By LOU WILIN
Over 50 years ago, a tire builder for Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. was given an idea by his insurance agent.
It was a flattering, hopeful notion, to be sure, but Denny Putman didn’t see in himself the potential that his agent saw.
Then came a phone call from the agent’s area manager, inviting Putman to take a test of his aptitude for sales. Then he took classes to get his license. Yet even then, Putman’s aspirations of a new career were a fragile idea, vulnerable to second-guessing.
“It all seemed that it was going to be a wild, crazy failure,” he said. “A lot of my friends said, ‘Oh, gee, don’t go into insurance.'”
One voice encouraged him to keep pursuing the dream. It was his wife, Sharon.
Putman has a disarmingly congenial manner of give-and-take in conversation that masks a fierce work ethic. He was raised on a farm with 25 cows to be milked daily and 400 acres of crops to raise. Putman’s father, Jacob, also sold cans of Borden milk on a regular route.
“He would go out at night and talk to people and see if he could interest them in switching from Pet Milk or Meadow Gold to letting him haul their milk.”
After high school, Putman served in the Marine Corps.
So, when his insurance mentors said “Anything works if you do,” Putman heard and understood.
Most of all, he put it to work. His feet pounded the pavement and he knocked on doors.
“If you make so many calls, you’re going to get so many ‘No’ calls, and so many ‘Maybes’ and so many ‘Yes-I’ll-talk-to-yous,'” he said.
He liked talking to people and building relationships. They liked him and bought insurance from him.
Putman was relentless and inexhaustible. He had the nerve to approach his former boss — Cooper Tire’s then-president, Wayne Brewer — about whether he would let Putman talk to him about insurance.
“He did, and he was easy to talk to. He didn’t switch,” Putman said, laughing. “But he was easy to talk to.”
In his earliest insurance days, Putman’s headquarters were in his bedroom. He wanted to have a real office. He eyed a building at the corner of West Main Cross and Shinkle Street. State Farm was not impressed.
“The thing’s a wreck,” a State Farm official said.
Its siding was old boards. It had an old roof. Inside, a ceiling sagged.
“Well, can I start there?” Putman asked State Farm officials.
State Farm let him, but it would not insure the building at first. Putman had to buy “aftermarket” insurance: “They take the stuff that nobody else wants,” he said. “Not the normal market, let’s put it that way.”
Within two years he had repaired and remodeled the building inside and out. After that, State Farm became willing to sell insurance to Putman for the building.
One of Putman’s building improvements, on the Shinkle Street side, has become a Findlay landmark: A cross and the words “Christ is the answer” are prominent as one approaches from the west on Main Cross Street.
Over the years a few have complained about it, including a State Farm compliance officer, who viewed it as excluding other faiths. She went over Putman’s head, hoping State Farm executives would pressure Putman to take it down. Instead, they backed him up and the cross has remained.
For others, that cross and message have been healing, even life-changing, during a life storm or sorrow, Putman said.
“You think the things we do don’t make a difference?” he said. “Holy crap. They make a difference.”
When the cross and message were temporarily taken down for a 2014 remodeling, customers and noncustomers called Putman, asking him where they went.
In church parlance, the message and his insurance vocation are all part of the same calling.
Loving people and wanting to help them are keys to being successful in insurance sales, Putman said.
“Insurance is not something that is easily understood. They might take the wrong amount of liability insurance,” he said. “I was never a teacher but I thought we always had a lot of teachers in the business. That’s kind of what we do is we teach people how to take care of their insurance, what to do with insurance.”
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