Back in college there was one thing you’d be hard pressed to do against James Higgins – outshoot him. Today you’d be hard pressed to do something else – outwork him. As his father used to say to him, “you take one day off, you fall two days behind.” His dad never missed a day of work in his life.
Work hard, play hard.
It’s a life lesson “Higgs”, (as he’s best known to his family and friends), took to heart, even in his younger days playing sports. Football, baseball, basketball, tennis, Higgs was a kid who could do it all. Just behind his home was a park with tennis and basketball courts, so Higgs could practice. And getting good was easy, especially when the lessons were free. After seven years of training, Higgs was a whiz with a racket, regularly beating the 2nd ranked kid on the high school tennis team almost every time he played him. But his love for other sports, especially basketball, kept Higgs too busy to pursue life in between the chalk lines.
His tall and thin structure also made his career as the high school quarterback, one which was short-lived. “I was getting killed back there,” Higgs remembers. “And once I broke my ankle in my sophomore year I had to make a decision, one or the other. I chose basketball, and I made the commitment. In life you have to commit.”
The commitment and the hard work paid off. In 1987, Higgs’ college basketball team at Keystone Junior College, (in Northeastern Pennsylvania), won a national championship. Just recently the entire team celebrated their 30-year reunion, including an induction into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame, something Higgs refers to as one of the “cooler moments of his life.”
There have been many moments along the way. The youngest of five siblings growing up in his Phoenixville PA home, Higgs was thankful for his older brothers who paved the way with plenty of hand-me-downs and pre-testing of his parents limits. “As long as I didn’t come home in a cop car or something else it was all good,” Higgs remembers. “As long as you checked in with mom, it was cool.” Mom ruled the roost while dad made his presence known in the local community. Working as the Senior Vice-President of the area’s largest steel mill, Higgs says his dad was well-liked and well-known. “Dad knew everybody,” says Higgs. “We got treated real well, real well. You’ve got to remember it was a small town.”
A rite of passage for many living in this small town, especially for young men graduating high school, was to head to the the Jersey Shore to work for the summer. Happy to follow in the footsteps of this long-standing tradition – Higgs hit the beach working for most of his college years as a bartender in Avalon and Wildwood, mixing drinks and mixing it up with the locals.
But life is always in constant flux and while he loved the sun and the sand, after graduating college and at the urging of his soon-to-be-wife Kristin, it was time to face reality and get a “real” job.
Getting in on the ground floor of what was to become one of the biggest technological advances in human history, Higgs put his faith in the cellphone business. “It was a good move,” Higgs says. “At the time commissions were $280 per sale. But after five or six months of sharing part of my profits with the company, I thought to myself, why can’t I do this on my own?”
So in 1991 Higgs started his own business, Americom Communications Inc, and over the course of the next decade-plus he managed three stores with 13 full-time employees, consistently ranking in the top 5% of revenue in the country. “The commission was $200 an activation,” says Higgs. “And I was doing about 400 activations a month. You do the math. It was a party.”
But like anything in life, change is inevitable, growth is optional. As competition grew and the industry exploded, the writing was on the wall for profits and job stability. Higgs sold his company and headed for a stint in real estate. “For about five years it was good,” says Higgs. “But then the bubble burst, as did the household budget. My wife said we better get some money flowing again in here.”
While the financial crisis took its toll, a different challenge was surfacing at home, one which would change the direction of his family’s life.
“Around the time my son Aidan was about three-years-old, Kristin kept telling me something wasn’t right,” says Higgs. “I didn’t believe it, but she insisted, so we decided to get Aidan tested. That’s when I learned about the reality of insurance. At the time I was paying about $800-a-month for a policy, thinking I had the best of the best. I was wrong. It’s the worst feeling thinking you are protecting your family, only to find out you aren’t.”
“Fortunately for my family and for Aidan we live close to two of the best facilities in the world for testing children, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Dupont in Delaware. We visited both places and they came back to us telling us Aidan had severe autism. The docs then said they would put him on Ritalin and basically leave him in a corner. We said no way. I’ll never forget walking out of that hospital. Kristin was holding the prescription for Aidan and she ripped it up and said, ‘I’ll do this. I will talk to my son and I will get him to talk.’ “We’ve never given Aidan a single drug. Kristin is amazing. Every day after school she helps Aidan with about an hour’s worth of homework, then they get to work on life. Kristin spends about two hours on life skills with Aidan teaching him things she thinks are important for him to know. Without her, Aidan would not be speaking. That’s what she does. Without her, you have no idea. Kristin is dedicated to making Aidan the best person he can be.”
The experience with Aidan was also the moment Higgs learned about health insurance. What’s real and what’s not. “We took our insurance card to both facilities and they took it and processed it,” Higgs says. “Not long after our visits I’m told I owe $17,000 for Aidan’s testing. I had a managed-care plan and somehow we crossed over some line in Pennsylvania where our plan was now out-of-network. After threatening to call several TV stations and going round-and-round with the insurance company, they finally agreed to pay the bill, after I paid my deductible AND my out-of-network deductible. When Dupont called to tell me I still owed them $7,000, I told them I don’t have $7,000 to give you. I told them I would give them $50-a-month forever. The person on the phone said sure, we can put it on a credit card and you can get air miles. I said my family was just told my son has a life sentence, and you think I care about air miles?”
Higgs’ disgust with the insurance industry ended up leading him, incredibly, into to a career in the industry and eventually with USHEALTH Advisors. “I didn’t get into the business to be the number one agent. I got in because I never want anyone to NOT understand what they got when they purchased a policy. It was Sal Spedale who actually got me into the business. He came to my home to sell me a policy with the company. I said, ‘look just give it to me straight.’ He did and he was true to his word. I still own the same policy. When Sal came to our home I said, I hate insurance, I hate insurance, I hate insurance. He said, ‘It’s not bad if you know what you’re getting. If you want to preach about insurance why don’t you get paid to do it?’”
The rest is history. With his father’s work ethic ingrained in him, no matter whatever challenge he faces, Higgs quickly became a rising star with USHEALTH Advisors and now serves others as a Satellite Division Leader. “My number one goal with the people I talk to is just understand what you have. Just understand how it works. And it works really well here. In my opinion this is hands down, bar none, the best suit-your-needs insurance you can get, period. We are not creating a need, everybody knows they need health insurance. We are offering non-managed care plans, priced right in the marketplace and we do what we say we’ll do. It’s pretty simple. It’s not a tough sale.”
There’s no need to sell Higgs on the beauty and meaning of life as well. He says his greatest joy is his family, Kristin, Aidan and his daughter Hailie, who is just starting to look at her post-high school career, one Jim says will focus on academics because she’s a “very very smart, pretty girl.”
Higgs also understands all about the fragility of life. It’s only been about five years since he lost one of his greatest mentors, his dad, who died at the age of 88. Only two weeks later one of his older brothers, Tommy, suddenly died of a heart attack – at age 51. It was a wake-up call for Higgs and the entire family on how short and unpredictable life can be.
“Personally I think you have to live life while you have the life to live,” says Higgs. Live it to the fullest because my brother was gone too soon, he was going to do this and do that…and then it all ended. My father-in-law, a successful agent in the insurance business for 20 years, said he was going to work until he was 59 and then buy a house at the shore. He was diagnosed with cancer at 58, and died at 59. You never know what’s in store, so live life while you can live. I try to do just that. The best you can do is try to live with no regrets.”
A few facts of life which are easy to understand.
Until next time thanks for taking the time.