From A Pauper To A President
If you like Horatio Alger stories, Englewood’s Robert J. (“Bob”) Turner is a classic for you. He was born in 1940, when the Great Depression was still ravishing the world’s economies, and Germany and Japan were devastating Europe and the Far East. His mom and dad, Wilhelmina and John Turner, both worked in the silk mills of Paterson, N.J., a city where some neighborhoods were among the toughest in the country. Money was scarce and jobs hard to
“I guess I wasn’t supposed to happen,” Bob says. That’s a pretty good guess: John Turner was 50 and Wilhelmina 40 when Bob made his earthly appearance. His brother John was 22, sister Carrie 20, sister Alice 15. By the time he was 10, his father had died and his older siblings were all married and had children. “I got to play with my nephews and nieces, who were about the same age I was,” he remembers.
“We didn’t have a family car back then. We were on the poor side, so I had a job in high school, picking up trash at Meyer Brothers department store.” There was no time for sports or other after-school activities. But he had ambitions. “I had a strong desire to make money. I thought I would become a retired millionaire,” he recalls. “When you’re at the bottom of the ladder, it’s a lot easier to climb up.” Well, he had a lot of climbing to do. And he hit a roadblock right off the bat.
“I went to Fairleigh Dickinson University for a semester, but I came down with pneumonia that first year,” he says. That and a lack of money for tuition ended his college plans. He got a job as a shoe salesman, not exactly a step in the direction he wanted. But from his cousin he learned of an opening for a salesman at Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. They were looking for someone at least 25 years old and married. He was 19 and not yet married to his high school sweetheart, Lorna. He got the job anyway, and he was the youngest agent in the firm.
His territory was Bergen County, a well-to-do region close to New York City, and he did well. “At that time Met Life was only offering life insurance,” he says, “and I began to think that people would be better off with term insurance, mutual funds and home & auto insurance. I did a lot of reading, and after a few years, I thought they were doing it wrong at Met Life, so I got my property & casualty license and my mutual funds license, and in 1966 I went into business on my own.”
He started with an office in his garage. “Lorna was a registered nurse, but she helped me with clerical stuff at the beginning,” he says. Originally he was selling to friends and neighbors, small mom & pop businesses and referrals. But soon he was selling to bigger businesses, entering into joint ventures, and buying up smaller insurance agencies—offering them a somewhat sweeter deal than the typical buyout offer. As an insurance broker, he could represent any insurance company, and he did work with several. “As we grew,” he notes, “I didn’t have to go to them. They came to me.” He incorporated the business as The Turner Group, Inc., named himself its president, and wisely held all the stock in his growing company.
And grow it did. When Bob sold the company in 2002, it was headquartered in Parsippany, N.J. There were seven offices in that state and Pennsylvania, over 220 employees, and bookings of more than $100 million in premiums annually. “It was one of the top 150 insurance agencies in the U.S.,” he reckons. And he still held all the shares. He had gone from pauper to president and could fulfill his youthful fantasy of becoming a retired millionaire. In his business he and Lorna had traveled widely—much of it on “incentive” trips the major insurance firms offered to their most successful agents and associates—to such places as Hawaii, China, the Caribbean, Spain, Ireland, Monaco and France. What more could there be to do?
Well, there was another facet to Bob’s business career. In 1985, Lorna’s uncle had invited him to become the final, needed investor/shareholder in a start-up private financial institution, the Atlantic Stewardship Bank, which would tithe a portion of its earnings to churches and worthy civic organizations annually. “I agreed to do it back then,” he acknowledges, “on the condition that I’d be named a permanent member of the firm’s board … and my company would write all their insurance business.” The deal was sealed, and Bob would stay on the board for 30 years, eventually becoming one of the bank’s largest stockholders.
With their three children (Scott, Wayne and Robert) grown and established in their careers, Bob and Lorna looked for their retirement haven. They already owned a spacious summer estate in Vermont, but they wanted a place in Florida where it was warm and they could take up golf. “We were avid tennis players, but we figured golf would be our sport as we got older. We looked at a lot of places, but once we saw Boca Royale in Englewood, we kept coming back to see more. It looked more like Bermuda than any other place we’ve ever been.” They had a house built there in 2004, and they’ve been here ever since. “It’s the best move we’ve ever made,” Bob says. “It’s the friendliest community. You make more friends in six months here than you’ll make anywhere else in the rest of your life.”
Bob retired from the bank’s board at age 75 in 2015, and the bank was sold in 2019. Looking back on his career, he started lower and finished higher in achieving his ambitions than most folks, and he had Lorna, the love of his life, to share it with. “We were blessed, and very fortunate,” he avers. Perhaps so, but there’s a saying that fortune favors the prepared mind. And Bob Turner had a prepared mind.
Dean Laux is exploring interesting folks living in our community. If you know of anyone with an interesting background please send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Include the person’s name, contact info and give a brief description of the person’s background.