All In

You don’t become one of the best on a wing and a prayer. You get there by hard work, a relentless pursuit of perfection and by doing what you can, when you can, the best you can—even when no one is watching.

You are committed. You are confident. You are all in. That is what it takes to make it to the Hall of Fame.

Meet Wendi Demko.

You might call her Wendi “working” Demko, since work is her middle name. She thrives on it, it drives her, it gives her a larger purpose—especially her work with USHEALTH Advisors.

Wendi started with the company in 2012 and this year, she reached a major milestone, which earned her the HOF label: the first woman to cross the $5 million mark in issued business in the history of the company.

“It’s something I honestly was going after the past two-and-a-half years,” says Wendi. “I wanted to be the first. It’s something I kept my eyes on. I don’t go after the limelight. I’m not the person who wants to have my name called and be up on stage, but I wanted this.”

Wendi wanted it for much more than just being the first woman in her business to hit that major milestone. She wanted it because she’s number one to someone else in her life—her son, MaKennon.

“My son is my greatest accomplishment,” says Wendi. “He’s my angel, because he’s extraordinary. He’s just an amazing kid, and I really can’t take credit for it because it’s just who he is. He’s such a friendly person and he’s accomplished so much at only 11 years old. He’s an actor and he’s very committed to what he does. I did play a role in it I guess, because I’ve tried to set the example for him. Makie is my hero—that kid has no fear and will be going places further than I. I’m in awe of that little ginger boy.”

One of the very best traits of leadership is leading by example. Raising MaKennon as a single, hard-working mom has not been easy, but Wendi says she finds the time—she makes the time—to make sure her son knows he’s her heart and soul.

“My biggest challenge is I’m a workaholic,” says Wendi. “I love what I do, so trying to find the balance with quality time with MaKennon has not always been easy. I’ve had to learn the hard way to balance it all out. We do a lot of vacations. We’ll even take long weekends, three or four days, just to get away. We go skiing three to four times a year. We went to Hawaii for a couple of weeks and even on an Alaskan cruise. But when I’m away, like in Hawaii, and dealing with the time difference, I still got up at 4 a.m. and worked for five to six hours before MaKennon got up. So, I got my work in, but then I was ready to go and be with him.”

Wendi says she knows time is precious.

“You blink, and your kids are five, 10 years older,” she says. “I grew up in Chicago and my folks worked hard for a living. They got divorced when I was really young. I didn’t have the same involvement from my parents, so I grew up self-motivated and pretty much raised my little sister.

“So, that’s why it’s important for me to be there for MaKennon. You can’t get that time back. It’s the same with other family members, like my grandparents. They aren’t getting any younger, and it’s important to spend time with them and my son.”

Growing up in Chicago meant one thing, especially with her dad—“Da Bears”!

“I’m still a die-hard Bears fan,” says Wendi. “Even the fact that I now live in Dallas, that hasn’t changed. My daddy would disown me if it did. And I’m a daddy’s girl, so there’s no way I’m letting that go! I’ve got that passion instilled in my kid too. But as far as the town, I got out of Chicago when I was just seventeen. I couldn’t stand the winters. Loved the team, hated the cold.”

Wendi moved to Dallas, and her dad eventually followed. But once she made the move to the southwest, Wendi enrolled in some community college courses while she tried to find her way.

“I didn’t get the opportunity to go to a university,” says Wendi. “But I also took the sensible route. I didn’t know what career path I was on. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to go to college to just party, and because I didn’t have a career path, I started with community colleges.”

Wendi & Dad

Her search to find her way and her path in life led Wendi to the tracks—the railroad tracks and the world of locomotives.

“It started out as a joke with a friend who was making money in the locomotive world,” she says. “I said, ‘Give me some of that’ and before I knew it, I was in deep, brokering locomotives. I killed it in that business. I remember one time I found four locomotive fans at a scrap yard, bought them for $1500 and sold them for $5000 apiece. At the age of 20, that was pretty good money! But working in that business is really where I got my background in sales and working with people. I didn’t know squat about locomotives, so I had to build my business by building relationships, and that got me to where I am today.”

Where Wendi is today is in her niche as the “group” lady at USHEALTH Advisors. USHEALTH Advisors is a subsidiary of USHEALTH Group, offering flexible health coverage and supplements to individuals, families and the self-employed. For Wendi, as it is for anyone, finding your niche can make you rich. But it doesn’t mean you jump into the world of insurance and you’re off and running. Like so many at the company, the path to get there can be a long and winding road. To go from locomotives to insurance, Wendi had to make some major adjustments and buck some challenges—she became the little engine that could.

“I worked with the locomotives for about 15 years,” says Wendi. “Then I worked in the mortgage industry until that imploded with the recession. One day it was all gone, the company just shut down. I could have written a country song about that experience—I lost my job, my car engine exploded, and I found out I was pregnant with my son all on the same day! I started getting calls from people in the insurance industry, and I eventually signed on with another company. I got my insurance license the day before I had my son. Three months later, I was working in the insurance industry.

