On the Job with Steve Perrine

Photo by Barry Levine

Photo by Barry Levine

Q. If you were a young adult fresh out of college, what would you do first in searching for a job?

A. I would leverage my centers of influence for a list of business contacts. Everyone that you know has at least 100 contacts so ten close business relationships may yield 1,000 possibilities. And you cannot hesitate to ask these people to sit down for 30 minutes to help you.

Q. What was the first thing you spent money on when you received your first ever paycheck?

A. I am assuming you mean my first "real" paycheck. I had been working on a pine straw crew working 14-hour days in Atlanta when State Farm called. I was so worn out that I recall driving to the local mall to purchase the best mattress set I could find.

Q. What's the single most effective technique you found over the past two years for keeping employees motivated?

A. Every employer brings a different personality to the table so I think that different techniques work for different people. For me, it's about treating people fairly and with respect and I think it gets reciprocated through dedication and hard work. If you hire people that share your core values, there is an excellent chance that the business will move in a desired direction.

Q. What was your first job?

A. Cleaning golf clubs and parking golf carts at a local country club. They called us "bag boys" and tips were appreciated.

Q. What led you to your current position? Why did you want to operate your own business?

A. I was influenced at an early age watching my father operate his State Farm agency in Maryland. He always seemed to enjoy the daily interaction with his customers and there always seemed to be an interesting story from his day. State Farm agents are independent contractors so within certain parameters, we can operate the agency however we see fit. The ability to be creative and think independently are two primary reasons I wanted to operate my own agency.

Q. Do you have a role model or mentor in your career?

A. I worked for seven years with my good friend John Baker in Macon. John is an agency field executive with State Farm charged with managing most of the agents in central Georgia. He taught me a great deal about business and life. He does everything with integrity, puts a premium on communication, and although he worked hard, he always made the necessary time to keep his family first.

Q. What is the biggest lesson you as a business leader learned from the recent recession?

A. That's a tough one. I will turn 40 later this month and this is the worst I've seen things since coming out of college back in '92. We have a lot of customers that are out of work and struggling to make ends meet right now and you can't help but feel their pain. More than anything, I think all of us are learning to be more conservative with financial decisions and there is a realization that the good times never last. If we are smart, we won't let the next downturn affect us to the same extent.

Q. If you could turn the clock back on one aspect of technology -- examples e-mail, automated phone systems, cell phones, PDAs, etc. -- what would you most like to see go away?

A. Definitely the automated phone systems. Nobody wants to try to listen to a computer as they muddle through a list of dialing instructions! I lose patience with that very quickly.

Q. What is your favorite work-related gadget?

A. The rolling measuring wheel that we use to figure square footage. But I probably use it more to measure pitching distance for my son and to mark the 3-point line on the driveway!

Q. What was the last book you read? Do you have things you read daily or regularly?

A. Other than reading the newspaper every day, I am odd when it comes to reading. I might read six books in a month and then not read another book for three months. I seem to be drawn to military suspense novels and enjoy Tom Clancy and Stephen Coonts. The book I am reading now is "Ford County" by John Grisham and it's pretty good.

Q. I'm up and going by?

A. I am more of a night owl than an early bird but my morning routine normally includes a quick breakfast with the kids, dropping them off at school, and then getting to the office between 8:15 and 8:30.

Q. Favorite hobbies or activity outside work?

A. Much to her chagrin, my wife would tell you that it's baseball. My son plays on a tournament team and I really enjoy watching them practice and play. But I also help my daughter's soccer coach as an assistant and that has been fun, too. The kids are decent athletes and I love sports so it's easy to make them my hobby right now.

Q. If you could take back one business decision you made in your career, what would it be?

A. It would involve a hiring decision I made several years ago. If you allow the stress of being short-handed lead you to a rushed decision, it usually doesn't turn out very well.

Q. Best thing about your job?

A. I mentioned earlier that I enjoy the independence and creativity that comes with my job but more than anything, I enjoy all the people that make up our customer base. We have a lot of loyal, hard-working families insured and my staff and I have become close with many of them.

Q. Worst thing about your job?

A. Having to deal with the mentality that suggests, "I've paid premiums for all these years and it's time for me to get some of that money back." Fortunately we don't run into that very often but it's frustrating when we do. Some people find it very easy to spend the insurance company's money when there is a claim and things can quickly become exaggerated. If these same people understood how insurance really works, they would think twice and save themselves a lot of money in the long run. Insurance fraud leads to increased premiums for all of us and costs the industry billions each year.

Q. The most beneficial course I took in school was?

A. Even though I was a business major I would have to say my psychology courses. I learned to appreciate that you can never know enough about how and why we think and act like we do.

Q. What would be your dream job if you were able to pick a position outside your current career path?

A. I would be the general manager of a major league baseball team.

Q. Finish this thought: "On the first anniversary of my retirement, I see myself ..."

A. Driving my wife around the country in our new RV checking out all the major league ballparks. But I'm not certain her answer would be the same.

Q. What is the one trait a strong business leader cannot afford to be without?

A. Integrity.

Q. Crystal ball time: What's your call on when the economic recovery for our area will be in full swing?

A. Don't you wish we really knew the answer? Albany has great people and great resources, but I think we need a big shot in the arm before we see economic recovery that we can call full swing. I think it's going to take one or two large companies coming to the area and hiring 3,000 people. I'll put the timeframe at five years and I hope that's not wishful thinking.

Q. What kind of music might I find on your list of most played on your iPod?

A. U2, REM, the Beastie Boys, Nirvana, and Pearl Jam.

Q. What do you think is the biggest change the Albany area will see in the next 10 years?

A. I hope it's the "shot in the arm" I mentioned earlier. If we could attract some major employers to the area, everything would change for the better.

Q. What was the best vacation you've ever taken? Why?

A. My wife and I were engaged on Key West, Fla., and it was about as care free as you could get. We rented a scooter, drank rum runners in the sun, and had a blast. Of course, the diamond ring didn't hurt either.

Q. What are the biggest changes you have seen in your specific line of business over the past few years?

A. Our underwriting departments have become a little less personal and because of the legislative and legal environments, things are either black or white. The risk is either eligible or it's not and I miss the days when I could work with an underwriter to write someone that, perhaps, fits most of the criteria but not all.