Of all things why did R. Douglas Therrell choose to resign tenure in a thriving department at a respectable college and pursue his next career in the casually property insurance field?
By the sixth grade, Douglas had already decided to be a college professor in music. He studied, practiced and performed at every opportunity from age 11 or 12. Douglas completed bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music within five calendar years, taking only one summer away from his studies and performing by taking a summer job spent mostly a top a large western quarter horse and sleeping in a pup tent. During his college career he received many accolades, performed the lead in multiple operas and dramatic productions, served as president of the school of music student body, received a graduate fellowship and was active in a variety of other related activities at Florida State University. Why then insurance?
Douglas Therrell found that he was about as surprised with his decision as his friends and colleagues on the faculty. He had started teaching in college at age 23 within 60 days after completing graduate school, received tenure at age 26 and at 31 shocked himself and others by resigning tenure, returning to Charlotte to join the Travelers Insurance Company. About age 26 Douglas began to experience what he referred to as entrepreneurial restlessness. On the positive side he often reflected on his multifaceted businessman grandfather and other relatives. By a humorous set of circumstances his best friend and business mentor in the college town was also the most hard nose, rigid self-made businessman that he would ever meet. Max Ammons was a man to love or hate but certainly not one to cross. Max and Douglas spent hours every week and sometimes every day discussing business, and economics and with Max preaching from his two secondary Bibles, the U.S. News & World Report, and the Kiplinger Newsletter.
When the 1929 depression hit, Max had his wholesale egg business office abruptly padlocked, his vehicles confiscated. He walked from Asheville North Carolina 26 miles to Mars Hill carrying his young son on his shoulders. With little money, a lot of vision and creativity and fortitude beyond belief Max shortly commenced rebuilding his business traveling to Indiana bringing in loads of eggs for the Western North Carolina market. Of Max, Douglas Therrell often reported that he was the toughest businessman he ever met in his entire life and through it all he was fair and honest but having no patience for those that were not or that lacked strong work ethic. At the time of their meeting Therrell was in his mid-20s and Max was in his 60s. “What a mentor,” Douglas would exclaim.
Having tasted a bit of the entrepreneurial world, Douglas grew more impatient with the slow moving, modest income prospects for the future. Some of his faculty colleagues were still teaching into their 80s. Performing and directing operas and musicals was still exciting but how many times a year did you get to do that. By then Dr. Hoyt Blackwell, that hired Douglas, the beloved longtime College President and uncle of the then President of Florida State had retired. In fact, Therrell co-wrote and directed an elaborate production for Dr. Blackwell’s retirement banquet. So, at age 31, Therrell did the unthinkable and resigned his tenure.
Return To Charlotte, NC
Douglas Therrell then returned to Charlotte to try his hand at business while realizing that he would likely be back teaching within a couple of years. With the assistance of his Mars Hill mentor, Max Ammons, Therrell had already launched one business venture. After due consideration Douglas decided that any new endeavor should be a service business. Lacking in training and experience the prospect of borrowing vast amounts of money for equipment and hard goods seemed to be an unwise risk.
The Travelers Insurance Company was just setting up a Nationwide Program with a three-year duration. The program provided education and marketing training in all of The Travelers product lines, commercial casualty property, securities, surety, group health and others, as well as a salary considerably higher than Therrell’s highest annual income as a professor. Upon completion of the three-year program Therrell left the Travelers with their blessing to establish his own independent agency. Here he devised a back office capable of permitting him to launch an innovative regional and national marketing program often competing with major national brokers. His larger clients had home offices located in Dallas, New York, Pinehurst, California, etc. with insured locations in approximately 40 states. Therrell by then was considered to be the largest insurer of apartment complexes in the South. His client list included DRW, Inc. of Dallas Texas, believed to be the largest syndicator of apartment complexes in the nation during the 1980s. His clientele was quite diversified even with the concentration on apartment complexes and included The Can Am Racing Circuit, the Texas1985 Formula One Dallas Grand Prix race and construction of the new track, textile manufacturers and other lines. Most of the growth occurred between 1978 and 1982. By 1982, while unknown to Therrell, the top executives at First Union National Bank and Cameron Brown Mortgage, including the chairman and CEO had become aware of the innovative and aggressive out-of-the-box marketing program of Therrell’s.
In the spring of 1982, Therrell was approached by First Union National Bank with an unsolicited offer which was initiated and negotiated in a most unusual but pleasant manner while attending an insurance conference held at a resort out of the country. The details are pleasant and amusing but probably too lengthy for this writing. The financial aspects of the offer were quite unique and included frequent interaction with the chairman and CEO. This was an unexpected and welcome surprise which would assure Therrell that he would be able to conduct business in a creative and entrepreneurial manner. Therrell remained as Vice President for five years to the day and stayed until after the Chairman and CEO had retired.
One of the things Therrell was proudest of in all his years of insurance was his stellar customer service record. Check out this positive review we found at pissedconsumer – just a shining example of the quality level of service Doug holds himself and his colleagues to.
- Therrell Farms, A Brief Overview
- R Douglas Therrell of North Carolina Talks Music, The Early Years