors and provide funding for Kansas City area organizations that provide life-empowering services to uninsured and underinsured individuals who have been touched by cancer.

During the main event, approximately 70 work-of-Art items are auctioned live and in a silent auction.  These one-of-a-kind Art Bras are designed and created by family & friends of survivors, local artists, celebrities and volunteers.  The “Top 25″ bras are modeled by breast cancer survivors and auctioned off during a live Fashion show. In addition, over 40 pieces of amazing art objects are featured in the silent auction. All art is donated by local artists and features artists from the Crossroads District live.

In just four years, Art Bra KC has raised over $500,000 for the Patient In Need (PIN)  Fund at the KU Cancer Center, opened an ABKC Appearance Center at Truman Medical Center and has served close to 2,000 uninsured-underinsured cancer patients!  All money raised stays within our local community!

I connect to Art Bra KC’s mission because both my mom and my step-father are Breast Cancer survivors.  Do you connect as well?  If so,  please consider supporting the mission by becoming a sponsor of the May 1, 2015 event being held at the Downtown Airport in Kansas City, Missouri.  For more information please see the attached documents and contact Michelle Lockman at 816.682.0329 or

Thank you for helping Art Bra KC with their mission to celebrate breast cancer survivors.   My team and I look forward to seeing you at a future Accelerent event.

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November Accelerent Breakfast powered by Haas & Wilkerson Insurance

Thank you for attending the November Accelerent Breakfast powered by Haas & Wilkerson Insurance.

Next week most of us will enjoy time off from work, time with family, and some delicious leftover turkey sandwiches complete with cranberries and stuffing on the side.  We will pause to give thanks and we will reflect upon our lives realizing just how lucky we really are.      Thanksgiving is perhaps my favorite holiday; there is just something about it that makes me happy!   It made my dad happy as well.   For him, it was all about bringing together the ones he loved so he could recognize them, celebrate them, and spend quality time with them.

Years ago, this familial passion for the holiday infiltrated the building at Haas & Wilkerson Insurance.   Come fall, everyone on staff anxiously awaits the annual holiday feast.  Just like at home, every member of our Haas & Wilkerson family has a special dish they enjoy making and sharing.  As you can imagine, our plates overflow with the most amazing dishes and desserts.  For me and my brother Ryan, as it was for our dad, Bill, we enjoy this day because we get a chance to publically recognize and give thanks to our employees, to celebrate milestone anniversaries, and spend quality time with them.

As I start to reflect upon 2014 and realize that Haas & Wilkerson Insurance has now been a part of Accelerent for two years, I can’t help but think about the impact this business development platform has had on me and my company.  Our business network has widened, we have brokered new business opportunities in both commercial lines and personal lines.  We have engaged the services of many our Accelerent Partners.  We have new friends, cheerleaders, and mentors supporting us in our daily lives.  We are grateful.   The group is dynamic and the people involved are generous sharing not only business opportunities, but also time, money, and resources to the 16 not for profit groups we introduced as part of the Accelerent Nonprofit Initiative.

In 2013, many of you joined in to support:

    • Big Brothers Big Sisters Kansas City
    • Harvesters
    • Sleepyhead Beds
    • American Heart Association
    • First Tee
    • Guadalupe Centers
    • New House Shelter
    • Johnson County Christmas Bureau
    • Arts & Recreation Foundation of Overland Park – 911 Memorial

And in 2014, you supported:

    • American Red Cross
    • Negro League Baseball Museum
    • Big Brothers Big Sisters Kansas City
    • Happy Bottoms
    • Don Bosco Centers
    • Heart of America Chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation
    • KCPT Public Television 19
    • Higher MPact

Although hard to visibly see, I know that as a group we are making an impact.  I want to take a moment to share some words of gratitude from a few of the nonprofit agencies we supported:

  • From the Guadalupe Centers: We are thankful for you and the Accelerant group in Kansas City for allowing us the opportunity to display our programs and the good work we do in the community.
  • From Sleepyhead Beds: I can’t tell you how powerful and beneficial it is to have had you tell our story to almost 400 business leaders in the community.  Your efforts will touch hundreds of kids and strengthen our young agency.
  • From Don Bosco Centers: Thank you, thank you, thank you!!  You helped to make a difference for 200+ people!
  • From NewHouse Shelter: Thank you for partnering with us to truly make a difference in people’s lives.
  • And from Higher MPact: We appreciate your investment.  Thanks for making an impact.

