DBL Center's Founder, David Cohen

As many of us get set to celebrate Father’s Day with cookouts, laughter, and gifts for Dad, the DBL Center family decided it would be appropriate to look back at The DBL Center’s history and, especially, reminisce about founder David Cohen.

At a recent broker appreciation event at Oheka Castle, a few guests suggested we share David’s endless font of wisdom in a blog post. They didn’t know we already had the idea in the works, but their suggestions moved the topic to the top of our list.

We went from “Hey, we should…” to “Let’s do this. Now.” You can watch the video here:

It seemed right to share this post in the week leading up to Father’s Day, as David was not just a role model for his son, DBL Center President and CEO Michael Cohen, but also to the many brokers he worked with over four decades.

These financial tips and valuable wisdom will make you think, make you laugh, and give you a new perspective on growing your book of business in the insurance industry.

“Dave was like the Don Rickles of the insurance business. He tried to make it fun and I’m trying to continue that legacy,” Michael Cohen said, before sharing the anecdotes and adages that he’s used to pick up where David left off in growing the DBL Center into a top insurance wholesaler in the tri-state area.

How did David Cohen get started in insurance?

A lot of people don’t know this, but my father wanted to be a dentist, which I think was probably what most Jewish parents at the time. Back in the ‘60s [they all] wanted their kids to be a dentist or a doctor.

He went the dentist route, and one day he got into a car accident on his way to Stony Brook dental school. The guy he hit was a life insurance salesman who said: “Hey, listen, it was clearly your fault. But I overheard you speaking to the cop and it sounds like you have half a brain because you’re going to Stony Brook’s dental program. I happen to be looking for an underwriter that has a salesman’s mouth, so why don’t you come work for me? I sell life insurance.”

It was that simple. And that life-changing.

After that he sold life insurance for a year until he met someone who introduced him to estate planning; a company called Alexander & Alexander that ended up becoming AON. They asked my father if he had thought about selling DBL, and that’s when he started to segue out of life insurance to get into statutory disability.

What was David Cohen’s best advice?

When he first knew that I would be starting [at DBL Center], his initial advice to me was: “If you think of it like a restaurant, you’re going to grab the mop and you’re going to start from the bottom before you get into the kitchen. There are different levels and you have to work your way up.”

I didn’t want people to think I was coming in like the prince of the kingdom. That was the first obstacle I had to get over: Proving myself to the organization. That was 15 years ago this July.

David Cohen was the king of words of wisdom. What were some of your favorite bits of business wisdom that he shared?

He always used to tell me, “Grow out like Los Angeles, not up like New York.” If you’re too top heavy and you’re in a very short and narrow city where everything is upwards and falls, you can lose a tremendous amount of revenue. Instead, you should focus on your nickels, dimes, and quarters and build your base and foundation that way.

He also shared many tips on finance. What were some of the best?

The rule of 72, which is something we have written about in the past, is about how your money doubles every ten years. We’re trying to tell people that the statutory benefit hasn’t gone up in 30 years. But inflation has, so why don’t you enrich your DBL to mitigate and bridge that gap between DBL and paid family leave? That’s what we’ve been trying to do.

It’s about more than just recruiting new customers, though. What did David Cohen mean when he said, “It’s not what you earn, it’s what you keep?”

It’s all about retention, which is exactly what we are tracking in our broker dashboard. Our brokers receive email notifications twice a month letting them know which policies are potentially going to be canceled for non-pay. It’s one thing to know where you’re growing, but do you really know what you’re keeping or retaining?

That brings us back to a phrase you use a lot: “Nickels, dimes, and quarters make dollars.” Can you explain that one?

It’s the small, steady accounts that build your foundations. That’s why David always said, “Grow out like L.A.” Take care of all your nickels, dimes and quarters, because they all make dollars; they all add up.

Too many people today don’t want that $15,000 dollar commission. They want the $100,000 commission. But my father taught me that all those $15,000 accounts add up to $100,000, and you should always treat a smaller account as if it’s worth a million dollars.

What did David mean when he said, “Stick to sewing?”

Work at what you’re good at. Do what you do best and don’t get outside of the box.

This is exactly why we do statutory disability in New York, New Jersey, Hawaii. My father opened up shop in Hawaii in 1986, and his biggest dilemma there was a cultural difference. He had to convince a Japanese guy to deal with a Jewish kid from Brooklyn in the ‘80s. It was a bit of an obstacle, but he overcame that.

We also do ancillary benefits. group life, long-term disability, dental and vision, that’s it. No major medical, no workers’ comp.

We stick to what we know best at DBL Center and we’ve been doing that since 1976.