Jeff Zackary got a degree in petroleum engineering from Mississippi State University in 1985. He did some work in the oil business for a while after graduation, but the oil industry was in a slump and very little drilling was being done.
“Jobs were scarce,” Zackary said. “I decided to go back to school, and considered medical school or law school. But my dad talked to me about looking into a career with State Farm Insurance. I started working with him in 1987 learning the business, and in 1989 I was appointed as a State Farm agent here.”
Today the oil industry in the U.S. has undergone resurgence with domestic drilling booming due to new techniques for recovering oil including hydraulic fracking. But Zackary has no regrets about his career choice. No longer just a company that sells insurance, State Farm provides complete financial services including banking — checking and savings accounts, mortgages, second mortgages, car loans, CDs, retirement accounts and individual portfolios.
“State Farm handles all insurance and financial services today,” Zackary said. “It is a one-stop shop for most individuals. There is just about nothing we can’t do for an individual in regards to protecting their assets and helping them to grow their assets for retirement. State Farm has a great vision for the future, and as large as they are, they are a very family-oriented company. We are a mutually owned company; each State Farm policyholder mutually owns the company, so our goal is to take care of our customers. They drive everything we do.”
Just as he was mentored by his father, Zackary now mentors others who want a career as a State Farm agent. Typically “agent aspirants” study under him for two or three years before going on.
“To me, helping the agent aspirants attain the kind of career I have been blessed with at State Farm is where my goals are today,” Zackary said. “I am fortunate and blessed with good team members. Agent aspirants come to work with me and I teach them what I do, how I do it and why. They have specific production goals. It is competitive. They learn the business from me, and go on to get an opportunity with State Farm. That has allowed me to have good solid team members driven by not just having a job, but the potential for a career. When someone is motivated and driven, it helps me grow my own agency.”
Zackary puts a lot of time and work into insurance and finance reviews with customers.
“We go through and talk about the things that matter to them,” Zackary said. “I’m a very needs-based person. We have conversations with individuals, find out what matters to them and how to cover those things. Our primary focus is what our customers’ needs are and how can we help them. That helps us cement relationships because we really care about our customers.”
Zackary said their product lines are very competitive, whether they are bank products or insurance. Few companies can offer everything that State Farm does.
“I teach my team members we have to offer a remarkable service every time and every contact,” he said. “I take a lot of pride that we take time to educate customers about what they need versus just trying to sell someone a policy. I think that separates us from a lot of different companies. State Farm is a well-known brand. The relationships that are formed with our customers are more than them just being a policyholder. We get involved in people’s lives and the community.”
One reason Zackary was attracted to the business was seeing how much respect people had for his father, Larry Zackary. He was well trusted in the community. The elder Zackary died at age 69 in 2006 on the 18th hole of the golf course after a three-day golf tournament.
“He played incredibly well, and won the tournament by 11 strokes,” Jeff Zackary said. “He passed away doing the things he loved to do.”
Zackary also loves golf, having taken up the golf clubs first at age five to play with his father. He also devotes a lot of time to another, more unusual passion — going on First Baptist Church of Jackson medical mission trips to Peru.
About 15 to 30 members of First Baptist, about half youths in high school or college and their parents, and the other half health care professionals, go on annual mission trips to the Andes Mountains in Peru. Zackary started doing the trips in 2008 with the encouragement of his friend, Randy Calvert. They work with missionary Jim Wroten, who has helped set up medical clinics in villages in the area about two hours north of Lima in Pomabamba Province. Members of the group teach the gospel to the residents, with their words translated by Wroten into the native Incan language, Quechua.
“We have had a lot of people accept Christ, which has been amazing,” Zackary said. “We see 200 or 300 people per day. I’ve gone four times. I led the team in 2010, and co-led with Randy in 2011. It is an amazing, amazing experience. The beauty of the country is a byproduct. The Huaraz Mountains are one of the top hiking destinations in the world. It is incredibly beautiful. But the most I get out of it doing it is I’m doing what God wants me to do. Telling others about Jesus is why we are here, ultimately. Seeing these people who may have never heard the gospel hear it for the first time, seeing them accept Christ, is amazing. There is no way to come back from that experience without being changed yourself.”
Zackary said one of his greatest blessings has been sharing the experience with his family. His oldest daughter, Jordan, went with him in 2008 and 2009 and his wife, Diann, and their youngest daughter, McKenzie, went with him in 2011. The group was unable to travel to Peru this year because of the death of Wroten’s wife. But the 2013 trip is currently being planned.