Being an insurance broker is a full-time job, but in many ways it is similar to that of a politician. One needs to be accessible to clients and the community, and often needs a strong business sense.
Scott Sherman saw the connection. After a 20-plus year career as a broker, most recently as owner of 5th Avenue Insurance in San Diego, he ran for a seat on the City of San Diego City Council - winning outright in a four-way battle in first round balloting.
According to KPBS, the PBS affiliate in San Diego, Sherman avoided a runoff by taking 51% of the June vote for the recently redrawn San Diego District 7. At his victory rally, Sherman told supporters, "What tonight is really showing is what a great night this is for reform in San Diego," according to KPBS.
Sherman is an insurance man who has long-standing roots in the community, which he credits for helping him to win the election. For example, he was San Diego Insurance Agent of the Year in 2011 and also supports the Make-a-Wish Foundation, the YMCA, the Burn Institute, and the Children's Convalescent Hospital. He also works with the Wounded Warriors, an organization that provides unique programs to injured service members returning from conflict overseas.
Sherman ran for office as an outsider and a businessman. His campaign website promoted how he never held elected office before and that he would bring a businessman's "eye to the budget, reducing waste and implementing managed competition," the campaign site says.
Further, the website stated how building a small business prepared him for City Hall. "Instead of climbing the political ladder he's spent the last few decades building a small business. An insurance provider, Scott has deep roots providing peace of mind to families and businesses in our community," the site says.
The 49-year-old married man with a daughter, stepson and two grandkids, takes office on December 3, at which point he will move to a less hands-on role at his agency. He spoke with EBA about how being a broker prepared him to be a politician.
Why did you run for City Council?
Two reasons actually. I am a San Diego native and a business owner for over 20-plus years and our financial situation at City Hall is in terrible shape. ... For too long it seemed that nobody down there had ever run a business or balanced a budget, made payroll, [and] not gone into debt. Those are usual things we do in business and my wife was always telling me, "You should run." I was thinking about it, and then a few people that I respect came to me and asked me to run. So it all [lined] up, I was thinking about it and people came to me and asked. It must be lining up for a reason, so we figured I could make a difference in the city I love.
How did your career as a broker help prepare you to run for elected office?
The sales aspect of being an insurance broker really helped a lot. ... One thing about San Diego is it's a huge small town, so with all my business connections, that played well with all the different people in the business community who are already involved in politics.
I showed up and knew half the people there already from my business dealings. And being a salesman, you're tuned to giving people what they want. Those skills kind of translate to listening to people, talking to people, proposing solutions. That's what we do every day in the insurance world. It played well in the political world.
That and actually having business experience and not being a political insider went a long way too. We are $2 billion in pension debt in [San Diego] so people are kind of tired of people [in office] who have never balanced a budget before and are just politicians.
How has your charity work prepared you for this role?
Mostly you work on boards of different charities and work with people with a whole bunch of different ideas. That helped me work with all sides and come to a conclusion for all [those] involved. Nobody agrees on the way to get it done, but we all agree it needs to get done.
A good broker always is available to his clients. I noticed you posted your cell phone on your campaign website. How is accessibility interconnected?
We went further than that. On four of the different mailers that went to voters just before the election, I put my cell phone right on the mailers and said, 'If you have questions, if you have concerns, make sure to get ahold of me.'
My business is sales and customer service and I think people in City Hall forgot the importance of five words we use in business all the time, which is 'How can I help you?' People need to know that city government is there to help and be there to assist them, and the best way to do that was to let them I'm going to be accessible from day one.
We treated everything as I would as being a broker and a business owner, all the way down to our marketing efforts and everything else, like a targeted campaign for business.
We had it down to such a [science] in this election cycle that once absentee ballots went out, my campaign manager came to me one week and said, 'Hey, you have to make 600 phone calls to voters today.'
And I went, 'that's an awful lot, [I] can finish it up in the next couple of days.'
He said, 'No, you don't understand, for the last five election cycles, people have filled out their ballot on the weekend and mailed it. If you wait till Monday it's too late, you missed your opportunity.'
Several people I was talking to on the phone during the phone conversations said, 'Hold on, let me get my ballot, I'm going to circle the bubble for you right now.'
That's the way it is in the insurance world, it's all about timing. You want to get there before the [next guy]. You want to get there when there's something going on in the industry that might be causing them some issues.
Why did you decide to stop being a practicing broker once you take office in December?
In the City Charter there is a rule that says if you have another job, you're just not allowed to interfere with your duties as a City Council person and you're also not allowed to use your influence as a council person to better your business.
Even though I could do it the right way ... perception is usually worse than reality. I figured just to take that off that table the best thing to do is step aside and have my business partners run it and I'll sit in on board meetings and make sure we have a good idea on which direction things are going. But the day-to-day sales part will go away.
Obviously you have built relationships with clients. Are you concerned about them when you stop taking an active role in the brokerage?
I have my assistant, Ruth, who has been dealing with people for quite a while and she's phenomenal with them. When I started, I knew I couldn't do a good job at both, so I hired a guy at the office to take over day-to-day operations I take care of [now] and a build relationship with clients.
Luckily, I've had [most clients] for 15-20 years; they understand how the system works at the office and don't need to talk to me directly.
What do you hope to accomplish while on the council?
First thing is the pension deficit that we have here. We have a $2 billion pension deficit for the public employee union. ... Second is to bring the quality that we [have in business of] 'How can I help you?' to City Hall, trying to make it a more business-friendly city so more businesses will want to bring their jobs and tax revenue to San Diego. [Then] get[ing] our streets repaired. Our pothole situation is terrible. We have $850 million in deferred maintenance.
Were you surprised to win in the first-round balloting?
Not exactly, we planned for a primary win, and that's how we set our plan 10 months before the primary, go all-out because the turnout is more in favor of a conservative then it is in the general [election]. Our plan was do everything and spend every last dollar and get it done.
What are your plans after office?
It's a four-year term, and I told everybody when I was running I would run for two terms. That's what you're allowed because there are term limits here in San Diego. But I have absolutely no aspirations to go any higher than this. I'm a firm believer in the idea of citizen politicians, where you work in private sector, you go down to City Hall to do the best you can to make your community a better place, and then you go back to the private sector. That's my plan; I'm going to go back to selling insurance and fishing from my kayak.
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