Media Spotlight: Talking to Strangers: The Adventures of a Life Insurance Salesman by Peter Rosengard
8 May 2013 | By Honor Whiteman
When I saw that this book had The Adventures of a Life Insurance Salesman in the title, I can’t say I was excited by the prospect of reading it. Surely a life insurance salesman’s life can’t be interesting enough to write a book about? It is if you’re Peter Rosengard.
Rosengard is one of the UK’s most famous life insurance salesman. He appears in the Guinness Book of Records for selling the biggest life insurance policy in the world for $100m. But he’s not only renowned for his exceptional selling skills. On the side, he is the founder of the famous Comedy Store in London’s Soho and turned one unknown band called Curiosity Killed the Cat in to a chart-topping sensation. I was sold after just reading that on the back cover.
This book is essentially a journal of Rosengard’s life, from when he was a young boy right up until 2010. However, each entry is not in date order. Sometimes it jumps from 1969 to 2010 in a flash, but this actually makes it more interesting to read.
Rosengard kicks-off the book in July 1990, describing how he sold the world’s largest life insurance policy. At this point he had already been a life insurance salesman for Abbey Life for over 20 years and in his words, “I woke up one morning and thought I’d sell the world’s largest life insurance policy”. He did just that. He describes how he saw a newspaper story about a $500m takeover of Geffen Records in LA by MCA Universal. He decided to contact the president of MCA and offer him a deal by stating that if David Geffen got hit by a truck, MCA would lose million of dollars. He suggested Geffen should have his life insured for $100m. Just like that, the deal was done.
I thought that was an odd way to start the book, as I believed that would be one of the highlights. But there was a lot more to come.
Rosengard’s entry in to life insurance was perhaps predictable following his stint as an encyclopaedia salesman. Knocking at houses and selling encyclopaedias to strangers sounds like a hard job for most people, but Rosengard found it easy and became the top salesman in his team.
He landed a job at Abbey Life in 1969 and was promised a lifestyle of the rich and famous. All he had to do was sell lots of life insurance policies, which clearly wasn’t a problem for Rosenguard. He managed to sell one to the taxi driver straight after he left the interview which kicked off a long and successful career in the sector.
He became so good at selling life insurance, he describes how he turned down his first client just for the hell of it, because he could. It was interesting to read how different life insurance salesmen were perceived back in the 60s. Clearly Rosengard was admired and respected back then. Although with all the regulations clogging up the sector, I can’t help feeling he would have been slightly less successful had he started out in that career today.
His success led to many other ventures. In 1979, after visiting a bustling comedy club in the US the year before, he decided he wanted to bring one to the UK. He opened The Comedy Store in London’s Soho, alongside Don Ward who now owns the club. The Comedy Store is the most successful comedy club in the UK, showcasing acts such as French & Saunders, Rik Mayall and Robin Williams. Although Rosengard reveals that his association with the club endded when Ward sent him a letter saying he no longer wanted Rosengard as his partner, therefore ending their business relationship.
Although the book is full of many uplifting and comedic moments, including Rosengard shouting at Gordon Ramsey over scrambled eggs and being involved in a road accident with a one eyed driver, it isn’t without its dark side.
Rosengard’s father was a serious gambler, something which Rosengard himself picked up. He became addicted to gambling in casinos, and once left his wife waiting in the car for three hours on christmas day while he played roulette, which he says eventually lead to them divorcing.
One memorable entry is when Rosengard talks about how he came to be founder of the 9/11 Education Programme for British schools, a programme which educates children about the history of war and terrorism worldwide.
This entry is deeply touching, particularly when he talks about his memories of the September 11 attack, having been in America at the time.
In 2009, Rosengard contacted the Mayor of London Boris Johnson about a stock of metal which had been recovered from the twin towers, which was being stored in a lock-up at JFK airport. The idea was to bring a piece of this metal over to London in order to create a piece of art which would become a memorial to the thousands of people who lost their lives. This memorial now stands in London’s Battersea Park.
I didn’t know who Rosengard was before I read this book, but I was surprised to find out just how much he has contributed, not only to the life insurance sector, but to the UK as a whole. This is a very interesting read about an interesting man.