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Tema Steele: Profile of a Successful Agent


  • Joined New York Life as an agent in 1981 at age 33, in Cherry Hill, NJ

  • Council Vice President 2000

  • Charter & consistent Chairman’s Cabinet member, 1996 to 2008

  • Since 2004, works with her son Joel, a Chairman’s Cabinet member since 2005

  • Works with approximately 3,000 currently active clients

  • Works in her locally owned office building with a staff of four full-time associates


After 27 years as an agent, I am just as excited to go to work today as I was as a new agent. Above all, I love what I do. After all these years, I still get to my office at 7:30 and often stay until 7 at night. Why? Because I love working with my clients, whether it means helping them put together a retirement plan or meeting their life insurance needs. No matter what’s going on in the economy people always need our products and services. I love learning more about clients and prospects. I always say that in this business the world stops in to visit. I want my clients to know they can talk with me anytime they need me or even just have a question. My business card has my personal cell phone number on it.

I also love working with my son, Joel. As an agent with New York Life Insurance Company and a registered representative with NYLIFE Securities LLC, I specialized in annuity and mutual fund sales, working with people on their retirement plans. My son, Joel, was running a health food restaurant in Philadelphia, and the hours and headaches were just too much. In 2004, I encouraged him to join me. He joined New York Life as an agent and decided to specialize in life insurance and long-term care insurance. Now, when we go on an appointment together, we offer an extensive complement of products and solutions. Clients benefit from and appreciate that Joel and I have a broad approach to retirement planning. He has added so much value to my business.

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Finally, nothing surpasses this career for helping you feel connected to people. Over the years I’ve made friends with many of my clients and the people I’ve worked with at New York Life. Those relationships let me know I’m connected to something larger than myself. I know the work I’m doing today will live on for generations. It’s a great feeling to witness people’s plans and dreams come to fruition during my career.


When I look back, there are so many things that amaze me about this career. For example, I’m amazed I had the courage to change my circumstances and even become an agent. I was married to an abusive husband for 12 years. In 1981, two years after the birth of my second son, we divorced and I moved into a one-bedroom apartment with the children. I was on food stamps, and working toward an MBA, when I decided to become a New York Life agent. I went to New York Life, passed the test and signed a contract. I brought my sons along on my first appointments when I couldn’t find a sitter. It was tough to persevere and support two young children, but I did it because I had to. Feeding my two sons, Joel and Jay, was my motivation back then. Now, Joel and Jay and their families provide a great personal support system for me.

I’m also pleased I’ve been able to maintain my focus on clients, not the size of the case. I’ve never gone after the big case. I go after every case because everyone needs help. That’s the essence of what I do. If you base your success on a huge sale, you could lose everything. I’ve built my career on case rate by working with about 200 new clients every year regardless of their net worth.

Finally, it’s very rewarding to be working with second and even third generations of clients’ families. Very often, I am working with the entire family, becoming part of their extended family and support system. To me, that speaks to the confidence and trust these families place in me. They have a lot of options when it comes to choosing an agent. Being available to educate clients goes a long way toward earning their trust. With me, they know they can always get a hold of me when they need me. They will always get a return phone call and we will take the time to explain everything we are doing and why we are doing it.


I believe I have been successful for three reasons. First, I am well organized. I believe this is paramount for an agent. My staff and I are meticulous and keep everything running smoothly. With more than 3,000 active clients we have to be. We keep track of all policy anniversaries, birthdays and special events. I make at least 10 phone calls every day to review clients’ portfolios or just call to say hello and see if there is anything I can do to be helpful.

Second, is the integrity of New York Life. In more than 27 years, I’ve never had to apologize for New York Life’s products. The company is so stable and secure. In a market like we are in today, there are not many guarantees available, but New York Life guarantees many of its insurance and fixed annuity products*. It’s wonderful to be able to offer that security to clients.

And did I mention I love what I do? This is so important I believe it’s worth repeating. I really care about the relationship I develop with clients. I love helping people. The way I look at it is that I spend my days meeting with friends that happen to be clients. I don’t need anything else.

For more information about a career with New York Life, contact a New York Life manager by logging on to or or call 1-800-497-0849

*Guarantees are based on the claims-paying ability of the issuer.

Rating: 5.0/5 (21 votes cast)


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Tema Steele: Profile of a Successful Agent

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