For most, a catastrophic health diagnosis would signal a life change, as it did for Shane Hodge — in his case, however, the diagnosis of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma also lead to a successful career.
As of June 1, Hodge marked his fourth year of operating his own office with Shelter Insurance in Morristown. The journey from “bouncing around” from job to job, with no specific career path on his agenda, to leading an award-winning agency was no walk in the park.
“After graduating college, I was not interested in the insurance business at all,” Hodge said. “The economy crashed and I ended up working at Unified Marine in Newport, my first real job, and was laid off in 2009.”
Hodge worked in customer service at Verizon for two years, then took on a management role with Rental Service Corporation in Talbott. Then came the diagnosis in 2011.
“They found tumors in my chest, my neck and heart,” Hodge said. “It was scary, I was young. And while I was sick, the company closed its doors. That’s when I realized I wanted to work for myself.”
First, though, he needed to work, period. He and his wife, Elizabeth, had been married for just a year when the diagnosis was made. His experience in customer service and management landed him a position at Enterprise Rent-A-Car.
“They hired me with no eyebrows,” Hodge said. “They were good to me; I worked there right at two years.”
The battle to recover from Hodgkin’s changed how he looked at things, specifically at the challenge of insurance coverage — “I had to take out additional diability insurance because of possible injury. I quickly realized that that anybody can get sick.”
Hodge also realized he could not acquire life insurance and said that circumstance really got him interested in the subject.
“I didn’t believe in myself enough at the time, to become an agent,” Hodge said. “I went to work at the Farmers Insurance district office in Knoxville, as a business development specialist. I wrote business plans and worked on corporate compliance and sales avenues.”
An opportunity to work with a successful State Farm agent in west Knoxville, Mansour Hasan, provided the confidence Hodge needed.
“He showed me how to do it the right way,” Hodge said. “He taught me to be respectful and honorable and give back to the community. To this day, I’ve called him to ask his opinion. He’s a great guy.”
Once he was certain he wanted to run his own agency, Hodge decided he wanted to do so in his home town. He graduated Morristown West High School prior to earning his Bachelor’s degree in communications from East Tennessee State University.
Fate, along with good eyesight and a dose of chutzpah, was on his side.
“I drove by the office and noticed the agent’s name was scraped off the sign,” he said. “I found the Shelter Insurance recruiter on LinkedIn; she got me the right contact. I took the bull by the horns and said I wanted it. I was pretty aggressive about coming back to Morristown. I care about this community. I want to see it thrive and continue to do better. I’m the first to say, ‘It’s OK to come back home and open up a business. There’s opportunity here.’”
The agency has achieved the Shelter Insurance Conference of Champions Agent of the Year Award three times since opening and is tracking well to receive it for a fourth time in as many years. It has consistently ranked as one of the top 150 agencies in the U.S., due to consistent sales and fire policies, according to Hodge.
“We do pretty well and we do that by getting a lot of referrals,” he said. “We are here for our customers. A lot of it is building retention. We’re consistently hitting goals and numbers.”
The secret to putting the agency’s name on the map, so to speak, is to get out into the community.
“We get people to come and see us, how we run our business,” Hodge said. “We are extremely proud to represent Shelter and Morristown. Our goal here is not just to sell; our goal is to form relationships with the community. It’s not a numbers game, but a relationship-building game. I’m just proud to be a Morristonian.”
Elizabeth is a fourth-grade schoolteacher at Fairview-Marguerite Elementary and the couple has one child.
“We are raising a beautiful daughter, Charlotte Grace, who is 2 years old, in the town we love. The ability to say I am a family man and a small business owner that contributes to my community is a dream come true,” Hodge said. “Being able to show kids that are going through school right now that you can stay in Morristown, and achieve your dreams is a big deal to me.”
The office is located at 3763 Andrew Johnson Hwy, Suite A. For more information, call 423-581-6799.