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Overcoming extreme adversity

Matt Pais

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Sharma maintains positivity even as war forces relocation.

You have already gathered your family and left your business behind, urgently coordinating multiple flights from your country after it was invaded. You wait nearly a year to return, only to find your office has been completely ransacked, with files burned and equipment destroyed. The situation is still volatile, but you begin rebuilding the practice, only to be told one month later that security is so unstable you have to leave again.

Virtually everyone would feel a bit frustrated, if not despondent, in that situation.

Not Satish Sharma. At the time — April 1991, in the wake of the Iraqi army’s invasion of Kuwait — the 25-year MDRT member from Kuwait City, Kuwait, instead felt confident that he had been able to consolidate what was left and establish a new infrastructure. So whenever he came back again, he could easily pick up where he left off, knowing where to go and who to speak with.

“If you are in a dark room and don’t know where anything is, it’s a very difficult situation, and you may be afraid,” said Sharma, who now runs his own insurance brokerage after 32 years with a company that is now part of MetLife. “If you have been in the room one time and know there’s a cupboard over here and a dresser over there, the next time is very easy.”

It’s a remarkably upbeat attitude to have in an extreme setting. And even though thankfully few advisors will experience the tumult Sharma did, he has plenty of lessons to offer when it comes to navigating difficult circumstances and coming out stronger on the other side.

1. Maintain focus on relationships.

When he was forced to leave his country, Sharma helped not just his family but friends and acquaintances arrange transportation. Always a big believer in establishing relationships with prospects even if they don’t become clients, Sharma naturally connected with others experiencing this ordeal, and wound up bonding with a man he now considers an older brother and mentor. Not only did this person buy hundreds of thousands of dollars of insurance for himself and his family from Sharma over the years, but the man’s grandson is now married to one of Sharma’s daughters.

2. Make the best use of your time.

After leaving Kuwait for India, Sharma could have simply waited around until he could return. Instead, he wrote to his back office in Dubai and said he wanted to travel there to expand his education, acclimate to what advisors were working on and provide leadership in the meantime. During that period, he built up a lot of support and earned the responsibility of restarting the practice when Kuwait opened up again.

3. When all else fails, take care of your loved ones.

When Sharma returned to Kuwait in August 1991, no one wanted to buy new policies. They had no idea what would even happen to Kuwait as a country. And Sharma certainly didn’t want to report a zero in his first week back on the job. So he bought two policies for his infant daughter. “How did you find two clients to buy policies from you?” his manager asked. “I have a client who cannot say no to me,” Sharma responded, “because my client is only 11 months old.”

4. Think creatively.

Being an advisor in Kuwait already comes with limitations. Because of the programs afforded to Kuwaiti nationals, they have no need to buy insurance. Fortunately, nearly 75 percent of the country is expats who are ineligible for these government benefits. As a result, Sharma worked to design a product to insure people regularly sending money out of the country to their families, incentivizing them to buy insurance coverage each time. He also was influential in promoting bancassurance, which helps insure clients while also motivating them to keep their money in a bank, even in a time when they feel uneasy about the stability of those institutions.

People don’t realize that every obstacle is an opportunity to get better.
— Satish Sharma

5. Adjust doubt into opportunity.

There are so many reasons to be reluctant when times are uncertain. Rather than avoiding a return to his home country after being forced to leave, Sharma said, “If there are no other insurance companies and I’m the only one operating, I have a complete monopoly in the market.” When prospects were reluctant to buy, he helped them remember the importance of being covered whether or not the war escalated. And in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis when clients lost confidence in his business and the products themselves, he established a crisis center in his practice to sit down with concerned clients and explain how their policies were still protected.

“Adversities will come,” Sharma said. “We have faced many. If you start thinking negatively, there is no end to that negativity. But I was very positive back then, and I am very positive today.

“It’s always your own confidence that helps you come back.”

Contact Satish Sharma at satish.sharma@sharmaagency.com.

 

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