Updated: Last of three-brother team that built Aflac, "Mr. Paul" Amos dies

Paul Amos was the last surviving link to a three-brother team that built Aflac from a fledgling insurance company headquartered in Columbus to a Fortune 500 company worth more than $28 billion.

Amos, 88, died Wednesday night at Doctors Hospital in Columbus.

A funeral service is scheduled for 3 p.m. Saturday at St. Luke United Methodist Church. Visitation will begin at 2 p.m. at the church.

The company was founded in 1955 by John Amos, a Fort Walton Beach, Fla., lawyer who brought his dream of starting an insurance company to Georgia. He was soon followed by his older brother, Bill, and his younger brother, Paul.

“John was an entrepreneur,” Paul Amos said in a lengthy interview about his life and career in September 2007. “His idea was to start an insurance company. He liked to do the initial work, but he didn’t want any part of the day-to-day operations. That’s where brother Bill came in. His niche is he was careful with expenses when he needed to be.”

But before there was a business to manage, cancer policies had to be sold. That’s where Paul came into the picture.

“My niche was in sales,” he said. “After several years in the home office, I went to Alabama as sales manager.”

What started as American Family Life Assurance Co. is now Aflac, one of the most recognizable insurance names in the nation, thanks to a spokesduck that has quacked the name into pop culture.

In 1955, in its first year of business, the company had 6,426 policyholders and $388,000 in assets.

Today, it is a Fortune 500 company, still headquartered on Wynnton Road, that has a market value of more than $28.7 billion and the stock that sold for pennies in the early days now sells for more than $62 per share. It does business in two countries, the United States and Japan, earning about 80 percent of its income in the Asian nation.

That’s a long way from when the Amos brothers were begging people to invest and buy insurance in the 1950s and 1960s.

John died in 1990 and Bill died in 1997.

The company is currently led by Paul and Jean Amos’ only child, Dan, who has been the chief executive officer for more than two decades. He is also the chairman of the board, a title once held by Paul after John’s death.

But at the core of the early years were the three brothers.

“If there was ever a family with the ingredients for failure in the insurance business, we were it,” Paul Amos said.

That may be the way he saw it, but not the way others saw it.

“They were all very smart people — and as unalike as any three brothers I have ever seen,” said retired Aflac executive George Jeter. “John was always going into unplotted areas — Japan is an example of that. Bill’s background was dime stores and he was a very practical and conservative business person. Paul was almost exclusively in sales, making Alabama and Northwest Florida, along with Georgia, the leading district.”

Paul earned a reputation as a caring and laid-back leader.

“He’s fair,” said retired Tennessee state sales manager Bill Heydel, who calls Paul and his wife, Jean, close friends. “If he told you something, you could put it in the bank. And he kept that philosophy all through the years as a manager, an executive and as board chairman. Without Paul, this company would not be where it is today.”

Patricia Bell, currently the longest tenured employee who has been with the company almost 47 years, tells a story to illustrate how Paul treated those who worked for Aflac.

When she marked her 30th year with the company, Amos presented her with a rose at an employee recognition function.

“When 35 years came along, I asked him if he was going to be there to give me my rose,” Bell said. “He was supposed to be at a dedication in Florida and not back until the next day. He changed his schedule so he would be there to give me my rose.”

Then the 40-year mark came around.

“He was scheduling some surgery,” Bell said. “But he said there were two things he was going to do, one was be at the shareholder’s meeting because he had never missed one and — his words — ‘be there to give that feisty, little lady her roses for tenure.’”

The business

Around Aflac he was simply known as Mr. Paul.

The name comes from the early days.

“A lot of people thought it was a Southern thing,” Bell said. “But it wasn’t. There were three Mr. Amoses. And you wanted to call them mister out of respect, but they wouldn’t know which Mr. Amos you were talking about. That’s how it became Mr. Paul, Mr. Bill and Mr. John.”

Paul was the salesman. He had the Alabama/West Florida region, which was long one of the most productive in the company.

Paul was at the forefront of cluster selling — instead of making presentations in front of individuals, Aflac sales representatives would meet with groups of potential customers. It is still at the foundation of the company’s sales philosophy. Most Aflac policies in the United States are purchased through payroll deduction accounts.

“He did a remarkable job as a state manager,” said Heydel, who was doing the same thing at the same time in Tennessee. “He was good to people and he went into the field and built a sales force. He put up sales incentives. He encouraged the sales people.”

For many years, he did his job, while his brothers did theirs. In the late 1980s, when it became obvious that John’s health was declining because of cancer, Paul’s son, Dan, was chosen as the successor.

In 1990, when John died, Dan, then in his late 30s, was named CEO. Paul assumed John’s job as chairman.

“He has been a good, steady hand for Aflac, particularly in the later years working with Dan,” Jeter said of Paul. “Dan has a high regard for his father. I would imagine most of the major decisions were bounced off of his dad before anything was done with them.”

One of those decisions was an advertising leap of faith more than a decade ago. The company went with a white duck essentially mocking its own name, squawking “Aflaaaaac!” in TV ads.

The commercials were instant hits; now the company’s name is easily recognized.

Asked if John would approve of the duck that has become the face of the supplemental insurance company, Paul Amos smiled.

“I would just show him the financial statements,” Paul said. “Better still, I would show him the price of the stock.”

No one could have known that Aflac would one day have brand recognition that rivals iconic companies like Coca-Cola. Dan Amos tells a story of his father and the duck’s success to illustrate when he knew the company had made it.

“In 1974 — I was 23 years old — my dad and I went up to our opening on the New York Stock Exchange,” Dan Amos said in a March interview. “We were country come to town.”