In closing, my ask today is that you re-engage with one of the 16 nonprofits already touched by our Accelerent community.  I know they need you continuing support and that they would be grateful during this holiday season.

Thank you.  Have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.

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October Accelerent Breakfast powered by Haas & Wilkerson Insurance

Thank you for attending the September Accelerent Breakfast powered by Haas & Wilkerson Insurance. 


I would like to thank my Accelerent Partners and their guests for embracing the Accelerent nonprofit initiative launched in January 2013.  As a collective, we have made an impact in our community and have provided support to several local nonprofit organizations.  At the breakfast in September we asked you to engage with KCPT Public Television 19.  Today I want to shift your attention to Higher M-Pact.


Higher M-Pact’s founder, Tyrone Flowers, can spot a leader amongst a group of high-risk youth a mile away.    Unfortunately, they are usually leading in the wrong direction. Tyrone will tap those youth and engage them in Higher M–Pact’s programs, thus changing the direction in which they are leading…hence changing their lives.  That is what they do:  they transform high-risk urban youth into tomorrow’s leaders; leaders in their communities and leaders in their families. 


Higher M-Pact’s core client base consists of  high-risk urban youth ages 11-18. Many of these youth were told they’d never amount to anything because they’d be dead or incarcerated before adulthood.  Most are so consumed with meeting their daily needs that they never think about what tomorrow could hold – let alone their hopes and dreams 20 years from now. 


The typical high-risk urban youth are born out of wedlock and are living in a matriarchal household;  They experience and witnesses violence, incarceration and death on a frequent basis in their homes and communities; They are chronically truant from school and often placed on long-term suspension;  Their day-to-day activities are the focus of life, rather than the future; And their primary relationships are with peers.


Higher M-Pact intervenes by motivating and engaging these youth through intense, long-term mentoring and positive guidance to break this negative pattern. They help them transform obstacles into opportunities and create a solid foundation for a successful future. 


I mentioned that Tyrone Flowers engages the high risk urban youth into Higher M-Pacts programs.  Well, A few weeks ago Haas & Wilkerson was honored to receive the Higher M-Pact Career Explorers into our building for a few hours.  Not sure what to expect, we were nervous!  Upon their arrival, Ryan and I introduced ourselves and told them a little bit about our educational backgrounds and how it came to be that we are now third generation leaders of an independently owned insurance company.  Our nerves were quickly calmed as we informally got to know the very polite and well-dressed young men.


From there, members of our staff escorted the Explorers on a tour through our building making sure to visit all aspects of the business operation and taking time to talk to various department Managers, Account Executives, Account Managers, Producers, Processors, and even the CFO.  I was so excited to see the Explorers engaging with our staff by asking great questions and it was rewarding to listen to our staff speak with pride about their educational backgrounds, job duties,  and what it is like to work at Haas & Wilkerson Insurance. 


Upon completing the tour, Ryan and I sat back down with the Explorers and presented a little Insurance 101.  We then welcomed questions as we at pizza and sipped soda.  As the Explorers prepared to leave the building, we rang the bell and as a staff we thanked Higher M-Pact for allowing Haas & Wilkerson Insurance the opportunity to share our stories with the Career Explorers.


The time we spent together was invaluable.  Today, I would like to invite you and your business to have a similar experience by joining the growing list of area companies who have shared their place of business and employees with the youth of Higher M-Pact.  


Thank you for helping Higher M-Pact with their mission to instill hope and inspiration in the lives of high risk urban youth and every life they encounter. 

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September Accelerent Breakfast powered by Haas & Wilkerson Insurance

Thank you for attending the September Accelerent Breakfast powered by Haas & Wilkerson Insurance.

I would like to thank my Accelerent Partners and their guests for embracing the Accelerent nonprofit initiative launched in January 2013. As a collective, we have made an impact in our community and have provided support to several local nonprofit organizations. At the breakfast in June we introduced Cystic Fibrosis Foundation: Heart of America Chapter and encouraged you to attend the KC Wine Opener. Today I want to shift your attention to KCPT Public Television 19.

KCPT Public Television 19 isn’t your father’s public television station. There is more than you realize going on under the big tower in midtown Kansas City! KCPT is reinventing public media in Kansas City to better serve the community through high quality television, fiercely independent local journalism & AAA radio shining a spotlight on KC’s best local talent.

How is KCPT accomplishing this?

