Be ready for opportunity says veteran advisor

By Susan Yellin | February 20 2014 10:20AM

Stephen Pustai

Stephen Pustai was a milkman working for Silverwood Dairies in Hamilton, Ontario, when his route foreman beckoned him over. Don Mackenzie told him about an opening at London Life for an insurance agent, but Pustai scoffed. In the hours that passed, Pustai regretted his negative reaction and at 4 am the next day, he staked out Mackenzie and apologized for his comments. After a couple of urgings, Mackenzie gave him the phone number.

Pustai, 21 at the time, called the number and went in for an interview and on Feb. 2, 1953, he became a financial security advisor with the insurer’s wealth estate planning group. Less than three years later he was promoted to management and, by 1979, Pustai was heading a staff of 40. Today, he is going strong, a legacy member of Advocis, a life member of the Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT), and at 83, is still accepting new clients. (Mackenzie, by the way, became one of his first clients.)

Pustai learned a lesson from his former foreman: to grab opportunity when it comes. If he ever hears anyone doubtful about taking a step forward, Pustai remembers what happened to him that fateful day at the dairy.

“Opportunity may come by chance, but not readiness. When will you be ready for an opportunity?”

Influx of Europeans

Pustai seized opportunity in the mid-1950s during an influx of Europeans in southern Ontario. While born in Canada, Pustai has a Hungarian background and could feel for the newcomers and the difficulty they had moving to a country where they didn’t speak the language. Many of his colleagues shied away from the immigrant population. But when he became a manager, Pustai told his staff that there were a number of new immigrants who owned cars and lived in decent neighbourhoods and they should all be considered potential clients.

He volunteered to go with younger representatives for moral support. “I told the reps to treat the immigrant population just like you would treat anyone else. Don’t use highfalutin language. There must be someone – maybe a daughter or a son – who can speak English. Use them as the stepping stone to meet with mom and dad and they will be your interpreters. And that’s what we did.”

Helping people is what’s kept Pustai in the business all these years. When he was delivering milk, young mothers waited anxiously for him because they had babies who needed to be fed. “That caring concept has always been with me. When I looked at what I would be doing in the life insurance business I realized that if in some small way I offer a service and someone did die then there would be money there for the family to maintain their standard of living or use for debt purposes or whatever. That had a profound effect on me early in life,” said Pustai, who now lives in Burlington, Ontario.

What has changed over the years, he says, is the growth of what he calls “the greed concept.” These, he says, are people who are marketing themselves and calling themselves financial advisors when they don’t have their own financial houses in order. It’s a belief he holds for himself as well as any other financial advisor he hired. “If I was going to hire you, I have to make sure that you have your financial house in order before I can proceed any further.”

While Pustai has enjoyed much during his life, he has also had great sorrow. At age 60, after 38 years in management, he was planning retirement and handing over part of his business to his son Rob, who had worked with him for eight years. Just a day before the announcement was to go out, Rob died suddenly on Thanksgiving weekend, leaving a young family.

Pustai started scribbling some positive notes about his life and his family and before he knew it, it had grown to become a book, entitled Dreams Can Come True. The inspirational book follows Pustai and his wife, Barbara, through their lives, the raising of their sons Rob and Ken, Pustai’s business successes and his financial principles.

In early 1996, a month after the book was published, he received a call from a member of the MDRT, telling Pustai that MDRT executive wanted him to put together a 20-minute presentation for the next meeting. The meeting, in Chicago, took place in front of an audience of 6,000. Still sounding rather surprised at what followed, Pustai says he then was asked to attend other MDRT meetings – in Sydney, Dubai, Belize and Bermuda. The book has since been translated into Spanish and Hungarian.

Pustai, a diamond member of the Million Dollar Round Table Foundation Canada, and a Joseph Brant gift planning council ambassador, gives all book sales to charity.

Pustai has taken many courses – and continues to take courses – with Advocis, MDRT and London Life, saying he enjoys learning about new products and subjects.

He believes the future of the industry lies in good training and a deep commitment to the people advisors service. “Our role is to help people win. If you become successful, then I will become successful. It’s simple.”

On a personal level, he says he is big on relationship-building and maintaining a good attitude and objectivity.

“Without my dear wife, Barbara I would not be speaking with you today. I’m high on relationships – with my wife, my family and my clients.

“Life is more than business. Success is more than money. The dream that we must follow encompasses all of life.”