Arcata Chamber of Commerce Director Joellen Clark-Peterson interviews Jeff Pauli, general manager and principal at Pauli-Shaw Insurance Company, member of the Arcata Chamber for 35 years, since 1983.
How long has Pauli-Shaw been in business?
Our roots go back to 1896. The way insurance works is different people buy the business and then change the name and have it for a decade or two and then another person buys the business and changes the name.
So there are all these different agencies that folded into ours; the policies stay the same and the clients stay the same, but the sign on the building changes.
I started in January 2004 in the bedroom of my house and later opened up an office in downtown Eureka.
In 2008 I bought Western Self-Insurance Services, then in 2012 we bought Dan Harbour, in 2013 we bought out Richard Whitaker Insurance, and then in 2014 we merged with Anderson, Robinson, Starkey.
Historically we were employee benefits, health and life insurance but we have since merged into the commercial side and our focus now is on all lines of insurance. I look back and time is flying by.
What was it like for you when you started out?
It was terrifying. I had quit a job working for a great employer, having a really good salary, to zero.
I had a young child at home. But I’ll tell you what it does – it motivates you. You have to put food on the table.
My first month was commission total was $76. It was so little I cashed it and partied with some buddies. But the reason you start your own business is so you can control your own time.
Is insurance different now than then?
Health insurance now is a completely different landscape. When I started I was only doing health insurance. I was buying leads online at night and I quickly learned that they’d sell the lead to four agents at a time and it was first come first serve.
I was right there! I’d quote someone, email them, and then call – all within one minute in real time and my trajectory skyrocketed because I was doing what no one else was doing.
My growth to date: we have 20 employees now because of acquisition.
I realized early on if I was to buy a book of business from a retiring person (and that happens time after time) I’d get rapid growth.
If you don’t mind debt, that’s how you do it.
What do you emphasize with your team at Pauli-Shaw?
I really stress continuous education. We have a conference room and we do webinars almost daily on gaps in coverage, common things that are overlooked by agents, you can dive into what kind of coverage you need if you’re helping a manufacturing employer. There are endless topics.
We got a big screen TV. It’s fabulous. Education is a big deal to me. Once a month we do a charitable donation to an unsuspecting nonprofit.
We poll the employees in advance about what’s going on in their worlds and pick a nonprofit to donate to – it’s our “Friday fundraiser.”
Our office generated $800 for the Carr Fire. We donated to an injured little boy in our area, we did one for SCRAP Humboldt, the Arcata Fire Department.
What helped you become successful?
Surround yourself with people who are successful. I am fortunate to have a lot of friends who are successful in business and we commiserate or share accomplishments.
Keep your personal debt at a minimum because eventually, things go up and down and if you have bills you can’t pay it’s a pretty awful feeling.
Early on, I read and studied everything I possibly could on business and leadership.
What do you like about being in insurance?
Interacting with people. Being a native to Arcata, seeing familiar faces, even if I don’t know them, I’ve seen them around my entire life and I know a lot of them and I see them downtown and that sense of community is burned into me.
I grew up going to Uniontown Coffee Shop with my grandparents. My Grandpa worked for the City in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s so it feels like I am where I’m supposed to be.
What are the future unknowns about the insurance industry?
Believe it or not, artificial intelligence is a threat. Some insurance companies are trying to cut out the agent.
Some people, no matter what, will shop online and talk with a bot and buy a policy from a bot, but at the end of the day I think people want to interact with a human.
But the number one threat to our office is single-payer health insurance. We do a lot of health insurance and single-payer would be a death blow. There are probably a couple hundred people working in health insurance in Humboldt county and those jobs will be gone.
It’s a touchy topic and a minor issue in many people’s eyes, but it’s something I think about.
What is the most common misconception of insurance agents?
Every single person in our office is there because they like helping people. All we do all day long is help people. Maybe the 1970s door-to-door life insurance people, hard-sell agents gave modern day ones a bad name.
But I’d say that the people in insurance are by the whole there to help people reduce their liabilities.
I haven’t met one person who enjoys paying for insurance – until they need it.