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September 01, 2010

Exclusive Interviews

Executive Connection with John Addison, Co-CEO, Primerica

Co-CEOs John Addison and Rick Williams on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, April 1, 2010.In this month’s Executive Connection, Direct Selling News Publisher and Editor in Chief John Fleming speaks to John Addison, Co-CEO, Primerica, about his greatest challenge, his vision for the company and much more.

DSN: What is the one thing you enjoy most about being a top executive of Primerica?
Addison: It’s the people and knowing that what I do influences the financial future of thousands of families in a positive way. You make a difference in families’ lives.

DSN: What has been your proudest accomplishment?
Addison: There are really two things. No. 1: In the first decade when Rick [Williams] and I were co-CEOs, we doubled the number of $100,000 earners in the salesforce. No. 2: Getting this IPO done. To actually go against the odds we were against and some of the headwinds of the economy and the world, I believe a lot of folks would have said it was too hard. We knew it was the right answer and saw it through to completion. I’ll always be proud of that.

DSN: What do you tell Primerica distributors to lead and inspire them?
Addison: The No. 1 thing I talk about over and over again is the power of a positive mental attitude. Just take the example of what we went through to have this IPO done. It’s hard. Winning is tough. Anything worthy of being done is worthy of paying a big price for, and most people aren’t willing to do that. Most would love to be financially independent and successful—if it were easy. The reality is: It’s not that easy. For most people, success and winning is a marathon, not a sprint. The most important thing you have to do is control what goes on between your ears. Having the right attitude to look at what’s going on and think about it in the right terms will keep you moving when you feel like quitting.

DSN: What is your vision for Primerica?
Addison: Our vision is a dramatically larger distribution system with much greater reach into the Main Street market and dramatically more cash and compensation for our salesforce.

DSN: What has been your greatest challenge since assuming this position?
Addison: The last three years. The entire journey—not just the IPO. Being a part of Citigroup, which was the epicenter for the financial crisis. Being a profitable division of Citigroup when the meteor hit Wall Street. Navigating our business through these choppy, challenging waters. Being at the epicenter of the financial crisis and getting us to a safe harbor. When I look back on it in 20 years, it will be the most rewarding time.

DSN: What’s been the most fun?
Addison: The people. We change lives and help families. I’m very emotional, and I wear my feelings close to the surface. What drives me is the people of this company, who are some of the best people I’ve known in my life—good people with good families. I love being around them and being part of something where you know you’re making a difference, changing lives for future generations.

DSN: Is there one basic principle which has governed your leadership at Primerica?
Addison: To try to be a servant leader. The best leaders are servant leaders. Look at the people who are most remembered throughout history for their leadership. Invariably, at a tough time, they rose to the occasion. Challenging events make for people who make great leaders. Your responsibility is to take care of people. I want to be able to look back and know that I did the right things that led the business to be in the right place for the future of the business.

DSN: What do you see as our industry’s greatest challenge?
Addison: Our biggest challenge is always to protect the image of the industry so that people see it as a business opportunity, not just something where people figure out a way for a handful of people to make money. We must truly deliver business opportunities for families.

DSN: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Addison: It’s something from Art Williams. He said: “I believe you can beat 50 percent of the people out there by just working hard. You beat another 40 percent by living right, finding something you believe in and having decent morals and principles. So, if you just work hard and live right, you can be in the top 10 percent. Once there, the top 10 percent is a dogfight. In my opinion, the people who win big are the people willing to pay the price for success—nothing comes easy.”

: What’s something that few people know about you?
The truth is, I’m pretty much what-you-see-is-what-you-get. But being raised an only child in the middle of the country, I had to create games. I developed a fairly vivid imagination and the ability to think up crazy things to say. It led to me being incredibly extroverted. But still have a weird yen and yang. I can be by myself with a book and be the happiest person in the world. As much as I like to talk, one of the things I like to do is have a day by the pool with a book and not utter a sound all day long.