Jeffery A. Szymanski ‘90: A Gifted Leader Who Values the Aggie Network
As a grade school student, Jeffery A. Szymanski ‘90 dreamed of joining the Aggie network. Today, he’s not only part of the Aggie network; he’s a leader within it.
By Rachel Knight ‘18
Some people have a role model who instills a strong work ethic within them. Jeffery A. Szymanski ‘90 has an entire family of hardworking role models. He credits his family’s work ethic, a College of Liberal Arts education, and the Aggie network with setting him up for a successful career.
After graduating from Texas A&M University with an undergraduate degree in political science, Szymanski joined the mortgage banking business. Six years later, he changed careers and got into the insurance industry. By 1999, he’d officially found his professional stride as an agent for Farmers Insurance Group in Austin.
The Austin district manager at Farmers Insurance Group took notice of Szymanski’s success, and asked if he’d like to become a manager. Szymanski jumped at the opportunity and shortly found himself serving as district manager in Dallas.
Continued success took him to Los Angeles to work in an executive program with Farmers Insurance Group. Once his service in LA was over, he and his family moved back to Texas where he resumed his district manager duties in Tyler for five and a half years. Now, he’s back home in Houston serving as the Head of District Operations/Registered Principal there, raising his family, and spreading the Aggie spirit every chance he gets.
This interview, which has been condensed and edited for clarity, may inspire you.
Tell me about your childhood.
I grew up in Wallis, a small town southwest of Houston. I had a wonderful childhood and time growing up. I went to Brazos High School and was very active in sports, became an Eagle Scout, and served in school politics as class president and things of that nature.
I grew up in a family with people who have strong work ethics. My mom who is deceased owned her own business and later went back to college to become a schoolteacher. My dad worked for the local power company, Houston Lighting and Power. I always saw him get up early in the morning and then come home late, but he always had time for us in the evenings.
I worked for my grandfather, a local businessman whose store sold gas and food. I worked there on weekends and during summers doing a little bit of everything. The work ethic my family instilled in me early propelled me to be successful professionally. That and of course attending Texas A&M.
Why did you decide to attend Texas A&M University?
I always knew I wanted to go to Texas A&M. I started going to Aggie football games when I was really little. My senior year in high school, I went to the 1986 Cotton Bowl when we beat Auburn and that pretty much solidified it for me. I knew where I wanted to go.
Why did you choose political science as your major?
I’ve always been interested in politics, but I more specifically chose the College of Liberal Arts to get a broad background education. Getting a degree from the College of Liberal Arts allowed me to study not only political science, but other things I was interested in like sociology, philosophy, Spanish, and economics. Really it was the broad overall background that interested me.
When you are exposed to more than one way of thinking or learning, or when you’re exposed to many subjects during the course of your time in college, it allows you to open up your mind and think differently. You bring those tools with you to your career. A broad educational background has allowed me to relate to different situations throughout my career. It’s helped me succeed.
What are your favorite Aggie traditions?
Midnight Yell is one. When you can amass 40,000 students to a yell practice the night before a game, that says there’s a lot of spirit. You see how impressive Midnight Yell can be by the coverage it gets from ESPN and other sports networks.
Midnight Yell is also one of the first things I remember going to when I was younger. The dedication and the passion that the students have in their support for the team really left an impression on me. I love that it carries over into the support that the 12th Man lends to the team on Saturday.
The 12th Man is also one of my favorite traditions. I feel the tradition of standing for games is a true symbol of our readiness to help others when called upon and embodies what Texas A&M is all about. In fact, my wife’s late grandfather, Bill Shuart, was an attorney in Corpus Christi and was dear friends with E. King Gill! They golfed regularly at the country club and even attended an Aggie football game with my wife’s aunt.
Tell me a little more about your wife and kids.
I have been married for 23 years. My wife Sarah is as much of an Aggie as I am, although she went to the College of Charleston. She is a huge supporter of Texas A&M, not only as a spouse, but also as an Aggie parent. She is a wonderful wife, mother, and converted Aggie.
She came to love Texas A&M through me. By going to football games and visiting campus, it opened her eyes to what Texas A&M was all about. Her dad graduated from UT Law, her mom went to the University of Texas, her grandfather went to Texas. I thought it was going to be a hard sell, but she fell in love with Texas A&M. She’s a proud Aggie mom.
I am very proud to say that our daughter, Elizabeth, is a junior at Texas A&M in the College of Liberal Arts, so I have passed that tradition to her. She’s an English major.
In addition to our daughter, we also have a senior in high school, Will, so our fingers are crossed that he’ll go to Texas A&M. He’s a die-hard Aggie, too.
How has your job or company been impacted by COVID-19?
It has opened my mind and my eyes to a new way of doing business through mediums like Zoom. I have found that I can become more efficient by training agents and supporting my agents through Zoom calls. Instead of having them drive to me, sit in a class, then go back to their own offices in traffic, we can cut out the travel time and get the same content covered on Zoom.
There is no substitute for one-on-one interaction, and I miss that greatly, but hopefully soon we’ll be back in agent’s offices helping them grow their businesses. For now, if I had to summarize what COVID has done to my business, it has allowed me to think differently and perhaps become more efficient at the services I provide to the agents I support.
How have you used and experienced the power of the Aggie network?
I have been out of school 31 years now, and I am asked all the time about my ring. Whether I’m in Texas or traveling abroad, the Aggie network is incredibly powerful. I know that graduating from Texas A&M has certainly given me an advantage. You couple the education with a strong work ethic and that has allowed me to achieve some levels of success. Graduating from Texas A&M has been a major blessing in my life.
They’ve also given me the opportunity to connect unexpectedly with a couple of former university presidents. When Bob Gates was our president, my family and I were moving to Dallas. Our kids were young, and we spent the night before we closed on our house in Dallas in a hotel. I had on a Texas A&M shirt and was trying to put our kids in the car, appease them, and finish loading the car all at the same time. This gentleman taps me on the shoulder. I turn around and see Bob Gates. He said, “I just wanted to say good morning to this fine Aggie.”
I thought that it was very nice that the president of Texas A&M would go out of his way to stop by and say hello after seeing me struggling to get my car loaded and my kids settled. He made my day.
I also got to meet Dr. Loftin. We were traveling abroad. My family and I were in the airport in Greece. I saw him in the airport waiting for a plane. It was kind of in the same area as where my family was waiting, so I walked over and introduced myself. He and I talked about Texas A&M and the SEC move for about 15 minutes. I thought he was very generous to spend that time with me. Here I am halfway around the world and in the same airport as a familiar face. That’s the power of the Aggie network.
What books would you recommend?
All the Best by George H. W. Bush. It’s a heartfelt book that included his life in letters. I actually had the opportunity to meet him at a function years ago, so he was able to autograph that book for me.
I’d also highly recommend Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson. I’ve always been very interested in weather, so I had a hard time putting down this book. It’s an account of the great hurricane of 1900 that altered Galveston forever. Prior to the storm, Galveston was quickly becoming the jewel of the gulf coast. Meteorologists at the time thought the storm would head to Louisiana, but Galveston resident Isaac Cline felt differently. After the storm destroyed Galveston, Houston then became the important port that Galveston once was. The storm served as the catalyst for today’s seawall in Galveston.
What do you want your legacy to be at Texas A&M University?
That I was a passionate die-hard Aggie who gave back to the school that gave me so much.