07 Mar A lifelong commitment to insuring a strong business and community
Q & A WITH TOM LYNCH, PRESIDENT, PLASTRIDGE INSURANCE AGENCY
By Jeff Ostrowski
The Palm Beach Post
Insurance agent and longtime elected official Tom Lynch celebrates two milestones this year. He first started selling insurance policies in February 1969, marking a half century in the insurance business. And his Delray Beach-based company, Plastridge Insurance Agency, celebrates 100 years in business this year.
Aside from his longevity in the insurance industry, Lynch is perhaps better known for his wide-ranging roles as an elected official and volunteer. He was mayor of Delray Beach from 1990 to 1996 and a Palm Beach County School Board member from 1998 to 2006.
These days, he’s mayor of the village of Golf, the burg of 282 people. Lynch also has been chairman of both the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County and the Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce. Lynch moved to Palm Beach County from Chicago in 1969 to work as a teacher. He sold insurance part-time for a couple years, then turned his focus to building his insurance agency.
About your company: We’re an independent agent, so we’re able to work with hundreds of companies. We have 95 people and four offices, in Delray Beach, Boca Raton, Palm Beach Gardens and Stuart. When we started, we were doing mostly personal lines. Now we do about 30 percent personal lines and about 70 percent commercial. There’s more opportunity in commercial, and it’s really the tale of Florida.
When we started, people would come to Florida for a few months out of the year, and we didn’t have a lot of businesses here. But we have more and more businesses here, and more commercial policies.
First job: I grew up in Chicago cutting lawns and shoveling snow. My first real job was at the A & P grocery store in the produce department. I picked up grocery carts in the cold, and unloaded watermelons in the hot sun. It was one of the best things I could do, because you learn to deal with people. That’s what business is about, and what life is about. You had nice people, and you had nasty people, and you had to deal with all of them respectfully.
Biggest challenge: The world’s changing. You’ve got to try to figure out, where is our business going to be in five years, 10 years? Where is Delray going to be? You’ve got to adapt. Change is always tough, and I’m a big believer in Darwin — the survival of the fittest goes to those who adapt. We were one of the first insurance agencies to have a computer in the 1980s. We were one of the first to get a generator back in the 1990s.
Best business advice you’ve ever received: To be honest, most importantly, and to do the best you can do. Being honest and forthright means you can sleep at night, and you’ll probably do well in business.
Best business book you’ve read: “Good to Great” by Jim Collins, and Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” Both are books you can read for the rest of your life and learn from. “Good to Great” was especially important when I was on the school board — getting the right people on the bus.
Biggest mistake you’ve made in business: I bought 15 companies or more along the way. Every one of the owners stayed with us until they retired. I made one mistake and I trusted somebody who was not an honest person. It took a year to resolve that issue. Jack Welch, the former head of GE, said he spent 50 percent of his time on hiring and firing because if you hire the wrong person, it’s going to set you back two years.
Most important trait you look for when hiring: There’s no question honesty is paramount. People won’t buy from you if they don’t trust you. In our business, it’s not like you’re selling a car or a copier. It’s an intangible. We’re selling a piece of paper. And you have to have an extroverted personality.
What you see ahead for Palm Beach County: We’ve got a lot of people moving to Florida, 1,000 a day, and people aren’t going to be able to afford homes. We need to start being proactive and thinking about how we’re going to address the needs for housing, for traffic, for homelessness. I don’t see anyone focusing on being proactive.