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Kenny Massey, a self-described “recovering optimist,” is passionate about life insurance, Modern Woodmen of America and the Quad Cities. On Saturday, Dec. 31, the president and CEO of the Rock Island-based fraternal financial services organization will retire after 40 years with the organization. Then, on Jan. 1, 2023, Jerald J. Lyphout, East Moline, will become Modern Woodmen’s 12th president and CEO. Mr. Massey graduated in 1982 from Mississippi State University with a business degree, majoring in insurance. He joined Modern Woodmen as a field representative in Mississippi, became district manager in 1985 and then manager of the organization’s western Louisiana agency in 1988. He moved to the Quad Cities as director of agencies in June 1997 and in 2005, was named president and CEO. At year-end in 2021, Modern Woodmen’s assets were $17.49 billion. Mr. Massey and his wife, Tammy, live in LeClaire. They have three grown children and six grandchildren. Ahead of his retirement, the QCBJ asked Mr. Massey to answer our Q & A and reflect on his career path, Modern Woodmen and his next chapter.
During your QCBJ’s 90 Ideas in 90 Minutes speech, you talked about what led you to Modern Woodmen. Would you share it with our readers?My father died in a car accident when I was a teenager. The financial impact it had on our family led me to take courses in college to learn more about the life insurance industry. I learned how different life insurance is from other kinds of insurance. It’s not about replacing a house or a car. It’s not even about you as the insured. It’s about being able to help financially fulfill your loved ones’ dreams for tomorrow. That’s powerful. The good that can be done with life insurance appealed to me, and I gained a passion for it as I learned more. I felt an urgency that we can’t let people pass away without being adequately protected. I know that can be devastating to people because I’ve lived it. Personally, I had a great childhood. I got a college scholarship (ran track for Mississippi State), and I was working – singing with a band for spending money. I feel like I didn’t suffer, but my family did. My family’s experience ignited my passion for this business.
Modern Woodmen of America is a unique organization. Can you talk a little about its long history?Explaining our history starts with the story behind our name – there’s actually no woodworking, cabinetmaking or lumberjacks involved. The name was inspired by the pioneer woodmen who cleared forests to build homes and communities to provide security for their families. Our founder, Joseph Cullen Root, saw this as an analogy for clearing away financial burdens for families, and Modern Woodmen of America was born as a fraternal benefit society on Jan. 5, 1883, in Lyons, Iowa. The headquarters moved across the Mississippi River to Fulton, Illinois, in 1884 and relocated downriver to Rock Island in 1897. We’re proud to remain in downtown Rock Island to this day. Modern Woodmen is the nation’s third-largest fraternal benefit society in terms of assets. Fraternalism is a unique combination of business and giving back to those we serve. Our members are connected by common values, including financial security, quality family life, and community impact.
You’ve seen a lot of changes in your career. Can you share some of them as well as your advice to young professionals?It’s been very interesting! There have been hundreds of changes just during my time as CEO, from the housing market crash and the Great Recession to regulatory changes, low interest rates, and a pandemic, and we also had major technology transformations. You have to be willing to adapt and accept change in order to grow and succeed. Can you name one thing that improved if you were unwilling to change? No. Therefore, you need to look at the changes that come along as opportunities to learn and grow. Enjoy the challenge of reinventing and learning – and achieving.
You worked your way up from field representative to lead a major organization. Do you have words of wisdom to share with young people that might help them in their own journeys?I don’t see it as working my way up. Management was just a different career path than serving as a field rep. And my advice would be: Don’t believe that a position will make you successful or happy. It’s not about a title or income, it’s about meaning and purpose. To find that, I suggest:
- Spend time alone to reflect and get to know yourself. Think about what truly makes you happy. You can find success by following your own journey, which will bring you peace and fulfillment. That may be working for yourself, as an entrepreneur, or working to guide and help develop others. You’ll know you’re on the right path when you derive more joy than stress from what you’re doing.
- Find a mentor, someone who aligns with your values. If their approach doesn’t resonate with you, it’s not a fit.