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  • Writer's pictureHistoric Columbus

American Family Life Assurance Company

SOURCE: Columbus: Georgia's Fall Line Trading Town by Joseph B. Mahan, 1986.


Columbus was the discovery that ended a search by John B. Amos for the right place to plant the seed of his destiny. He chose to establish an unusual business that would become a billion-dollar international enterprise in twenty-six years. John arrived in Columbus in the summer of 1955 with his wife, Elena, and their two small children. When he found a receptive business climate and a family town atmosphere, John made a decision that gave birth to the American Family Life Assurance Company. A sense of family was always a force in his life, so it was natural for him on that day of his decision to drive to the family home in Milton, Florida, and share the decision with his father, John Shelby Amos, and his brothers, Bill, and Paul. They liked what they heard, and all agreed to join him in the new venture. So, John B. Amos, John Shelby Amos, Bill Amos, and Paul Amos began an adventure that is classic in the annals of insurance. American Family was granted a license to sell insurance on March 28, 1956, and for the first year operated from rented rooms in downtown Columbus. The company consisted of an agency force of 60 and a home office staff of sixteen, including the Amos family. Initially, life and health policies were offered by sales representatives walking from door to door and collected on a weekly basis in towns of Georgia and Alabama.

Above: the downtown building and offices where Aflac was originally located (Editor's Note: I believe this building was located on the NW corner of 13th Street and Broadway, but please correct me!) Below: Paul, John B., and Bill Amos

Within months it became obvious to John Amos that this was not the key to success for his fledgling company. With a keen sense of responsibility to the 2,000 investors who shared the risk in his dream, he restructured the corporate sales thrust to concentrate on a supplemental policy, a cancer expense plan that had obvious appeal to the buying public. This move proved to be the impetus needed to begin immediate growth in volume and expansion of facilities. His inspirational leadership and ability to simplify the language of the insurance industry resulted in a sales force of 376 by 1959, at which time the firm moved to new quarters at 1137 Thirteenth Street (pictured below). In 1964 American Family added Tennessee, Louisiana, Virginia, Indiana, and Mississippi to its market area. Also, that year, American Family's management team perfected a sales program called cluster selling, making presentations and sales to groups rather than individuals. This innovative method of sales techniques resulted in improved benefits and savings to the policyholder, and growth of the sales force and premium income.

From 1969 to 1974 John Amos took American Family Life Assurance Company through one of the most ambitious expansion programs in the history of the insurance industry, increasing the firm's marketplace from 11 to 47 states, into every state in which application had been made. In 1971, with a national sales force of more than 6,000 licensed agents and 804,105 policies in force, American Family had truly arrived. In 1974, AFLAC became the second foreign company in history licensed to sell insurance products in Japan. To accommodate this extraordinary expansion in national and international markets, the firm initiated the construction of an eighteen-story office tower at 1932 Wynnton Road in Columbus. The $7.1-million American Family Life Center was dedicated, debt-free, by President John B. Amos in February 1975. To further accommodate growing corporate assets, the American Family Corporation was formed for the purpose of holding the company's capital stock, with John Amos as chairman and chief executive officer. The stock was also approved for listing on the New York Stock Exchange. In 1979 American Family Corporation became the first business in Columbus to receive its own zip code, 31999, after the firm's annual mail costs rose above $1.5 million.

John B. Amos, of Irish ancestry, established himself early in his career as a consummate public relations figure. His family moved to Milton, Florida, near Pensacola, when John was eleven years old so that his father could open a dime store without competition. John remembered this advantage of picking a favorable business location. He once worked in a print shop for one dollar a week and, as a teenager, founded, edited, and published a weekly tabloid. In the 1980s, under the leadership of Chairman Paul Amos and President and CEO Dan Amos, the company began strategically positioning itself to compete in a changing insurance market. Part of the repositioning included introducing an expanded product line of supplemental policies that would include its flagship, cancer expense protection, as well as accident, sickness, disability, hospital indemnity, intensive care, short- and long-term disability, long-term care, term life, and Medicare supplement policies. The new products would account for 75 percent of new sales at the time in the United States. The best-selling policy in the United States was the accident/disability policy for four consecutive years.

American Family Corporation founder John Amos (left) with organization executives (left to right) Sal Diaz-Verson, Daniel P. Amos, and Paul S. Amos.

An independent study showed that between 1990 and 1998, Aflac's name recognition soared from 2 percent to 62 percent, a coup the company attributed to its national advertising during major sporting events such as the Olympics, the Super Bowl, the World Series, National Hockey League games, the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, and college football games, in addition to network and cable broadcasts. It was also advertised in national publications such as Fortune magazine. With more than 11,000 employees and more than 50 million clients worldwide, Aflac, Inc. is considered one of the largest providers of guaranteed-renewable insurance and one of the largest providers of supplemental insurance in the U.S. It is also considered one of the largest insurance companies overall in Japan, when measured by individual insurance policies in force. According to Fortune Magazine, the company appeared on Fortune’s America’s Most Admired Companies, as well in the Fortune 500 list of largest United States corporations by revenue. According to Forbes, it is considered one of the top 2,000 largest public companies in the world.

Recent Aflac Events 2000 Jan. 1 – The Aflac Duck appeared on the scene in his first commercial “Park Bench.” Since then, the Aflac Duck has become an international advertising icon and has appeared in numerous commercials. 2003 The Aflac Duck was introduced in Japan and shortly thereafter Aflac Japan, became the No. 1 insurance company in Japan in terms of the number of individual policies in force. 2005 Aflac changed its logo to include the Aflac Duck. Aflac pledged $1 million to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial at West Potomac Park in Washington, D.C. 2008 Aflac became the first publicly owned company in the United States to give shareholders a “Say on Pay” advisory vote on compensation. 2009 Aflac completed its acquisition of Continental American Insurance Company, which is currently branded as Aflac Group Insurance. 2011 Aflac U.S. exceeded $5 billion in annualized premiums in force for the first time. Aflac was the first company to contribute more than $1 million to the Red Cross for Tsunami relief in Japan. 2015 Aflac named Teresa White as President of Aflac U.S. and Audrey Boone Tillman as General Counsel, making them the first African Americans and the first women to hold their respective top leadership positions. 2016 Aflac was the first corporation to donate $1 million to The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture as part of its diversity initiatives. 2017 In November 2017, Aflac Cut the Ribbon for Empowered Benefits, a benefits administration and enrollment software company owned by Aflac Inc. 2019 Aflac completed its acquisition of Argus Dental and Vision. In October 2019, Aflac opened an office in Northern Ireland. 2021 Aflac named to Ethisphere’s list of World’s Most Ethical Companies for 15th consecutive year, making Aflac the only insurance company in the world to appear on this list every year since its inception in 2007. 2022 In January, Aflac launched a national initiative, Close the Gap, to address medical debt and disparities in health and wealth in America – an issue that affects close to 50% of Americans and disproportionately impacts people of color and those in low-income communities. In February, after significant research, Aflac adapted its award-winning My Special Aflac Duck® program for children with cancer to include children with sickle cell disease and blood disorders. More than 1,000 requests were received within the first month of the newly designed program for this disease that impacts more than 100,000 Americans. In August, Virgil R. Miller was named as President of Aflac U.S.

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