“The Dallas market was saturated with agents, so the only way to make money was to travel. It was crazy. There I was with my newborn, and I had to make calls and then travel to see clients in person. I bought a bunch of leads, made calls late in the week, booked weekend appointments, booked my airfare and a rental car, and then traveled to see clients all weekend. Sometimes I had to take my son with me, sometimes I could travel to states where I had family support, like Illinois and Colorado, so I could leave him with them while I ran those appointments. But it was all at my expense. I busted my butt for that company. I was exhausted and after a couple of years, it just wasn’t working, so I said, ‘I’m done.’

“That’s when I got a call from Jay Still with USHEALTH Advisors. I told Jay that insurance was a dirty word for me right now, I don’t want to come in for an insurance interview. But being the great salesperson Jay is, he turned it around by saying, ‘Why don’t you just come in for one of our meetings, and then you can tell me what you think about us, not about what we think about you.’ That was interesting to me because now I felt like I was going there to interview him!”

Wendi says once she went to the meeting and heard Jay describe the career, it changed her mind.

“I saw the vision and the opportunity,” she says. “I saw how I could help and provide real value to other businesses and the self-employed, but also how I could make this work the way I wanted it to work. I do my own thing, I’ve never been cookie-cutter, I don’t always do what everybody else does, I look at things a little bit different. So, while most of the agents help the individuals and families, I went after the group market.”

Wendi says she loves art and being creative, so she has approached her work with USHA much the same. She says she takes her time to integrate herself into the business, educate the employees and then cultivate those relationships to bring groups into the fold with the USHA and their suite of products.

“I love the challenge of handling the groups,” says Wendi. “If you think about it, the traditional group plans are some of the most expensive out there in the marketplace. The mom-and-pop business thinks if they get them and their employees together it will be cheaper to get a group PPO policy, but once I help them see what is out there, the sticker shock has them asking me for help to do this on an individual basis.”

Although she has found her home in the group market, Wendi says it was one individual who truly sold her on making USHEALTH Advisors her home.

“I think the pinnacle for me, the game changer, was when I had been at the company for about a year. I struggled really bad that first year. It wasn’t because of the work, it was just life. I had some other things going on and those personal issues blindsided me. I got off to a slow start because of it and I think some people had given up on me. But I got my first group deal, about 50 policies and still one of my largest groups. It was right around Christmas time and I had everything in place, but a couple of people and their medical underwriting were holding the whole process up from the policies getting issued.

“I mentioned my struggles to my leader, Michael Scott. I told him I was struggling financially. A conversation with Michael ended up being a conversation he had with Jay Still, my Regional Leader at USHA. I had no idea that conversation had taken place, but suddenly I get a call from Jay. I answered, and Jay said, ‘Buddy, what is it about this group that’s holding it up? Is it only two or three people, do you think they are going to get approved?’ I said, ‘Yes, I’m sure.’ He said, ‘OK, give me five minutes. I’ll call you back.’ A few minutes later, the phone rings again and Jay says, ‘OK, your group is approved. Have a nice Christmas.’

“That one act of kindness right there—that meant everything to me. It was something he didn’t have to do, but it made a world of difference for my son for Christmas and it meant everything to me. It showed me the people I’m involved with really do care. It was Jay who made me a believer.”

Jay and Teaira

That caring, loving attitude Wendi experienced happened again, and it came right from the top in a way she didn’t expect.

“I can remember going on my first rewards trip to Cabo. I was scared to death, because I’m not someone who likes big crowds. I like small, quaint settings with people I know. Being a single woman, there are a lot of factors involved with those feelings, but Jay’s wife, Teaira, (Division Leader with USHA) basically made me go. So here I am arriving at the resort in Cabo, I’m all by myself and don’t know what to expect. I get there, step out of the taxi and then this big guy, with a big smile, is coming right for me with his arms out. I said to myself, ‘Oh my God, what is happening? What is going on here?’ The guy hugs me, and it turns out it’s Troy McQuagge, the CEO of our company! I couldn’t believe it—it was our CEO giving me a hug! Looking back on it now, it’s the funniest thing.”

Wendi & Teaira

Wendi says now it’s all about making the most of the present and looking forward to the future—always helping and serving her clients and her family.

“Loyalty and dedication are two words that describe me,” she says. “I’m fiercely loyal and dedicated to anything that matters in my life—my son, my family, my friends, the company. I look at myself as a role model for MaKennon. I’m not sure if I see myself as a role model for others, but I suppose I am. I’m not one of those people who like their name to be called and recognized in our office. I always think you can just skip my name, but I’m tickled and honored when someone calls me and says they heard I was the group lady and they’re looking for help and guidance. My work with groups is not my secret, I’m here to help. I’m not going to keep it all mine. But it’s all about trial and error when you are starting out. Find out what works and what doesn’t work. Figure out that secret sauce of what works for you.”

For Wendi, who not only loves to work, but says she also loves to cook as well, it’s all about creating. In Wendi’s life, what works with work, her friends and her family is consistency, doing the same thing over and over again. That secret sauce is being all in.

Until next time, thanks for taking the time.

Your Storyteller,
Mark Brodinsky