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Garfield Coke - multimillion dollar salesman

Garfield Martin Coke, branch manager of the Sagicor Life Jamaica Limited's Utopia Unit in New Kingston, possesses a quiet demeanour which, at first blush, seems unsuited to the profile of a man who secured the position of investment advisor to golden sprinter Usain Bolt and who has taken up almost permanent residence in the million-dollar club of top insurance sellers.

In 2008, Coke's New Kingston unit placed first among the 18 branches in Sagicor's network with 157 per cent of the quota achieved.

Coke, who has sold insurance for 17 years, as well as his colleagues appear unfazed by the generally dim economic outlook - focusing instead on besting the last sales target.

In second place was Leslie Francis' Knutsford Unit which achieved 104 per cent of its target.

Overall, Sagicor achieved 96 per cent of its quota - a figure which suggests not all units were in top form - earning $4.5 billion in unit sales in 2008, some $1 billion over the $3.4 billion earned in the previous year.

Coke, who runs his branch from a tiny corner office on Holborn Road, is also the branch manager who has copped the Rookie Unit Manager Trophy for 2008, 'record breaker' in that year and the unit that brought in the most annualised premium income.

The insurance executive has also secured MDRT or Million Dollar Round Table - involving minimum earnings of $6.7 million in gross premium income for the company - 12 times; CSAA or Caribbean Sales Achievement Award, 12 times; the CAA or CARAIFA Activity Award, 12 times and has been recipient of the CPA CARAIFA President Award 10 times.

Court of the Table

Coke also received the Court of the Table in 2009 - minimum $19.1 million sales - and was the only qualifier in the Caribbean.

Court of the Table qualifications standards are attained annually by only 3.0 per cent of insurance and financial industry practising professionals worldwide, representing the elite and top income earners in these industries globally.

In 2008, Coke also collected the award for record holder for the most premium income generated in a month and over one year and record holder for the most premium income by unit in a month with $37.08 million of sales, besting the previous record of $22.1 million.

In 2008 he also broke the record for the highest individual premium ever earned by an agent, with sales in excess of $22.5 million, overcoming the previous record of $20.36 million held by Albert Lyon in 2006.

Coke's promotion to unit manager happened in January 2007, a job that comes with the responsibility to groom and turn out top producers.

In that year, his unit has produced the rookie advisor of the year, Dwight Huggins, and second runner up rookie advisor, Maurice Ryan, from a field of approximately 35 new agents employed in that year by all branches in the Sagicor Jamaica network.

Management role

Garfield Coke, elite insurance salesman and financial advisor to Usain Bolt points to some of the trophies he has amassed over the years.

This, said Coke, was a first in the company and personally very pleasing "since every manager's dream is to find an agent to represent their abilities by the proof of their production success."

The unit manager believes, he says, in blazing trails.

"My agents", he notes, "have caught the fire."

In years past, Coke as a high performing agent was approached several times to take on a management role. It was, he said, a long journey to "accepting and envisioning myself in the role."

The process reflected the same determination with which he was pursued and recruited as agent in the first place.

It was in 1992 at age 24, while working as a banking officer with National Commercial Bank that he was first approached by then Life of Jamaica agent Colleen Flynn who pursued him for six months.

It took a lot of convincing. Coke did not like the idea of entering a profession that, at the time, he said, did not provide a stable income. Salary was commissioned-based and driven by sales. And, he was also not impressed with insurance as a product.

But Flynn, whose persuasive skills apparently extended beyond pitching insurance products, finally won the day, and brought Coke into the fold on a part-time basis.

He was hooked at training.

"I liked what I was learning. It made me feel I could sell."

Coke made the switch to a full-time career in 1993 after earning - in six weeks - double his annual salary at the bank. In the six weeks, he earned $36,000. At the time, his annual pay was $18,000.

In that first year, using his banking contacts, he made it into the Million Dollar Round Table and also copped the super producer award, the first time a rookie had ever done so.

"Having done so well in the first year, I wanted to make a habit of it," Coke said.

Two-decade career

There was, however, to come a time when insurance took second place. Actually, it happened four times in a near two-decade career.

Coke made MRDT every year excepting four, which were marked by his marriage, and the birth of his children.

It also happened the year he advanced up the corporate ladder as branch manager, and began laying the groundwork for a successful unit.

Since 1992, on-the-job experience has been complimented by continuous training. The unit manager is a Financial Advisor (FA), Life Underwriter Trained Fellow (LUTF), and Agency Manager Trained & Certified (AMTC).

He is also a qualified seminarian - having studied at the Jamaica Theological Seminary in Kingston - and is a leader in his church, Bethel Gospel Assembly.

"I am a firm believer in absorbing the techniques; applying the training; doing the hard work and the end result should be magical."

But, securing the position as financial adviser to Usain Bolt was not easy. Coke admits to making months of calls to the athlete's manager Norman Peart before he was given an interview back in 2002 - long before Bolt was an Olympic star. Bolt was a junior champion at the time, but Coke thought he would be much more.

It was six months of calls before he landed the interview, leaving home one morning at 4 a.m. in order to keep the 6:30 a.m. appointment with Bolt's manager in Trelawny.

Coke presented his plan enthusiastically to Peart, but was turned down flat. He was devastated.

But it turns out that the presentation had made an impression, or perhaps it was Coke himself who resonated with the star athlete's manager.

One year later, he was invited back to make the presentation again. Jackpot!

Today, with a highly qualified team of advisors, Garfield Coke directs the investment and use of the athlete's income both locally and abroad - working intimately with Norman Peart to see that the goals desired by Bold are met.

While the athlete has potentially many more years on the track, Coke says should the Olympian choose to retire next year, he is in a financial position to do so.

Coke himself claims to live by the personal philosophy: 'Go as far as you can see, then you will see clearer to go farther'.

It is his family that is his motivation. He has committed himself to providing the best for his growing family.

But it is his talent, a pool of loyal and satisfied clients and their constant referrals, he said, that drive his success in business.

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