Last week marked the passing, at age 97, of Mehdi Fakharzadeh.
Mehdi was one of the most successful insurance sales agents in history. In his 90s, he was still taking on and servicing clients. He achieved his success despite starting out with a severely limited grasp of the English language and American customs. He made it to the top of his industry and became famous throughout the world—with a following in over forty countries. A Chinese admirer changed his own first name to Mehdi, and at least one other inspired insurance agent gave that name to his son.
At an Insurance Pro Shop workshop several years ago, I had the honor of being asked to speak alongside Mehdi and the renowned publicist, Wally Cato, who passed away in 2015 at the age of 74. Here are some of the lessons I learned from Master Mehdi that day:
1. Doing the right thing for your clients results in more business and referrals. Mehdi did not attribute his success to any skill of his own—he believed it was his karmic reward for giving what he could to everyone he came into contact with. His belief in this regard, and how it humbled him, shined through him as he spoke.
2. Love what you do. Mehdi told his audience that selling insurance was his hobby. He was 92 at the time and was proud to say that he was still getting up at 4 a.m., eager to start his work day– and didn’t stop until his wife called him to tell him to come home for dinner.
3. Be prepared to give them what they ask for, but always show them what you believe they should have. Mehdi talked about how he increased the size of his sales, and helped clients at the same time, by presenting insurance policies at signing time for amounts greater than what he had previously discussed with them.
“They always try to buy less than they should,” he told his audience. “I present to them what they really should have, and often, they agree when they see it.”
4. Make them clients first. “What do you do when a client doesn’t want what you believe is right for him?” a workshop attendee asked. “Like when you believe he should be buying whole life but the client only wants to buy term.”
“I give him what he does want, of course,” was Mehdi’s reply. But he continued:
“I make him a client first. Then, I wait two or three years [until we have a good relationship and my client trusts me],” he explained, “And then I show him a chart that has on the left side what he bought, and on the right side, what I believed was right for him. I ask him which plan looks better …and he almost always points to the one on the right.”
None of this can happen, Mehdi told his audience, unless the person in question becomes a client first. Then, he will trust your advice.
5. Never give up! A consistent theme in everything Mehdi spoke about was his persistence. “Whenever there is a problem,” he told his audience, “I sit down and create a solution. There’s always a solution.”
6. Talk “Nonsense”. That’s what Mehdi called his delightful way of engaging people in conversation.
“If I’m going up in an elevator and I push ‘4’, and the other man pushes ‘8’, I say, ‘You must be twice as good as me’. When he asks me why I say that, I tell him that 8 is twice as good as 4.”
Mehdi reminded his audience that day that it makes people feel good when you’re having fun. As further proof that Mehdi walked his talk, he invited me to spend an afternoon with him at his office to pick his brain and bought us lunch at his favorite Chinese restaurant—asking nothing in return.
Mehdi will be missed by thousands of people in the insurance profession—and by me.
KEEP REACHING . . .