Spend a few minutes with Jake Brandt and it doesn’t take much imagination to envision the former hockey goalie at the net keeping an eye on many moving parts.
At his office desk in Brainerd he worked at the computer, finished paperwork, restocked business cards, changed a clock’s batteries and finalized a mailing and — after seeing a client enter the office — dashed out for a quick conversation so the customer wouldn’t have to wait.
Seated back at his desk, Brandt was easily pegged as an energetic multi-tasker who doesn’t spend a lot of time without a project. Now the 30-year-old former University of North Dakota hockey player is his own boss in a State Farm Insurance Agency in Brainerd that bears his name.
In May, Brandt took over the State Farm Insurance Agency Chuck Isackson built in Brainerd. Now instead of picking up a pay check, Brandt now has to take care of payroll for three employees.
It’s been a transition, but just one of many for Brandt.
The Roseau native grew up on a dairy farm milking cows.
“I liked it,” he said. “I thought it was great, but I didn’t want to do it the rest of my life.”
Even in college, where he majored in communications, he had already been considering a career as an insurance agent. He liked talking to people. He like the idea of helping them with problems. He wanted a career that would keep him in northern Minnesota, offer a decent living and allow him the time to attend a child’s sporting event, go golfing or fishing. Not always a luxury dairy farmers possess.
Out of college, at age 25, and with a readily recognizable name in the region, Brandt started working for Thune, a large independent insurance agency with offices in Roseau, Baudette and Thief River Falls. Brandt worked in the Thief River Falls office for five years.
A State Farm recruiter contacted him about additional opportunities. One of those, it turned out, was taking over an existing agency from a retiring agent. Brainerd provided that option.
Leaving family and friends behind wasn’t an easy decision, but Brainerd, about four hours away, provided a future Brandt said he couldn’t pass up as a career move and a place to raise a family.
“I made the move here knowing this will be my permanent home,” Brandt said.
Going through an intense 10-month candidate training process for State Farm helped prepare Brandt to take over the agency and have the responsibility to guide employees. He has 100 names of field experts he can call for resource information and consultants he talks to weekly for anything from computer software issues to underwriters.
“We are capable of doing a lot more than we think we are,” Brandt said. And he said he’s been able to incorporate things he learned as a child regarding a work ethic and as athlete and youth hockey coach regarding how to motivate different people for peak performance.
Hockey reminders are scattered throughout his new office, including a photo of him hoisting the Stanley Cup overhead after the Chicago Blackhawks triumph. Last year, Brandt went to Chicago a couple of days after the Blackhawks won the title, where he has friends playing in the National Hockey League.
Playing hockey was a natural move in Roseau. Winning a state championship with high school teammates in downtown Minneapolis was a small town boyhood dream that came true.
One of the biggest adjustments in moving to Brainerd is not knowing a soul.
“It’s a challenge but it’s an opportunity to meet new people and get involved in the community,” he said. “I can’t wait to get involved.”
State Farm, a 2011 Fortune 500-ranked firm between Boeing and Microsoft for revenues, started in 1922. The company now offers 100 products, has about 17,731 agents and processes about 35,000 claims a day. Beyond insurance, the company has mutual funds and Roth IRAs, bank products, vehicle loans and others.
“I always tell people what’s included in their premium is me,” Brandt said.
Isackson spent nearly 35 years on the job with State Farm. It’s been a family tradition. His father was a State Farm agent for about 30 years. Isackson said his father was the first full-time State Farm agent in Brainerd. So when Isackson, a 1970 Brainerd High School graduate, got out of college it was a profession he was interested in looking into and worth a try.
“I just never thought it was going to last 35 years,” Isackson said. “It worked out very, very well.”
His daughter, Ashley Franke, worked for him at the office. His son, Aaron, became a State Farm agent in Milwaukee. And his son, Andy, is marketing manager at Consolidated Telecommunications Co. of Brainerd.
Isackson started his agency from scratch inside his dad’s office off Laurel and South Sixth streets where GuidePoint Pharmacy is located now. It meant working long hours to build the business. He was with State Farm for about nine years before his dad retired. Isackson moved to office space on Oak Street before spending the past 15 years across from the historic Brainerd Water Tower.
He said he never looked at other agencies as competition
“Most of us know each other fairly well and if you do a good job and do it the right way, it will take care of itself,” he said of business.
While he was in high school and college, Isackson worked at the Red Owl grocery store. Being a Brainerd resident his entire life helped, Isackson said, noting a lot of the people he grew up with and graduated from high school with stayed here. During his career, Isackson said he focused on taking care of policy holders and a good work ethic. For insurance agents that means being available at all hours of the day. It’s a bit like working on call all the time.
An attraction of the job? “Being your own boss,” Isackson said.
Isackson worked with Brandt for a couple of months during the transition. As may be expected in leaving something it’s taken decades to build, Isackson said leaving the business was bittersweet. His daughter, Ashley, who is still there now working with Brandt, noted some things haven’t changed. She still hears a lot about fishing, walleyes and boats. It seems Brandt’s interests are remarkably similar when it comes to the outdoors.
“He’s just a real nice young fellow,” Isackson said.
In the short time he’s had to adjust to retirement, Isackson said he does miss the people but not a fast-changing and increasingly corporate business environment.
An early riser, he’s now often on the water to greet the sun on Little Boy Lake near Longville.
“My passions? I love to fish. I love to be outdoors,” he said. “I enjoy spending most of my time at the lake cabin.”
He’s had more time to volunteer, such as working the church booth at the Crow Wing County Fair this week. And an upcoming weekend trip to see family was in the preparation stage.
“There are too many things a person can do,” he said of retirement. “There is no reason to get bored.”
And if there is any advice to give to those either starting out or even those closer to the end of a working like than the beginning, Isackson said the sage words he passes on came from his father.
“The sooner you can start saving a little bit of money, the better it is,” he said. “My father always told me you pay yourself first and then you spend. If you wait and spend and then try to save what’s left over, you never save anything.”
He said he ended up with three great kids, all who went to college and are married. And now he has more time and energy for other interests as the rigors of following a work day fade into the background.
Looking back, Isackson said: “I always felt I was kind of blessed.”
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5852.