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Alan Booth

Updated: Nov 27, 2023

Time provides perspective. Alan B. Booth, a longtime resident of Plattsburgh, NY and the former owner of Booth Insurance, values both the business and the personal lessons that come with time. In 2018, Strictly Business featured Booth Insurance, founded by Alan’s grandfather, Harry Booth, as it reached its 100th year in business. After two years of full retirement since selling the business in 2020, Alan took time to share some of the perspective he gained on his own career path and on life’s most meaningful lessons. Alan dedicated forty-one years of his professional life to being a small business owner at Booth Insurance. Alan and his wife, Jennie, met in 1990 and have enjoyed a full life serving the North Country community ever since. His story suggests the ever-presence of life’s unexpected twists and turns, the importance of being willing to work hard and take chances, and highlights the benefits of education, courage, and patience.

Following are excerpts from my conversation with Alan Booth.

SB: Did you always know you’d be part of your family business? AB: Not at all. My parents provided me with a good education and then expected me to find my way on my own by “testing my chops” out in the world. They never thought my becoming a part of the business my grandfather and father built was any kind of a birthright. I needed to prove I could bring something to the table. My grandfather found his way into the insurance business after running a baseball team and my father set off on his own as a young man to find his direction. What I needed most was some life experience, confidence and an idea of what I would really be good at.

SB: What type of mentoring did you have that helped you through that process? AB: I learned what a good work ethic looked like early on through summer jobs and through the efforts of one particularly tough Navy officer. At one point during my four years in the Navy, I supervised about twenty people. My division officer and the other, more experienced, officers really watched out for me during that time. They saw in me a willingness to listen, learn and work together with everyone. I needed help learning chain of command, delegation of duties, the importance of communication, and how to deal with people. They showed me the ropes.

In 1969, after I left the Navy, I went to work for the General Electric Company in Schenectady, NY in machinery apparatus operation. I wasn’t particularly crazy about that, but luckily, I met some of the right people and got into GE’s Financial Management program, which meant I worked 40 plus hours during the day and went to school at night for three years. After working for a time, I asked to join the GE Corporate Audit Staff and became part of a team of 125 in a company of 400,000 that traveled the world. None of that would have happened had I not met people along the way who took an interest in me and took the time to show me the right path.

SB: What steps did you take to become successful? AB: I took advantage of every educational opportunity the company gave me and I made myself available for whatever was needed. I got to look at lots of different types of business areas and worked in twenty-two cities in the United States in one year as part of the corporate audit staff. Eventually I said to myself, “Booth, this is great, but what do you really want to do?” I was visiting my folks and we agreed I was ready to come back to Plattsburgh and join the business. Two years later, I finished my commitment to GE, bringing important pieces of life back home with me.

SB: What was your transition to the family business like? AB: I was thirty-four at the time. I was going through a big change in career, and I had a lot to learn as I was joining a whole new industry. Luckily, the Certified Insurance Counselors (CIC) held classes in Ithaca. My early experiences in education convinced me that courses were an important resource for me as I continued my career.

My dad and I were together in the business from 1977 until he died in 1995. He was originally a sole proprietor and we formed a partnership. We did some big things, but we really weren’t a big agency. We took advantage of technology to grow the business without ever growing beyond the equivalent of three or four full time staff.

We worked well together. My dad had concentrated a lot on large commercial accounts. I realized early on that those accounts had a lot of competition from out-of-town big agencies and other local agencies. The big accounts were great if you got them, but you have to put meat and potatoes on the table every day. At that time, 50% of the sales in our industry were home and auto insurance, so I became dedicated to diversifying our book of business to include all aspects of the industry. Luckily, we represented a medium sized company in central New York for all 102 years and another bigger central New York company for 90 of out 102 years. I’m not sure that type of exclusivity among business relationships still exists today.

SB: What attracted you most to your insurance career? AB: I liked the sales part, though I wasn’t the world’s best salesman. I was a good problem solver. I was a good administrator and I had good product knowledge. I was able to put the pieces together in complicated situations. My knowledge of people was an important part of that as well.

SB: What is the best piece of advice you ever received? AB: That came from our basketball coach at Plattsburgh High School. He told us to stay humble, which helped me to be a good people-person. It’s a fragile world out there, and he taught us that the least we could do was to be good to people. That impacted the way we did things with our customers and with our employees. We didn’t really have much turnover in our employees, mostly because we made sure to support their everyday lives. We knew them as people.

SB: What advice would you give to your younger self? AB: To my thirty-four-year-old self, just starting out in business, I would say “Go for it. You’re making the right decision.” I wanted to work, make a contribution, move our business forward, and take care of my parents. That decision provided me with a wonderful life. Try not to worry too much about the peaks and valleys to come.

To my 50-year-old self, I would say, “Alan, you need to relax more and enjoy life.” I liked to work hard and the tougher things got, the harder I worked as I loved to compete and I liked to do the best for the business.

It might also be important for my younger self to know that the best thing that would ever happen to me would be that I would meet my wife, Jennie. Together, we would become a great team.

SB: How would you like to be remembered? My parents were dedicated members of this community. Through my own service, I have also tried to make a difference. Jennie and I would like to be remembered as generous community people who were lucky to live here. I’m a lucky guy who has had a great life.

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