Karen Valentine of Allstate Insurance

Karen Valentine of Allstate Insurance 1306 Fulton Street

On September 20th I made my way north on Nostrand Avenue to meet with Karen Valentine of Allstate Insurance. I had visited her before after someone heard a speech I gave and recommended me to her. We had a meeting in which I offered her a free ad in “Nostrand Avenue News” and then a profile in the following issue. If the ad and profile helped her business, I was hoping she would become a regular partner. So if you look at the September issue on page 39, you will see her advertisement. However, it is my feeling that ads only do so much. People want to know who is behind the ad. It is my hope that this profile gives the reader an idea.

It was a bit after ten when I sat down with Karen in the waiting area just inside the door. I began by asking about her background. She came from Trinidad; she arrived in the US with her two sisters and joined their parents in East Flatbush. Her father worked as an accountant and her mother had a job at Chase Bank. Karen was 15. She enrolled in Wingate High School and did very well there. Her social studies teacher, the first of many mentors, noticed her and encouraged her to apply to Columbia College, a place she did not know very well. However, he convinced her and she ended up getting in –not only getting in but getting in to the first class of the college that included women She had been doubtful about the college because it didn't have a business major, which was what she wanted. However, she found that getting a liberal arts degree, which taught her how to read, write, and make careful judgments was excellent preparation for business.

Out of college, Karen moved quickly both in her career and her personal life. She married two years out of college and eventually had two children, but they did not slow her down. She once had an interview two weeks after her second child was born. She got work at Met Life right out of college as an assistant and the another job at Northwestern where she became an agent. She took a break to get an accounting degree and got a job first at CPMG and then at Price Waterhouse where she made her way in an environment that was very male and very white. One of her bosses told her that he was impressed by how well she used a knife and fork. However, there were people who saw she was very bright, ambitious and hard-working. Next came six years at Morgan Stanley where she became a director and then a stint at Citibank where she was a director in corporate banking and then someone looking at Global Transformation, studying trends and opportunities around the world. She moved on to AIG where she again did Global Transformation. At both places she came in after their had been a sharp downturn, and she was part of the team putting things back together.

After AIG, Karen wanted to take some time off. She returned to Trinidad and spent a lot of time on the beach thinking things over. Her thoughts went in the direction of doing something to prepare her children for the business world and so began a new project on something different. She decided to start a family-run beverage company using fruit flavors from the Caribbean. The business gradually grew so there was a company creating tastes, there was a bottling company in Florida and an ever growing distribution and marketing system. The company is called Good Juice and Karen's son has an active role.

Busy again, Karen decided to go back to insurance. She bought an Allstate franchise and in February of this year moved to her current location at 1306 Fulton Street. She has three employees plus her son. She designed her office herself trying for a look that is modern, clean, warm and inviting. She succeeded. She also created a large space in the basement that would be suitable for events. She chose the Fulton Street address thinking it would work strategically for doing business in Bed Stuy, which is coming up rapidly and in Crown Heights, which has already come a long way. However, her franchise does business all over Brooklyn. One thing leads to another, so all kinds of different people and businesses show up. Karen can offer products from 26 companies besides Allstate, and if one looks at the brochures on the wall in the waiting area, nearly all of them have the word “customize” in them. Karen wants to get to know her customers one at a time and offer policies that fit their precise needs. She likes to meet her customers by phone or through walk-ins. So far there seems to be a focus on businesses and apartment renters. Her main tool for marketing is social media – this has come a long way in less than a year, and it will go much further as time goes by. She has been working on it for three months and likes the results so far. For the time being Karen is committed to getting the business to take off, but once it has done that she dreams of being back on the beach. However, it is difficult to imagine her idle.

She has accomplished a lot – a brilliant education, an amazingly successful career, a wonderful family and, now that her children are grown, she is setting them on the path to success, one that she has passed over before. She might lie down on the beach, but her mind would keep bubbling with ideas and projects.

– John DeWind

UpdatesRobbie Klein