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Chris Gardner

Chris Gardner

Senior Sales Executive, Oscar Insurance


Q. What excites you most about the Wond’ry?

A. The opportunity it represents to give back to the community that helped shaped my mind as an undergraduate nearly 20 years ago.

Q. What do you feel are the most important skills you have to offer in your role as a mentor?

A. Perspective. I often describe the class of 2002 as part of an unnamed generation who were taught everything analog and had the opportunity to learn everything digital first. From GeoCities to Google, Rand McNally to Waze, we were privileged to be there as it happened. As an undergrad, I built a social network of door to door student salespeople, the old fashioned way across Vanderbilt’s campus– through phone calls, in person meetings, postcards, letters, AIM (rest in peace) and e-mail. That student work related “network” spread to the University of Kentucky and Tennessee by the time I had graduated.

Q. What has been your proudest moment in your career?

A. After being fired for performance reasons from a bank consulting company in 2008, I felt like a failure. At the time, I didn’t understand why the presidents and marketing directors of local, and mid-regional banks across the Southeast weren’t taking my calls or fighting to cancel the contracts we had just signed. Less than a year later everyone felt the depth of deception from Wall Street’s mortgaged-backed shell game. By then, I had discovered, of the few companies in 2008 willing to hire someone who had been fired, most were in the insurance industry. I started over, became a licensed insurance agent in Tennessee and began knocking on doors again at age 29 to build a brokerage with the Family Heritage Life insurance supplemental health products. A few short years later, Torchmark (NYSE: TMK) acquired FHL and I was asked by the president of the company, Ken Matson, to lead a dwindling division of non-captive insurance agents. In 24 months the division grew to over 3,000 licensed agents who today account for over $3 million dollars a year (and growing) in annual premium. What I am most proud of is that every penny of premium is submitted through an e-application system that I initiated, lead and launched for Family Heritage Life.

Q. What has surprised you most about your job?

A. How much more effort and focus all of us are willing to bring to our jobs when we are part of a greater mission and aspire to be of service to others.

Q. If you could do everything over again, would you make the same career choices?

A. This question immediately made me think of the scene in the movie, “Hot Tub Time Machine” when Rob Corddry’s character, Lou Dorchen alters the time continuum so drastically that people say “Lou gle” instead of “Google”.

Q. In your opinion, what is the most important quality for success?

A. Showing up.

I tell people that “No” is the password to the next level. Hearing that word and understanding what it means is equally as important as being able to say “No” and start over again. When you believe that your work adds value to the lives of others, even if they may not appreciate you for it today, persevere. Keep showing up.

“The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.” – FDR

Q. When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A. President of the United States


Office Hours:  By appointment only

Areas of Expertise:Fundraising, Healthcare, Leadership, Marketing, Music, Networking, Technology