Locally Focused Television Programming

o On a national level, some of the best television around- the Downton Abbey, Frontline, Newshour and Sesame Street

o Focusing on issues, topics and stories that matter with shows like Ruckus, Kansas City Week in Review & Arts Upload

The Hale Center for Journalism

o 100% regionally focused, digital news service with stories being distributed online and via social media.

o Stories of entrepreneurs, education and healthcare, science & innovation- all happening right here at home.

o Providing our community with the information it needs to participate in the economic, political and cultural life of our community.

The Bridge- 90.9 FM

o An NPR Music station with a focus on the promotion of local arts and the development of a vibrant local music scene.

o Broad playlist featuring everything from Bob Dylan to the Avett Brothers with local favorites like The Grisly Hand & John Velghe.

o 909 Sessions- exclusive music performances and musician interviews offered to individual & corporate supporters.

KCPT, like our Accelerant group, believes in the power of engagement to improve our community. A region engaged in the sharing of information and culture will create a civic and business community that will benefit us all in many ways. Today I ask that you engage with KCPT as a corporate partner or an individual member. To learn more and to schedule a tour of the studios, please contact:

Rebecca Johnson, Senior Account Manager, Corporate Partnerships



Ted Place, Executive Director for Community Development



Thank you for embracing the Accelerent nonprofit initiative. As a collective, we can make an impact in our community by providing support to local nonprofit organizations like KCPT Public Television 19.


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June Accelerent Breakfast powered by Haas & Wilkerson Insurance

Thank you for attending the June Accelerent Breakfast powered by Haas & Wilkerson Insurance.

I would like to thank my Accelerent Partners and their guests for embracing the Accelerent nonprofit initiative launched in January 2013.  As a collective, we have made an impact in our community and have provided support to several local nonprofit organizations.  At the breakfast in May we introduced  Don Bosco Centers and encouraged you to help them with their wish list items.  Today I want to shift your attention to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation: Heart of America Chapter.

The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation serves the Cystic Fibrosis (CF) community, which includes people with CF and their families, volunteers, and donors in the entire state of Kansas and the western half of Missouri.  Cystic fibrosis is a life-threatening genetic disease that primarily affects the lungs and digestive system.  An estimated 30,000 children and adults in the United States (70,000 worldwide) have CF.  In people with CF, a defective gene and its protein product cause the body to produce unusually thick, sticky mucus that clogs the lungs and leads to life-threatening lung infections.  In addition, it obstructs the pancreas, stopping natural enzymes from helping the body break down food and absorb vital nutrients.  People with CF can have a variety of symptoms including very salty-tasting skin; persistent coughing, at times with phlegm;  frequent lung infections; wheezing or shortness of breath; poor growth and slow weight gain, in spite of a good appetite;  and frequent greasy, bulky stools or difficulty in bowel movements.

The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation is the world’s leader in the search for a cure for CF. The Foundation funds lifesaving research and works to provide access to quality, specialized care and effective treatments for people with CF.  Nearly every CF drug available today was made possible because of Foundation support. Through its efforts, the life expectancy of a child with CF has doubled in the last 30 years, and research to find a cure is more promising than ever before.

The Heart of America Chapter volunteers plan, organize, and implement various fund-raising projects throughout the year. Their calendar of events includes: formal and informal dinner dances; a fund-raising walk, Great Strides; golf tournaments; a sporting clay tournament; bowling tournaments and many other wonderful events.  Today I want to invite you to participate in the Kansas City Wine Opener scheduled for August 28th at Union Station.  From wine novices to advanced wine enthusiasts, The Wine Openeris a casual and fun evening for all experience levels!   Savor great cuisine presented at festive tasting stations where the area’s hottest chefs prepare their specialties just for you.  Discover the marketplace where local and national purveyors of fine foods, wines, liquors, and wine-related items present interactive displays for your enjoyment.  Along with delicious food and wine pairings, and the sights and sounds of the marketplace, guests will be treated to lively auctions and entertainment.

Individual tickets are typically $70.  However, we are asking that you consider participating in the Kansas City Wine Opener Corporate Partner Program.  Corporate partner ticket holders are entitled to all the benefits of the standard ticket but at a discounted rate of $60 per ticket, $40 of which is tax deductible.  Contact Jillain Williams with the Heart of America chapter at 913.384.8997 if you are interested in participating.

Thank you for embracing the Accelerent nonprofit initiative.  As a collective, we can make an impact in our community by providing support to local nonprofit organizations like the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation: Heart of America Chapter.

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