SALEM -- George W. Morris Jr. had been a high school and college football coach, but the influence of an associate encouraged him to get into the insurance business.
While coaching at Columbiana High School, Morris met Leonard Goist, who was the general agent for Midland Mutual Life Insurance Co. as well as the parent of one of Morris' young charges.
"Len was always trying to talk me into selling insurance and I'd say, 'I'm a coach, not a salesman.' But Len told me you have to be a salesman to be a coach," Morris said.
Wound up selling: He wound up selling insurance while he taught and coached at Columbiana. But he quit the insurance business when he and his wife, Theresa, moved to Iowa, where he became an assistant coach at Iowa Wesleyan College.
"It was the last game of the year and we were playing Eureka College, Ronald Reagan's alma mater. There was a driving snowstorm and unbeknownst to me, Len Goist was at the game," Morris recalled.
"The airline had lost his luggage and he was sitting at the game in that snowstorm wearing a lightweight suit."
Goist had flown to Iowa to talk Morris into coming back east and selling insurance.
"I thought that if someone thinks that much about me and the industry he represents, then maybe I better take a look at it," Morris said.
He added, "We thought about it for a couple of weeks and then we came back. I opened my first office in 1971 on Market Street in Youngstown. I was there until 1977 when I moved to Salem."
Family business: Mrs. Morris began working with her husband as an administrative assistant, and in 1980 she became a licensed agent. Their son, George III, joined the company 12 years ago.
Since Morris is an independent agent, he can broker several different companies. "I think it's best to be an independent agent because you can truly represent the best interest of the public. No one product can fit the needs of all people," he said.
More services: Initially, the company was called George W. Morris Insurance Agency. The name was changed to Morris Financial Group when investments and financial planning were added to the company's product line.
Morris's son and three other employees handle the life insurance, investments and financial planning aspect of the business. Morris Jr. and 10 employees handle the sales and service of the group health insurance.
Morris has seen a lot of change in the health insurance industry over the past 30 years.
"In 1971 there were 2,400 companies in this country that were health insurance carriers. Now there are only about 170," he said.
He said his agency is one of the largest writers of group health insurance in the tri-county area.
"In this day and age, you either have to get larger through mergers and acquisitions or you are going to die on the vine," he said.