J. Monty Ross, Jr., CIC, AAI, of G.R. Little Agency, Inc. in Kitty Hawk, NC, takes over as IIANC Chairman for 2020-2021. His passion for the industry and IIANC, coupled with his visions for the future, are the perfect combination to lead the association in the coming year.
Thanks for chatting with us, Monty! Please start off by telling us about yourself and your family.
Monty Ross: I spent my formative years in Sylva, North Carolina on a small family farm. We had goats, chickens and a big garden. With my dog, Ebony, I found endless places to hike and explore. When I was a junior in high school, my mother was accepted into a Ph.D. program at UNC-Chapel Hill so our family moved to Chapel Hill. I met my wife, Julie, in an English class during our senior year at Chapel Hill Senior High. After high school, I attended UNC-CH and was a Radio, Television and Motion Pictures major. Someday, I’ll actually make the documentary I thought I would back then. Coincidentally, I now live and work on the complete opposite side of the state – the Outer Banks, appreciating all that the beach has to offer. I haven’t quite lived out the “Murphy to Manteo” stretch of our state, but I’ve come pretty close.
Julie and I have been married for 28 years – we’ll celebrate 35 years since our first date this February. We have two sons: Walker, who graduated in May from University of South Carolina, and Wyatt, who is a senior there now. We have just added a Sheepadoodle puppy to the mix – his name is Boomer.
When you’re not busy with the insurance world, what kind of fun things do you like to do in your free time?
Monty: I’m an avid reader, and particularly enjoy historial non-fiction. Listening to live music is a love which was put on hold while raising my boys, but now that they’re older, we enjoy doing that together. It’s great that they appreciate “dad’s music” as much as I do. And then there’s basketball – as a lifelong Tarheel fan, it’s been difficult to have sons who refer to their school in South Carolina as “Carolina,” but they pull for North & South equally rabidly and I’m trying to do the same. The South Carolina women’s basketball team is really something.
What got you started in the insurance industry?
Monty: I began my insurance career with G.R. Little Agency in 1992. My father was a partner and offered me an opportunity to help the agency develop its presence on the Outer Banks. I became a commercial producer in the Kitty Hawk office location. In the beginning, my knowledge of insurance was limited, but two things resonated with me immediately: I could work hard, learn from my co-workers and figure out what part of the job I wanted to develop to create my own career path (I think this scenario remains true to this day.) And, the second is that I’d have a chance to work with and for my neighbors and people who lived in my community. I’ve enjoyed so many long-lasting relationships with those very same folks for almost 30 years. Looking back now, I’d say that I’ve been incredibly fortunate as I started work with my father and now work with my wife and oldest son, who started in August in the same role I did.
Who/what has been your greatest resource in this industry?
Monty: I can’t narrow down a single “greatest resource” – as I mentioned, I’ve learned so much from my co-workers, including the importance of a great sense of humor. Company underwriters have been an unending source of technical knowledge and “how to do it best” advice. My father and now my partners (Jeff Aldridge, David Wright and Bill Vogedes) have been invaluable sources of information and guidance – they have modeled how to navigate anything from financials, employee concerns and carrier relationships to replacing lightbulbs and getting the server back up. And then, there’s Stuart Powell. Over the years, he has been, like I know he has for countless others, my teacher, my go-to, my coach and more recently, he’s become my friend.
How do you think independent insurance agents set themselves apart from other insurance agents?
Monty: One of the many things I like about the insurance industry is that we have developed well-run organizations and associations that keep us educated, informed about the larger environment we’re working in, ready for what’s new in our industry and prepared to provide cutting edge products and services to our clients. We also have an unspoken expectation to help each other – to share information, to be cooperative in our effort to improve and to cheer for each other’s successes. I think this may be the biggest way independent agents differ from others. We understand that when one of us is successful, we all will be. I also believe independent agents set themselves apart from others by embracing opportunities to try new technologies, approaches and procedures. We aren’t limited to the “way we do things” – this translates to creativity in problem-solving for our clients, abilities to develop niches or work in multiple states with our carriers and break the norms as we offer meaningful jobs in evolving workplace settings.
As Chairman, what do you hope to see IIANC accomplish in this upcoming year?
Monty: Our members consistently say that finding new employees is a challenge. IIANC already has several programs in place to respond to that need, but I’m excited about some new initiatives: InsurAcademy, which will produce licensed candidates with foundational training in coverage, systems and soft skills; expansion of our internship scholarship program; and, continuing the work of IIANC’s Diversity Committee, which will share the story of our industry to new students as well as recruit, support and engage minority-owned agency members.
What do you see as your greatest challenge during your tenure as Chairman?
Monty: The biggest challenge I feel as chairman is one that we all face… COVID-19 and its impact on each of us, as individuals and as an industry. The association has been an amazing source of information, with articles and webinars addressing issues specific to our members. The pivot to web-based professional development in such a short time showed how nimble and responsive IIANC is (and how talented the association staff is as well.) Being able to deliver the value that members expect while adding new programs and guidance is no easy task. IIANC will continue to be mission-focused, delivering the resources and information we need to get through these unprecedented, pandemic times together.
How did you first get involved with IIANC?
Monty: My involvement with IIANC started with serving on the NCIUA/NCJUA BEACH & FAIR Plan Committee. I was a little hesitant, wondering if I had anything to offer the group. But I was immediately made to feel welcome by the staff and other agents – it was a great experience. After a few years on that committee, I signed up to serve on others (Technical, Legislative/Government Affairs, etc.). Each was a tremendous learning experience.
How would you say being involved with IIANC has most affected your career?
Monty: We’ve all heard the saying “I’ve gotten more out of serving the organization than I put in;” I can tell you that it certainly has been true for me. The professional development programs and classes have expanded and deepened my insurance knowledge. Our agency has entered into new partnerships with carriers that I met at IIANC events. I’ve met industry people who I’ve been able to call for help with an account or coverage issue, as well as just to learn from. There’s no question that I am a better agent today because of my involvement with IIANC.
What are some tips that would you give to someone wanting to become more active with the association?
Monty: Time is our most limited resource, which means we have to make wise decisions on how best to use it. My involvement with the association has been the best investment of time I’ve made as an agent. My advice to folks who are considering getting involved: do it and do it now. Attend a couple of events… even if it’s virtual for now. Take advantage of a few professional development offerings. Talk with fellow agents. Just by doing these few things, you’ll find more opportunities to improve your agency, your staff and yourself than you thought possible. The ROI is off the charts.
If someone asked you why their agency should join IIANC, what would you say?
Monty: Through my involvement with IIANC, I have met some incredibly bright, thoughtful, committed people. There is a certain energy created when you surround yourself with folks who want to do the best for their clients, their staff, their coworkers, and their company partners. I’ve found that everyone who is works for IIANC, who serves on a committee or attends events – they want to help others succeed. The association creates the opportunities for this to happen.