By Melissa Hall
“I’ve always been all in on my job, the association, and my family.” That’s Ron Smith in a nutshell. If you’ve met him and worked with him, you can’t help but respect him. In 1969 his life catapulted him forward. In the span of a single year he graduated from college, married his hometown sweetheart Maurine, got his insurance license, joined the family agency, Smith Sawyer Smith, Inc., and learned he was going to become a father. Those huge life milestones came in rapid succession, but Smith took them in stride. In the 50 years that have passed since then, his rich career in insurance has taken him from trips to Tokyo to a chat with President Bill Clinton in the oval office. He received one of the industry’s highest honors, the IIABA’s Woodworth Memorial award, after serving on the national level and was given the Harry P. Cooper, Jr. award by his Indiana peers. He has testified in front of Congress and the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, but his start was much humbler than those later achievements would indicate.
When Smith’s mother’s family started the agency in the 1930s it was originally called Jones and Jones. Since then it has grown through the addition of family members and a talented staff. Smith was the first of his siblings to join. He was fresh out of college and he’d received a few job offers from companies, but working at his family’s agency allowed him to return home from Bloomington, where he’d attended Indiana University, and start his family in the area where he’d grown up.
His father, Wayne, set a wonderful example for him. From his earliest years as an agent he constantly strove to emulate his father’s dedication to his community and his clients. “I was driven to do anything I could for somebody. That’s the way I was raised,” Smith explained. “I had a great mentor in my Dad. He really helped pave my path.”
Smith’s experience taught him the value of having a great mentor and he has continued that legacy. “Ron's presence is still felt within the industry today, and will be greatly felt into the future. Personally, he has helped me find my footing in our agency,” said Ryan L. Zimpleman, MSM, Smith Sawyer Smith Agency. “He took a chance on me, and I will always thank him for that opportunity. “He has been an excellent ambassador for our industry, but he has proven to be more than that; he’s a good man.”
As Smith grew as an agent, he started a decades-long commitment to giving back to his industry and community. He got involved with the Kiwanis, chamber of commerce, and the Big I. His activism helped shape his career as he saw the insurance trends play out on the national level. Smith was elected to the national executive committee in 1993 after serving on the Indiana Big I executive committee and as the Indiana state national director. While serving as the national association’s president he traveled around the country attending Big I conventions in almost every state. “It gives you a whole new perspective,” he explained. “Every place is different and you learn that you have to adapt to survive.”
From Alaska to Hawaii, east coast to west, he spoke with agents who faced similar struggles to those in Indiana and he saw agencies tackling other issues that demonstrated our state’s strengths and weaknesses. Over five years, he helped spearhead the creation of Trusted Choice, the brand that unites independent insurance agents. He also spent five years serving on the state government affairs committee and working with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.
His time serving on the national level highlighted the importance of what Big I lobbyists do in Washington D.C. He watched the fruits of their labors trickle down through the entire country and saw how critical that role is to creating a healthy insurance climate. “Ron Smith is the gold standard when it comes to political advocacy. Over the years he has spent countless hours advocating for the independent agency system at the national, state and local levels,” said Nathan Riedel, the national Big I VP of political affairs. “Whether encouraging participation in political action committees or grassroots, Ron truly understands the value and effectiveness of agent participation, which at its core is the strength of our national and state associations.”
Despite the many changes he’s witnessed in the industry over the years, he still believes that an agent’s goal should be to connect directly with their clients. “I think we should be as personal as we can with as many people as we can,” Smith explained. It’s that personal aspect that has kept Smith Sawyer Smith so deeply rooted in its community. The agency had one account that was opened in 1948. Smith took over its management from his father and in the decades that followed he continued to handle it, even when the business grew and was sold, first to a company in Lafayette, then to one in Japan, and eventually to Germany. Through all of those transitions, the account remained in Smith’s hands because each new owner recognized his expertise. While it was headquartered in Japan he was even asked to serve on the company’s board for 13 years, which included traveling to and from Asia for meetings each year.
After that experience, international travel became a passion for both Smith and his wife, Maurine. “I think travel changes your perspective so much,” he said. “It’s incredible!” After years of work and serving others, the pair loves having the chance to enjoy this sweet stage of life together. Smith vividly remembers seeing his wife of 50 years walking across the street before they were dating. In a moment that seems straight out of a movie, he knew that was it and a year later they were married. Now their family has grown to include four grandchildren and as Smith begins to step back from his work, he feels blessed to be able to focus on them. He said, “It really is an incredibly rich life.”