Rick Thomas has a quiet and reserved personality but his face lights up when he speaks of his love for his wife and children.
He entered the life insurance business after graduating from the University of Tampa and he never looked back.
Now his company, Thomas Financial founded in 1975, has helped put $5 billion worth of life insurance away for individuals in the Tampa Bay area – think of the economic impact of that for this region.
His firm focuses on estate planning and wealth transfer for high net worth individuals and firms, as well as business continuation and executive benefits for both the public and private sectors.
He originally planned to attend law school after college graduation, but as often happens, his life took an unexpected turn.
“One of my coaches, a defensive backfield coach, had a friend who was in the insurance business looking for young people from UT getting out of school and going into business,” Thomas says. “He recommended me and that’s how it worked. I went into the insurance business. Then I started thinking about goals. I had seven months, from June to December, to make the Million Dollar Round Table. And we did it! And we were able to stay with it.”
The Million Dollar Round Table is a trade association formed in 1927 to help insurance brokers and financial advisors establish best business practices and develop ethical and effective ways to increase client interest in financial products, specifically risk based products like life insurance, disability and long term care.
Thomas became a member of the MDRT in 1972. In 1976, the organization added an additional component called Top of the Table, which was the top 300 producers nationwide in the industry. Thomas was the youngest to join at that time.
To be in the insurance business, one must be a goal-driven person, Thomas says.
“We worked very hard. We kept studying, kept going into the MDRT and learning ideas from older professionals,” Thomas says. “The greatest mentor I had was a fellow named Ron Moore who was my general agent when I entered the life insurance industry. He recruited me into the business and he showed me the ropes.”
When Thomas first set up the business he had a small office, in Tampa, with three rooms and one other employee. The company now employs 25 people.
Thomas has a strong reverence for the University of Tampa, where he is chairman emeritus of the Board of Trustees and serves on the Advisory Board at the university’s John Sykes College of Business.
The school gave him a scholarship to play football when the school still had a team. It helped propel him into his very lucrative career but probably more important to him it is where he met his wife, Sandy.
“I had come from a military school and I didn’t have much experience with girls. I had seen Sandy because she was in the same dorm that I was in. I was sitting at lunch one day and I said to myself, ‘I’m going to go talk to that Sandy girl, she’s 21 and doesn’t need a fake ID,’” Thomas says as he laughs. “We were married a year later.”
The two have been married for 47 years, have two children and two grandchildren. Thomas radiates with affection when he speaks of them.
The feeling is mutual. “I have no negative things to say about my husband. He’s a wonderful husband, a wonderful provider and a wonderful father. I have no complaints,” Sandy says.
Sandy Thomas grew up in the same house her entire life, while Rick moved around nine or 10 times growing up. Sandy is from the north and Rick is from the south.
It would appear on paper that they are opposites but as they say, opposites attract. The two balance each other out in such a genuine way.
Both Sandy and Rick are very involved with UT and have given a lot of time and money to help give back and support the university.
“I’ve always felt that I need to [give back to UT], that’s for sure. I even thought about it while I was still in school. They gave me a scholarship,” Thomas says.
Thomas’ philanthropic support has been significant enough to have a dedicated parking garage at the school named after him.
Thomas also gives back to the insurance industry, in the form of speaking on a national level to other brokers and passing along his expertise in the field.
He’s a frequent speaker and has addressed the Million Dollar Round Table, the Top of the Table, the International Forum and local insurance associations.
He is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Outback Steakhouse Community Foundation and is involved in many civic and charitable organizations.
When he isn’t working, Thomas loves to be at his second home in North Carolina with his family.
“Some clients of mine in Georgia called me one day and said, ‘We’ve got something that I think you would really like to do. It looks right up your alley’,” Thomas says. “They were building a golf community in North Carolina.”
Nestled at an elevation of 4,000 feet, atop North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains between Highlands and Cashiers, is a beautiful golf community called Mountaintop.
Thomas bought a lot and built a three-story home for family, friends and clients to get away to a place where the air is different and everyone can breathe easy.
Thomas says he loves the golf course, which according to him is probably the best in North Carolina, and they eat most meals at the country club because, he says, the food is amazing.
“There’s no stuffiness about it. You can wear blue jeans and children are welcome.”
Thomas reflected on many family memories, and even teared up a few times as he spoke about them. He shared with TBBW that one of his fondest memories was taking his daughter, Lauren, to Paris – to find her dream wedding dress. They spent a week together, shopping, laughing and dining. They even ate at Le Jules Verne, in the Eiffel Tower, and even better – stayed in a haunted manor.
“Lauren was born on Bastille Day, so they always wanted to visit France together,” Sandy says.
Both children of the Thomas’, Richard and Lauren, have made their parents proud. Richard attended Harvard and earned his MBA at Duke University and Lauren attended Southern Methodist University, earning her MBA from UT. Lauren is now a managing partner at Thomas Financial.
Another favorite trip was after Richard graduated from Duke and Rick took him on a golf trip to Scotland. During that trip, Rick got a par on the Road Hole at the St. Andrews course, which is said to be one of the hardest holes in the world.
When selling life insurance, Thomas takes an approach of educating his clients about the importance of protecting one’s assets, which in turn protects their businesses and families. It’s a big deal, he says. It’s a person’s legacy.
“They have a family and they have things that they need to protect. They might have a lawyer with them and when we get down to the end, he might look at me and say, why would I do this? I say ‘someday, there’s going to be a meeting and in that meeting you’re going to have your wife, you’re going to have your children, your lawyer, your accountant, but you won’t be there. But if I’m there, it’s going to be a better meeting’,” he says. “It is protection for the people you are leaving behind.”
Thomas is a testament to the importance of planning for the future. If his clients knew the devotion that he has for his own family, they would understand the value of protecting their assets.
When asked what advice Thomas would give to someone aspiring to be like him, he says, “Marry a middle child,” as he laughs. “And just do the right thing.” ♦