Story by M. Gillian Ritchie
Casey Ryals, recently published author and agency manager for Hall County Farm Bureau Insurance, once called an acquaintance in Kentucky for advice on how to meet the needs of clients while making a profit. Ryals — who sells home, life, farm, and auto insurance — always knew that putting the customer first would get him further in his career. He was unprepared for the advice he got, though.
“He [my acquaintance] told me a story about his son, who had died of cancer, and he was talking about life insurance,” said Ryals. “He said, ‘I want to be, for every client that I come in contact with, like my son’s agent was for him. My son had a life insurance policy and that guy who sold my son his life insurance made sure that [my son’s] family was taken care of… that’s the thing that steers me.’”
That piece of advice shaped the basic, fundamental principles that Ryals still applies to his day-to-day operations as an insurance and risk management professional. It was also that piece of advice that shaped the idea for Ryals’ newest book long before he realized he even wanted to write one.
Ryals’ newest book, Last to Least, focuses on self-management and helps readers create a new direction for winning in work and life. Ryals’ book encourages readers to uncover what is guiding their professional journey and how to enjoy higher work productivity and satisfaction.
“When people start thinking about their work, they almost always have this sense that surely there’s something more,” Ryals said. “It’s like you fell asleep during the climax of an epic movie, only to wake up and watch the credits roll… Then we look into our future and we start to wonder, ‘Which career will give me what I want? Is it too risky to start my own business? Is it too late to go back to school? Will a degree even help me at all?’”
Ryals can speak from personal experience. Years ago, he was enrolled at the Medical College of Georgia, and he was making good grades. But during his clinical, he realized that medicine was not his calling. Ryals had a friend who was in the insurance business at the time who felt like Ryals would be successful in the industry.
“Like most people do, I just needed a job. Nobody grows up thinking, ‘I want to be an insurance man one day,’” Ryals said. “I got into it because I had a buddy of mine that was in [the] insurance business … he was like ‘man, I think this is something that I think you’d enjoy.’ And I thought that I’d do that for a little bit until I find something that I really want to do. But what I realized is that what I do love is people.”
When Ryals managed his first office with Hall County Farm Bureau Insurance, there was an employee that ranked third from last across the entire company. Ryals started laying out principles for the employee to follow, and a year later, that same employee was third from the top. “We were kind of joking about it and I called him Sid Bream,” said Ryals. “… the 1990-91 Braves, they went from worst to first. [In] 1990, they were the worst placed team in the national league and in 1991, they were in first place … he [the employee] went from last to least.”
One of the basic principles that Ryals uses to coach others is that transactions with clients are more important than profits and incentives. An individual needs to understand that their work shouldn’t be so self-centered. Profits and incentives are massively important, but the needs of the client should be met first and profits second. “No matter what work we’re talking about, what you’re doing is making yourself the least important person in the transaction, and make whoever you’re serving the most important person in the conversation,” Ryals said.
In his current position at Hall County Farm Bureau Insurance, Ryals recruits, coaches, and trains new agents and customer service representatives. In addition to working as an agency manager, Ryals also runs a trucking company with his brother. It was always a dream of Ryals to run a small business; when the opportunity presented itself, he and his brother invested in a used dump truck. The business started off as a hauling company, but today, the brothers’ business focuses on asphalt.
Ryals isn’t just committed to his profession; he’s committed to his community and his family. He is a part-time pastor for his church, and he leads worship at the church’s campus in Clermont. Ryals is also the Board Chair of the North Georgia Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and sits on the Board of Georgia Mountain Food Bank, Board of North Hall Community Educational Foundation, and Hall County Chamber of Commerce.
His number one priority in life is his wife, Alli, and their three girls, ages 8, 6, and 5. Ryals jokes that he is the only person who has ever written a book while playing Go Fish. The process was hectic, and he did it when he could, but it was something that Ryals felt so passionate about the topic. “I just know that people need to hear this message so badly,” Ryals said. “It will change the way people work… I am so confident that if people learn to work this way, it will change everything about the way they feel about work. It will change their engagement with work.”
When Ryals isn’t working, he loves going hiking with his family up near Helen and spending time on Lake Lanier. He also loves spending time in the metro Atlanta area because of its diversity. Several times a year, the family also vacations at a beach that lies between Destin and Panama — known as 30A Beaches. “Last to Least” is now available for purchase on Ryals’ website (lasttoleast.com) and Amazon.