Selling It as a Family

It took three years for Shayne Connolly (left) to follow his father, Steve Connolly, into the family business.

Steve and Shayne Connolly, cofounders of Connolly Financial Group, discuss their father-and-son business dynamic

Steve Connolly is a veritable icon in the Canadian financial-services industry. The 69-year-old cofounder of Connolly Financial Group, which is based in Prince Edward Island, has achieved lifetime membership in the Million Dollar Round Table following 10 consecutive years of membership—quite an accomplishment given that less than one percent of the world’s financial-services professionals meet the requirement for membership. Below, we speak to Steve and his son, Shayne, who is also a cofounder of Connolly Financial Group, about how they grew their business and achieved success in the tough financial-services industry.

Advantage: How did you decide to get into the financial-services business?

Steve Connolly: I started out in education and spent 20 years as a high-school guidance counsellor. I then decided that I had done everything I wanted to do in education and decided to go into business, so I began working as a financial advisor. In 1983, I began my own family life-insurance operation, and it grew to the point where I had trouble managing the boom of business.

Shayne Connolly: I was working as a sales professional at the time, and my dad approached me in 1993 about joining him in a new operation. I did so in 1996.

Life insurance isn’t an easy business.

Steve: Sales is an extremely difficult field, and life insurance is probably the most difficult commodity to sell because it’s abstract as opposed to concrete. It appears as though it’s an easy way to make a living, but even to this day, 28 years later, I’m amazed at how hard we still have to work at educating people.

Shayne: We’re trying to hire a junior advisor now, and my advice is to be ready for people to look at you and say, “You want me to buy what? You’re crazy.” We have to tell our clients over and over again that they can’t expect to be immune from something getting in their way. We’ve seen too many examples of business owners falling victim to an unplanned but dire scenario.

Can you give me an example?

Steve: I began working with a couple who owned a $14 million retail business back in 1994. At that time, I sold them a $3 million whole-life-insurance contract, but added a rider to protect them when the first partner passed. It basically said that for an extra annual fee, if one of the partners passed, the life-insurance company would pay all the premiums going forward.

Shayne: The couple didn’t want to imagine that possibility, but lo and behold, one of them passed in 1999, and since then, the remaining partner hasn’t paid a penny for the life insurance. Its value grew by $60,000 last year—that’s going to happen every year. The policy is now worth $4.2 million. Having a growing asset like that at the end of the remaining partner’s life expectancy, which is another 20 years, will deliver tax-free funds to the business.

Steve's & Shayne's Career Milestones

To what do you attribute your success in the field?

Steve: In the course of developing our business, we attended a lot of conferences and enrolled in some professional training programs, and that was helpful. But I like to say that we learned more from the people in the business than from any coursework we might have taken. Really good ideas came from people like my first manager, Ed Morrison, who saw to it that I met the right people in the right places at the right times. In a way, then, I became self-educated in the business. I’ll always be grateful to him for that.

So relationships are important?

Steve: Absolutely, which is something my parents taught me. In fact, for any success we enjoy, I give credit to my parents, who were truly beneficial people who had an unlimited number of friends. They taught me the value of interpersonal relationships.

What advice would you give people who want to follow in your footsteps?

Steve: From time to time, we get calls from people who are looking at getting into the business and want to know what characteristics they need to be successful. My conversation begins with the work ethic: tell me about your attitude toward work—your energy, your commitment. Those are essential pieces of this puzzle. Then I say, “You have to love people, be tolerant of people, and be able to withstand a certain amount of rejection.”

Shayne, did you expect to get into the family business?

Shayne: It took me three years after my dad approached me about joining him to say yes, but today, not a week goes by that someone doesn’t marvel at the success we’ve had working together as father and son. It’s been a wonderful, wonderful experience. Dad talked about his manager and mentor, Ed Morrison. My manager and mentor was always my dad. He’s imparted his wisdom to me, and not a day goes by that I don’t make a decision that isn’t influenced by something I learned from him.