Life Insurance

At 89, Gullborg Insurance founder still finds happiness in work | Business

McMURRAY – When Bill Gullborg was a young man, he and his brother witnessed a moment that would define their working lives.

Their father, a machinist on the Pennsylvania Railroad, returned home from work one day when he was 65 and informed the family that he had been told he was too old to work anymore.

Gullborg explained that the railroad was eliminating jobs in advance of closing its operations in the Clinton County town of Renovo, where PRR had been the largest employer.

The forced retirement did not bode well for his father.

“He died at 72, and he was sick from age 65 to 72,” Gullborg said recently in his office at Gullborg Insurance Inc. on Washington Road in McMurray.

“My brother and I said, ‘That’s not going to happen to us.’”

Today, at 89, Gullborg continues to go to work every day at the agency he founded in January 1978.

He has been working as a professional since 1950, the year he graduated from college, a 67-year stretch to which he sees no end.

“I’m a workaholic,” he said with a smile. “I have never really thought seriously about quitting work.”

He said his brother Jim Gullborg, an arborist who is now 92, followed a similar path, and is still active in his nursery business with a son.

The insurance agency is a place where Gullborg and his wife, Grace, who is a year younger than he, come to work each day. While Grace is his administrative assistant, three of their four children also work there in a variety of capacities.

Goals for success

Gullborg, who describes himself as goal-oriented, has spent his life and career setting and achieving new targets for himself.

“I was compelled to be successful, no matter what I did,” he said.

He acknowledges that some of the goals were set by Grace, his high school sweetheart whom he married immediately after his college graduation.

“This business wouldn’t have been successful without her,” he said.

Gullborg’s goal-setting began when he was 16.

Explaining that he was a stutterer in grade school and high school, Gullborg said he became intrigued by an ad in Popular Mechanics magazine placed by a school in Indianapolis that promised to help people eliminate the affliction.

“It could have been a hoax, but it turned out to be viable,” he said, adding that when he asked his father if he could attend the school, which cost $600, he was told the family couldn’t afford it.

Gullborg, who during high school worked part time for an uncle who owned a grocery store in Renovo, saved his money, and the next year, at 17, he went to the school for six weeks, where he was taught how to overcome stuttering.

“It was the most important decision I ever made,” he said.

It was there that he also set another goal that would put him on a path to continuous achievement.

“I vowed that the first person who interviewed me for a job when I graduated from college would never know that I stuttered.”

True to his vow, after he graduated from Syracuse University in 1950 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a major in accounting, he was hired to work for an accounting firm in Philadelphia, eventually becoming a treasurer for one of the firm’s corporate clients.

A few years later, the firm transferred him to Pittsburgh, and he and Grace moved to Scott Township. In 1959, when the firm asked him to move again, this time to Long Island, Gullborg quit.

“I told my wife, ‘I’m going to get a job where I’m going to be my own boss.’”

The job was in insurance, going house to house collecting customers’ life insurance payments for Prudential Life in Lancaster. At the time, the Gullborgs were attempting to sell their house in preparation for the move to eastern Pennsylvania. When a potential buyer backed out, Gullborg then interviewed with the Pittsburgh office of State Mutual Life Assurance Co. of America to sell life insurance, staring work in January 1960.

Around that time, Gullborg set another goal for himself.

A will to sell

“I told myself that I would sell $1 million a year in life insurance by the fifth year in business. I did it in the fourth year, and have done it every year since then.”

After 18 years of commuting to the company’s office in downtown Pittsburgh – by then the family had moved to Peters Township – Gullborg said Grace asked him one day, “Why do you have to have an office downtown?”

When he told his boss of his intention to open an office in McMurray, he was told he would never survive in what was then considered to be a rural area.

The manager’s projection didn’t take into account the burgeoning residential and commercial growth that would occur in Peters Township. Gullborg recalled that when the family arrived there as residents in the mid-’60s, there was a bank, a gas station and a restaurant at Donaldsons Crossroads, but little else.

He noted that today, some 15,000 cars travel daily past his office.

In January 1978, he rented space in a building not far from Waterdam Plaza. Grace joined him there as his secretary.

In 1993, he purchased property at 3906 Washington Road, where the business has operated ever since. The site also contains a separate building, where Gullborg’s son William D. Gullborg operates Wealth Management Resources, which deals with 401(k)s, IRAs and pension plans. Gullborg’s son David D. Gullborg is vice president of the property and casualty business, as well as its medical insurance entity, while daughter Nancy Gullborg is the office manager and grandson David Lee Mattes is in customer service. His daughter Linda Gullborg Kish also worked for the agency before relocating to Vermont.

“We’re a full-service agency,” Gullborg said, adding that while he began selling Erie Insurance products in the mid-1960s, he is now a broker for numerous insurance companies.

Working for health

He believes that going to the office ever day is not just what defines him, but keeps him in top shape, as well.

“I’m a workaholic,” Gullborg said. “My work has kept me in good health, mentally and physically.

“I get up at the same time every day, have breakfast with my wife and get dressed.

“We know where we’re going to go every day. I have appointments. I want to do that because I have a lot of people who depend upon me.”

He added that some retired friends and clients have told him they’re envious of the work routine that keeps him going.

“They say, ‘I’m bored to death, I wish I could do what you do,’ They admit that they can only travel so much and watch so much TV.”

Then there are friends and clients who stopped working in their mid-60s, have become sick and require nursing home care.

When Gullborg visits them, he said each time he leaves, “I say, ‘Thank you, Lord, for letting me walk out of this place.’”

The longevity of their work lives doesn’t mean the Gullborgs don’t make time for leisure activities, he said, adding that he and Grace have been on a dozen cruises over the years.

He also remains active in the community, especially with McMurray Rotary Club and McMurray Methodist Church.

But the agency he started has always been at the core of his existence.

“This business has been the greater part of our lives,” he said, acknowledging that he has throttled back his work habits as he’s aged.

“I tell people I’ve worked two lifetimes,” he said, explaining that for the first 30 years in the insurance business, he worked during the day as well as four nights a week.

“I then cut it down to two nights a week,” he said, adding that he’s strictly dayside now.

“I don’t go out at night anymore,” he said.

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