Henry Freudenburg Insurance Agency in Galveston is marking its 50th anniversary Friday. Freudenburg, a former mayor of Galveston, talked about his decision to get into the insurance business.
Q: You’re celebrating the 50th anniversary of your agency. What was the first day like?
A: That first day was surprising. I was in this little lean-to office on the side of my father’s house on Victory Avenue, about 9-by-12 feet with an entrance off the alley, trying to figure out what to do first when my first customer, Earl Coleman, knocked on the door.
I couldn’t figure out how he found me. We filled out his application on the front steps because I didn’t even have a chair, and he became a close friend and loyal customer for years.
That’s when I learned I could serve customers anywhere and under any conditions, and I didn’t need a fancy office to succeed.
Of course, seven years later I was able to build a nice office on Stewart Road, where the kitchen alone is larger than that first little office on Victory Avenue.
But I still maintain it’s the people and not the surroundings, it’s the service you provide, not the bricks and mortar.
Q: How did you get interested in insurance? What got you into the business?
A: I had an auto paint and body shop in Galveston, and one day a car fell on me and broke my back. I guess you could say it was a lucky break because after the accident, I wasn’t even able to hold a paint gun and had to look for another line of work.
I had met a number of insurance adjusters in the auto repair business, and insurance looked like a good career.
Meanwhile, the state insurance commissioner was recruiting people to enter the insurance field in the aftermath of Hurricane Carla. Companies were leaving Galveston after the storm, and the state wanted to beef up insurance coverage along the coast.
I signed on as an agent with a large national company, studied and took the necessary exams and started serving customers.
Q: What was the high point for you?
A: Serving as mayor of Galveston had to be the high point, though it wasn’t strictly related to my insurance agency.
That experience disproved what Galveston business people had always advised about serving on City Council, that it would ruin my business.
In fact, I was able to accomplish a great deal while mayor, bringing us back from a financial crisis, changing attitudes from “we can’t” to “we can … let’s find a way.” At the same time, business at the agency prospered.
I made many new friends, some of whom became customers who have stayed with us for years. Public service is good for business, and that was a valuable lesson.
Q: And was there a low point — a moment where you wondered whether you should have chosen some other profession?
A: Hurricane Alicia, 1983. So many people were suffering from a lack of the basic human needs — food, clothing, shelter, refrigeration, light, air conditioning, transportation.
But again, it was a learning experience. So many insurance agents are happy to sell you a policy, but don’t want to get involved in settling a claim, providing the help people need.
I learned what people really want when they buy an insurance policy is someone to help in time of need. We dove right in, doing everything we could to make their lives easier.
The lines of people filing claims were so long, we adapted the “take a number” system from the ice cream shop across the street, so people could come by, get a number and not have to stand in line in the hot sun.
I learned the value of staying flexible, improvising when necessary, doing whatever it takes to serve the client.
The one thing that has motivated me the most over the years was responding to challenges and finding how you can best serve the people who place their trust in you.
I am as excited today about the challenges that are coming our way in the insurance industry in Texas and, particularly, along the Gulf Coast. With the great leadership our new Insurance Commissioner is bringing to the forefront, I believe my excitement will continue to grow.