Author: Chris Starrs


Photo of John Addison
In demand as a motivational speaker, Addison and his co-CEO Rick Williams took Primerica public at the New York Stock Exchange in 2011. The initial public offering had 22 orders for each share available.

This past summer, Primerica’s co-CEO John Addison (BBA ‘79) addressed a crowd of 50,000 people at the company convention in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome.

In the current economic climate, chief executives typically feel some trepidation when speaking to employees and shareholders. But as Addison took the podium, he had virtually nothing but good news to share with his constituents.

After more than four years of wrangling, Addison and his co-CEO Rick Williams had won the battle to take Primerica public. In April 2011, they rang the bell at the New York Stock Exchange, commemorating the first day of trading for the Initial Public Offering of Primerica, Inc. The IPO was lauded as one of the most successful in recent years, with 22 orders for each share available.

“We were trying to get an IPO done when nobody was doing IPOs,” says Addison, who grew up in Newton County and graduated from Emory at Oxford in 1977 before enrolling at UGA. “The world was collapsing, everything was falling apart. It was, in many ways, the most rewarding time of my career — but it was also the most difficult.”

Addison’s career began with A.L. Williams, which became Primerica and was then sold in 1990 to financial titan Citigroup. Primerica had become the largest independent financial services marketing organization in North America, but it wasn’t a good fit with Citigroup, in Addison’s estimation.

“Citigroup was evolving into something different,” says Addison. “All these regulatory issues were pounding on them and they were becoming, more and more, just a big bank. Our business is predominantly term life insurance, mutual funds, and marketing financial products to middle-income, Main Street families. We didn’t fit at Citi . . . we were being forced to be square pegs in round holes. I knew that if we didn’t get our business out of Citi, it would, at some point, get folded, spindled, and mutilated.”

Primerica has more than 6,000,000 insurance and investment clients. The company employs 1,700 people in Duluth, 300 in Toronto, and it has 90,000 licensed representatives in the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico. In April 2013, Primerica will move into a new 350,000-square-foot headquarters building across from Sugarloaf Country Club in the metro Atlanta suburb of Duluth.

“We’re very focused on growing our distribution force, growing our sales force, and getting into a new facility,” says Addison, who has done his share of speaking before Terry College groups, including the Terry Leadership Speaker Series. “In the last year, we’ve expanded product lines, and we will continue to look at things that work with our distribution system that we ought to sell.”

Addison credits his Terry years with enabling him to “learn discipline and a way of thinking about human behavior as it relates to economics…honestly, it shaped my career.”

In demand as a public speaker, Addison has appeared at Success magazine symposiums, where he shared the stage with the likes of Zig Ziglar and John Maxwell. That’s a long way from where he started.

“I grew up on a dirt road,” says Addison. “I’ve always had a good personality and I could talk to people — but I had no idea I’d wind up in this position. But I got out and I got in traffic. I figured out what I was good at — and then you bob, you weave, you bounce. When you get knocked down, you bounce back up and you make things happen.”

When he speaks to entrepreneurs and students, Addison makes a point of saying that the top rungs on the business ladder are reserved for those who decide to become a “force of nature.”

“You’ve got to get in the middle of things,” says Addison, who was recently honored by the UGA Alumni Association as the “CEO of the Bulldog 100,” which ranks the fastest-growing businesses run by UGA alumni. “The way we got an IPO done is by deciding to be a relentless force. We weren’t going to take failure as an option. To be more entrepreneurial, people need to adopt an I’m-going-to-win attitude. Not everybody is going to get a trophy. That’s not how the world is.”