The “Alair” in Kessler Alair Shares Memories, Words of Wisdom
Gene Alair, a sharp, witty, and proud 92-year-old Navy World War II Veteran was kind enough to share some memories about his journey and contributions to what would eventually become Kessler Alair Insurance Services, Inc. Although he left the agency in 1991 after 44 years of devout service, he still speaks of his experience in clear detail and with enthusiasm for the insurance business.
Alair joined Vern Pittenger in his small insurance agency in 1947. At the time Pittenger had just graduated from using the backseat of his car as an office to a more permanent surrounding in a room in the Bank of America building in Ontario. Alair, just out of the Navy, and getting his feet wet in commercial insurance knew of Pittenger and heard he was looking to expand. Pittenger primarily focused on personal insurance lines and saw value in Alair’s experience in commercial lines. Together in 1950, they became business partners, renaming the firm to Pittenger-Alair Agency.
Although hard to believe, Alair spent his early years simply walking into businesses, especially those focused on agriculture, such as citrus groves (remember those?) and packing houses, and telling the owners that he could save them 20 to 30 percent of their total insurance cost by surveying the rate. And, most of the time he did. So, with his fountain pen, carbon paper, a rolodex, and a good old-fashioned handshake, Alair established his clientele, and more importantly, personal relationships.
“Insurance has always been a business of relationships,” noted Alair. And, the relationships he is referring to are not only with clients, but also personnel. “The parking spaces outside our building were for the ladies in the office. The principals needed to be out selling insurance.”
Alair is proud of the friendly work environment he and his partner had created. They had little turnover in the office and everyone enjoyed their time at work. Alair said, “Good employees were worth more to me than any account.” That sentiment certainly continues in the agency today.
In the early 1980s, Pittenger Alair Agency was one of the first insurance companies in the area with a computer system. Alair describes it more like a machine, which took up half of the office space. Together, with Aetna Gemini, they spent thousands of dollars on the equipment which was used as the agency’s management system. It may sound silly now considering our technological advancements, but this investment put the agency clearly on the map.
“It’s not about greed. It’s about personal pride. Personal pride is important to succeed,” said Alair.
Although today personal relationships with clients in our technologically driven workforce are primarily formed through cell phones, emails, texts, and social media posts, it is still a value that runs deep within Kessler Alair Insurance Services, Inc.
“Live by example,” said Alair. “It will always be the best policy.”