“Be the best person you can be, be the hero of your own life… and help people along the way.” – Stephen and Joel Kesselman
Why not attribute one quote to two people? Especially when one started the sentence and the other finished it. Especially when two men have become superstars, legends in their industry, and for the companies they’ve represented for more than 30 years. Success has two names, Stephen Kesselman and Joel Kesselman.
It was nearly 70 years ago that one egg divided, creating two hearts and one mind, or at least like-minds, of identical twins. It’s rare, and for their mother, completely unexpected.
“Our mother didn’t know she was having twins,” says Stephen. “There was really no ultrasound at that time – the doctors didn’t know until our mother was in the operating room. After Joel was born the doctor told my mom,’ don’t jump up so quickly, there’s another one coming!’ “No one knew because you couldn’t hear the second baby’s heartbeat before birth, since one baby was right behind the other. Our mother was hoping for another girl, (the twins have an older sister), she didn’t even name us for 30 days, we were Baby “A” and Baby “B.””
Joel was born just two minutes ahead of Stephen and ended up spending a few more weeks in an incubator, gaining the strength to live on his own… or at least in tandem with his two-minute-younger brother. Coming from the same ovum, identical twins have the same DNA, look-alike, sound-alike, even think-alike, but maybe the best part to like, is they always have each other.
“Being a twin, you’re never lonely,” says Joel. “There is always someone to talk to. Always someone to push you, there’s always a good competitiveness, one is always trying to beat the other, but we also pick each other up. It’s a great support system, because we share feelings. We’re on the same team.”
Yet there are some challenges when it comes to being a twin and sharing feelings. “If one twin is happy, the other is happy,” says Joel. “But if one feels bad, the other feels bad.”
Stephen still remembers when he won one of his recent Agent of the Year awards for USHEALTH Advisors, while Joel was facing health challenges. “When I was Agent of the Year it was not as joyful as it could have been, because Joel was going through stuff. Here I was on the podium, but the enjoyment was not as great as it could have been because of that. I thought more about that then my own accomplishment.”
It’s hard to be totally happy if the other one is not,” says Joel. “In life you have disappointments. If one brother is feeling pain or joy, even if you don’t want to feel it, it’s still there. You try and go down the road together. It’s challenging because instead of being one person, you end up being two.”
But two heads are also better than one. “Being a twin means you always have someone to play catch with,” laughs Stephen. And those brotherly catching sessions paid off. In their youth, the boys were physically on the same team on the field of dreams. Stephen and Joel played baseball together, Stephen played infield, mainly third base, while Joel played outfield. Stephen says he and Joel worked in tandem on a ton of outfield assists, throwing out plenty of players running the bases against them.
It’s played out in the rest of life for these twins as well, team work makes the dream work.
When it comes to work – the two have always walked together in their careers. Both graduates of Penn State, when they hit the real world, the Kesselman brothers initially went into sales. “We were in pharmaceutical sales,” says Stephen. “We worked and talked with doctors, but it wasn’t really challenging and we really didn’t like it that much. When I met might my wife Martha, she introduced me to her uncle who got me into John Hancock. Then we were doing buy-sell agreements, estate planning, dealing with lawyers and accountants, but I didn’t really like it. The sales cycle was too long. I’m a one-call close guy, so is Joel.”
In 1983 the twins’ desire to make a change led them to the doorstep of a company called UGA, its eventual partnership with the National Association for the Self-Employed, and their introduction to a man named Ron Jensen. Both brothers remember the message in Ron’s office: Change is inevitable, growth is optional. Stephen and Joel embraced the business, pushed for growth, pushed each other and rocked the rankings in that company.
“One of the things I’m most proud of is helping UGA to grow from the very beginning,” says Joel. “And then coming to USHEALTH Advisors and doing the same thing. We feel really fortunate to help fuel the growth in both companies.”
The Kesselman’s have lived the mission of helping and serving – enabling thousands upon thousands of self-employed individuals and their families to gain access to affordable health coverage. They’ve done it face-to-face. One application at a time. In return, year-after-year, Joel and Stephen finished as either agent of the year, or challenger of the year, flip-flopping the number one spot on numerous occasions. When the boys came to USHEATLH Advisors, Stephen went on a run of five consecutive years as the top-producing agent from 2010-to-2015. Between the two of them, Stephen and Joel have amassed about $60 million in annual premiums over a 30-year-plus career! They know what they are doing and they are willing to share.
Some people walk around as legends in their own minds, but your lifetime of impact and significance is cemented when you become legends in other people’s minds.
“I watch some of the videos of me being recognized as agent of the year,” says Stephen. “And something that Dean Whaley, (VP of Financial Planning for USHEALTH), said in one of those videos has stuck with me, ‘when all is said and done I hope we never take these guys for granted, these guys will always be the superstars’. “That meant a lot to me and Joel. I made my mark, Joel made his mark and have made it possible for others to succeed. We set a benchmark and made others realize if he can do it, so can I. Troy Mcquagge, the CEO of USHEALTH Advisors, described my ‘body of work as second to no one.’ That truly touched me. I try to be the best that I can be and give an honest effort. I’m always wanting to help other people.”
Stephen and Joel understand the basic principle of success – it’s not something you pursue, it’s something you attract, by being an attractive person.
“I believe the most important thing people recognize is we are just average people, nice guys,” says Joel. “We got up and worked hard and we still do. If you get a pat on the back once in a while it’s nice, but overall if people like Stephen and I, that’s just as important, if not more.”
“I have always wanted to share,” says Stephen. “I had people help me out and I want to do the same. I love the growth here, I feel like we are passing the baton to the younger guys and I love it. Let’s go, not lose our pace. Seeing some of the growth of these younger guys is amazing, they want to get to where we got to, we’re all pulling it the same direction. Our CEO Troy McQuagge has created the culture all these years – be a family and have fun while you are working. That has really paid dividends. No one is giving it to these guys, they’re earning it.”
With nearly seven decades on this planet, Joel and Stephen say they are far from finished their work. “Why would I stop? I don’t think of my age as a factor. I feel like I’m 35,” Stephen says. “I will continue to do what I’m doing,” says Joel. “It’s a great job because you are working for yourself, but not by yourself. What’s nice about it is you can continue doing it forever, the only one that can stop you… is you.”
There are two things that keep the Kesselman twins going – the past that reminds them and the eyes of the future that drives them. “I never forget where I came from,” says Stephen. “We don’t come from money. One of the stresses growing up was always financial, our father was always in sales and he had his challenges. It pushed me harder to be successful. It also told me to quickly forget about what I did yesterday, not to rest on my laurels. Joel and I have received plenty of accolades and trophies, but we stay humble and work hard.”
Then there are the eyes of the future – and there’s nothing average in that respect, for it’s the miracles of life. Between Stephen and Joel, and their respective wives, Martha and Wendy, (the couples have been married more than 40 years), have five children and nine grandchildren. The twins agree it is now what gives them the most joy in life.
“You look at children differently as a grandparent,” says Stephen. “You don’t have to discipline them, you can have fun and then they go home,” laughs Joel. “The appreciation of their innocence is magnified greater than your own children, because you have the time to appreciate it this time around, more so than when you were raising your own,” Stephen says. “You see life differently through their eyes,” says Joel.
There they go again, finishing each other’s sentences and thoughts.
Two hearts, one mind.
Until next time, thanks for taking the time.