As they were walking down the street and there was a Coca-Cola store.

“He stopped me and he said, ‘I want you to look at this,’” Dan remembered. “I said “What?” He said, ‘I want you to look.’ I said, ‘Yeah, Coca Cola.’ He said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘People are buying that brand.’”

Paul Amos then made his point.

“Now, let me tell you something,” Paul Amos told his son. “When they buy your brand to wear, you have arrived.”

Not long after the duck ads appeared, people were sending emails, attempting to buy a duck. Dan Amos was told people wanting to purchase a duck. He called in his staff.

“I said, ‘I want y’all to know we’ve arrived. I don’t know how big we’ve arrived, but we’ve arrived if people will buy your brand,’” Dan Amos said. “And that’s the truth.

Dan Amos has been recognized as a top CEO for what he has accomplished at Aflac. He has also been named one of the country’s most ethical top executives, becoming one of the first to give shareholders a non-binding say on his pay.

In his later years, Paul was a proud father.

“I am proud of what we accomplished as three brothers,” he said. “But I am even more so proud of what Dan has accomplished.”

Heydel said the son is a lot like his father.

“Dan is just a mold of Paul Amos,” Heydel said. “When you see one, you see the other.”

Paul lived long enough to see his grandson and namesake, Paul Amos II, become the president of Aflac. The youngest Amos is currently working in Japan and being groomed for a larger role.

He also has seen the company expand to more than 8,000 employees and 185,000 agents worldwide. An expanding Paul S. Amos campus has been constructed in east Columbus, about eight miles from the main office.

As Aflac has grown, so has its embrace from a city that was slow to accept the company in the 1960s.

“We love Columbus, and we love its people,” Paul Amos said. “We did not get the support in the beginning, but over the years we have had tremendous support. It is nice to be appreciated, and I believe we are appreciated in Columbus, Georgia.”

A generous man

Amos has had two nonprofit foundations — the Paul and Jean Amos Foundation and God’s Gift Foundation — that donate to a number of individuals and causes.

Many times, he offered his helping hand in silence, not looking for any recognition.

Former Columbus Mayor Jim Wetherington has known Paul Amos for many years.

“He has helped so many people and organizations in this community. A lot of people don’t know the extent of his generosity,” Wetherington said. “I know this from personal experience. He was always there and he always did it for the right reasons.”

Bell, who has been with Aflac her entire adult life, agrees. She, too, has seen Amos’ kindness to others.

“I don’t know if anybody wants this known — I know he didn’t — but there were a lot of people he helped and they had no clue he did it,” Bell said. “He never got any recognition for it, and he never wanted any recognition for it.”

One of his gifts was something he never had.

Amos did not attend college because when he returned from World War II, where he served in the U.S. Coast Guard from 1944 to 1946, he went directly to work in the family’s Milton, Fla., dime store business.

So he set up a fund at Aflac that allows employees and their children to draw on it for scholarship help for college.

“He took his own money and set up that fund,” Bell said. “Numerous people have told me they furthered their education because of Mr. Paul’s generosity. And a lot of them were single parents who would have had no other way to attend school.”

There are Paul and Jean Amos scholarship funds set up at Columbus State University, Asbury Theological Seminary, and Cumberland College in Williamsburg, Ky. All three of those universities have awarded Paul honorary doctorate degrees.

The lack of a college education was something Paul thought about into his 80s. He was asked if he had any regrets.

“I am sure there is something I would change,” he said. “But I can’t think of what that would be.”

He thought about it for a minute.

“I didn’t go to college,” he said. “If I had gone, would I be where I am today? Would I have gone into teaching? If I had, I probably wouldn’t have given up that security.”

Bell said that a large part of Paul Amos’ legacy will be his giving.

“I am not taking anything away from Mr. John or Mr. Bill — they both had their good qualities,” she said. “But when it came to generosity, and not just individuals but organizations, Mr. Paul was the most caring person I have ever known.”

A lasting love

Paul and Jean Amos were married for 65 years.

They met shortly after he returned from World War II.

“It was at Milton Methodist Church; she was singing in the choir,” he said.

Paul was 22; Jean was 18.

After more than six decades and tremendous business success, Paul put his marriage in terms that anyone could understand.

“She is my biggest asset — my most important asset,” he said.

And they both shared a love for the people who helped the Amos brothers build an insurance company from scratch.

“She is a vivacious lady who loves Aflac and its people,” Paul said. “If she had a choice of having dinner with the president and the first lady or Aflac employees, she would choose Aflac employees.”

As Amos traveled the nation and world on behalf of Aflac, Jean was almost always at his side.

“She went with him everywhere,” Jeter said. “Jean was always very protective of Paul.”

Since 1966, they have lived in the same Midtown Columbus home a quarter mile from Aflac’s Wynnton Road tower.

“He could have had any house he wanted, but it was all the house he and Jean ever needed,” Jeter said.

The Amoses have been members of St. Luke United Methodist Church for more than 50 years.

Amos is survived by his wife, Jean; son, Dan, and his wife, Kathelen; two grandchildren, Lauren Amos and her husband, Tyler Clayton, and Paul S. Amos II, and his wife, Courtney; and four great-grandchildren, Dan Amos, Mansell Amos, Knox Amos and Eden Amos.

In his final years, Amos’ health suffered because of Parkinson’s disease. But until the end, he continued to report to his 19th floor office — the one that was once occupied by John. He also continued to travel abroad with Jean and friends.

About five years before his death, Amos made light of his health concerns.

“There is not a thing in the world wrong with me that youth wouldn’t cure,” he said.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that contributions in his memory be made to the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorder Center in Atlanta or St. Luke United Methodist Church in Columbus.