by Andrew Thompson
As a young man, Jon Gardner never even thought about entering the insurance field. Instead, shortly after earning his bachelor’s degree in marketing from California State University, Northridge, Gardner found himself working as a retail manager.
“You know how you work retail in college,” Gardner jokes. “I did, at least.”
But that job came with one major drawback that simply couldn’t be ignored: “I just got tired of working every weekend,” Gardner explains.
So, when the opportunity arose to interview for an insurance position that worked a typical Monday-to-Friday schedule, Gardner decided to go for it.
“They basically brought me in to be a claims adjuster,” Gardner recalls. “They said, ‘Well, you might be going down to downtown L.A. and trying to convince these guys that are, like, six-foot-four, three-hundred pounds to give you information – how does that make you feel?’”
His answer was simple: “It feels like I don’t want to be a part of this at all!”
Indeed, Gardner decided to turn down the offer.
When that same company called him again two weeks later – this time offering him the position of underwriter – Gardner faced uncertainty of a different sort.
“I had no idea what an underwriter was,” Gardner admits. “But, I’m like, ‘Alright!’ So I went down and interviewed for that, and I got the job.”
(“And it’s basically the person who looks at policies and says, ‘Yeah, we’ll take it,’ or ‘No, we won’t,’” Gardner clarifies.)
Even Gardner acknowledges that the story of his getting into the insurance field is a funny one, but the story goes from merely amusing to fascinating when one considers the current state of Gardner’s career. Over the last 24 years, Gardner has not only continued working in the field that he basically happened into all those years ago; he has also become one of the most respected professionals in the Santa Clarita Valley.
For thirteen years, Gardner worked his way up the ladder in the corporate office, gaining knowledge and earning some impressive credentials along the way. (Gardner currently holds a Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter designation – which required the passing of 10 national exams – and an MBA.)
Then, in August of 2002, Gardner decided to start his own agency. In the 11 years since, Gardner has built that agency up from the ground, all the while establishing himself as one of the most successful insurance agents in the city; Gardner has been voted the “Best Insurance Agent” in the Santa Clarita Valley by The Signal four years running.
The reasons for his success are many and varied, but there are perhaps a few that stand out. For one, Gardner says, he believes he developed a steady work ethic, thanks to the influence of his parents. For another, he claims, he has always recognized that he has a responsibility to those who depend on what he does. Thirdly – and perhaps most importantly of all – Gardner says that he has developed a somewhat unique approach, which focuses on helping and informing individuals however he can, rather than simply trying to make a sale.
“I’ve turned to a lot of people, and I say, ‘You know what? I can’t do better than what you’ve got,’” Gardner explains. “But, if I can’t…here’s changes you might make on your current policy with another company…you might look at this, this, and this, ‘cause I can see those as weaknesses in what you have.”
That willingness to be of assistance by sharing his knowledge has gone a long way toward helping Gardner build a special trust with so many of those who have sought his advice. And it’s a trust that’s especially important, Gardner says, in a community like Santa Clarita.
“This Valley wants to do business with people who they know, and they want to build a rapport with you,” Gardner explains.
For that reason, along with others, Gardner believes he has greatly benefited from his involvement with the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce. Gardner became a Chamber member in 2003, and he has grown more and more involved with the organization ever since. In recent years, Gardner has served as a Chamber Ambassador and even worked his way up to the position of Ambassador Co-Chair before finally being asked to serve on the Chamber’s Board of Directors – primarily, he believes, as a representative of small businesses.
“The Chamber is about 85 percent small business, so I think they wanted…to have some more representation there, and that’s just kind of a passion of mine,” Gardner says.
But Gardner’s list of contributions to the organization goes on. He also, for example, currently chairs the Chamber’s Micro-Business Group, a meeting group for business owners with five or fewer employees that explores a variety of topics related to the management of a small company.
“I’m actively involved in what the Chamber does – [I] wholeheartedly believe in it,” Gardner stresses. “I mean, when you think about it for a small business…you see all the opportunity to meet other people – plus the education aspect of it, which is pretty much free… how can a business not be a part of it?” he asks.
Yet, not all of the benefits of Chamber membership are strictly business-oriented, Gardner notes. In fact, Gardner claims that being involved with the Chamber has made him a part of not only a vast professional network, but also a community of people that includes individuals whom he now counts among his closest friends.
“[There’s] nothing more fun than walking around and saying, ‘Oh, hi, so-and-so!’ ‘Hi, so-and-so!’” walking through the mall or a restaurant,” Gardner says, referring to the connections he has made through his Chamber involvement.
“My kids even make fun of me,” he adds. “They’re like, ‘Daddy, you don’t know somebody here?’ You know? And it’s like, ‘Well, I don’t know somebody everywhere.’”
Still, Gardner says, the value of such a network is not lost on him.
“It’s kind of cool,” Gardner states. “It’s fun to work and live in the same town. So…that’s kind of…the good part of doing what I do.”
To get in touch with Gardner, please feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on the Santa Clarita Chamber of Commerce, please visit www.scvchamber.com.