Chips note: This guest post is by Luke Irwin, a public adjuster in the Gulf Coast region and chairman of Irwin & Associates.
April 14, 2020, I received the shipment. And with a child’s patience looking at a Christmas present, I tore open the drawer to find eight fresh books … Pay! by Chip Merlin. It was a book that created lifelong friendships across the aisle, opened eyes, shaped the senses, created carriers and touched the lives of tens of thousands of lives … so far.
Just a few weeks earlier, I met Mario Barrilleaux, a new, rather aggressive public adjuster at a joint inspection to get rid of an older lady with wind loss. I was a rock-to-grave staff adjuster, who did some assessments for policyholders on the side, and was one of the adjusters who loved working with contractors and public adjusters to get damages properly paid within 24-48. After I showed Big Mo, he missed a lot of damages, a “bromance”; was formed. We talked every day afterwards and what we thought about the insurance industry. Talk about two blind ambitious guys who did not even know what they did not know but were hungry for growth, thirst for knowledge and passionate about promoting a collegial network. Mario and I came up with an inventive concept that the world had never seen before, and clearly deceived by affluent mothers in Manhattan. We started a book club.
We reached out to six other great men, some of whom I will intentionally leave anonymous as some are still insurance adjusters, along with public adjusters Adrian Eugene and Al Dodd Jr. (not to be confused with the Saints Hall of Famer Al Dodd Sr.), who were all extremely happy to attend. Together we came up with several ideas for books we wanted to read, but unanimously agreed with Pay Up! to be the first. We decided to read two chapters a week, highlight sections that we thought were remarkable for discussion, and research further on these topics before our conference call at 7 on Tuesday morning.
Those were the early, uncertain days of the covid pandemic. So with plenty of time at home, we read and digested every word in that book. On Tuesdays, most of us woke up a little early, brewed a hot coffee, went through our notes, and began each conversation with that Big Mo prayer for all of us. We discussed what we read, discussed the benefits of the hot topics, shared ideas and even dreamed a bit about how we could change the world. It not only helped to open our eyes to a world we had no idea we were really a part of, it triggered a fire in all of us to be and do better.
To me, however, Chip Merlin gave me two metaphorical pills when he read his book. The insurance version of “Matrix.” The choice between remaining ignorant of the insurance industry I was a part of by taking the blue pill, or the desire to continue learning the disturbing and life-changing truth about the multi-billion dollar insurance industry by taking the red pill. I am a Coast Guard veteran and retired Sgt. Detective. I believe in my heart that I have been called by God to be a servant and an advocate. I’ve always run to fight. Even if it was to my disadvantage, I fight the good and noble battle. My father often quoted from Aaron Tippen’s song, “you have to stand for something, otherwise you fall for anything.” So for me, I took the “red pill”.
Discussions about a promotion were brought to me by the new Vice President for claim. I had a choice to make. It was not if I would stay in and be part of the system, but my exit strategy.
On Independence Day on July 4, 2020, after talking to my amazing wife and being encouraged by several other industry professionals like Galen Hair and Rajan Pandit, I left the convenience of a fantastic salary and benefits to begin my new chapter.
Hurricane Laura hit Louisiana, then Hurricane Delta, then Hurricane Zeta and then Hurricane Ida. Even though we did not slip apart, we became eight in our book club and were never allowed to start on the second book.
I have had the honor of meeting Chip Merlin three times in person and a few more times when he spoke at Zoom. Every time I have met him, I have thanked him for his leadership. I even asked him to sign the book I read at the New Orleans Win the Storm Convention. He finally asked the other day at the American Policyholder Association conference in Denver – with a kind of confused expression – why I continue to thank him. So I told him about this true story.
Whether it’s a few minutes before I take the kids to school, sit at my desk or me and my team drive to a meeting, I have a cup of coffee and read Chip’s daily blog every morning. It is ALWAYS a bit nostalgic when I learn and think of a new concept from the blog. But I wonder what Big Mo would say or get out of it. Big Mo passed away this spring from cancer. Last Christmas, when he thought he was in remission, we promised to grow the book club when he was completely out of weeds.
I think it’s time. Time to get the book club together again, bring some new members and see if they want the red pill or the blue pill.