The most challenging period of John Addison’s professional life came shortly after the 2008 financial crash.
At the time, Addison, who grew up in Covington, was chair of Primerica, a life insurance and investment company. “Our biggest fear was Citigroup was going to sell us because they were selling all their assets. They needed cash. The assets they were selling were profitable divisions that they didn’t think were core to their company.”
And Primerica was profitable. At the time, it employed 2,000 people, 300 of whom had been with the company for more than 20 years, Addison said. There was concern that, if Citigroup sold Primerica to a big insurance company, the new owner would lay off all the Duluth employees and move the operation away from Gwinnett County.
While it was a very scary time, he said, “it turned out to be the most rewarding. Through perseverance and toughness, we were able to save our company and get it to a better place where the business is more stable and secure. We were able to take adversity and a very bad situation and turned it into what was a very good situation for the business.”
By the time the company went public in April 2010, there were 22 times the number of orders for shares of the stock than there were to sell, he said.
What he learned from that experience, as well as from his career with Primerica, is shared in Addison’s book, “Real Leadership: 9 Simple Practices for Leading and Living with Purpose.” Published by McGraw Hill, it will be released on March 8.
Roots in Newton County
Addison, the son of John and Ruth Dalton Addison, graduated from Newton County Comprehensive High School in 1975, then attended Oxford College of Emory University for two years before transferring to Georgia State University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and a master’s in business administration.
“I learned a lot of my communication skills being around the people of Newton County, Covington and Salem United Methodist Church,” he said. “Some of the most influencial people I met were the people I met in my mom and dad’s Sunday school classes.
“They were really close and were really good people who loved one another and took care of each other,” he said. “It gave me a rudder when [things] were stormy.”
What he seemed to learn from that loving community was that people are the most important part of a company.
“The best way to protect the employees is to have healthy financials, and the best way to have healthy financials is to have happy employees,” he said. “In the world that exists out there, there are some who view companies more as a transaction rather than a business.
“It makes a huge difference if the person running the company knows the company versus bringing someone in from the outside,” he said.
And Addison knows Primerica. He’s worked for the company since he answered an ad when he was 24. “I grew up with the company. I loved the organization and I knew the people.”
“A leader’s job is to be a good person, and to have genuine care about the organization they’re in charge of,” he said, “and then to be persuasive and get people to see where things need to go .”
Addison still has ties to Newton County. His father, now 90, still owns the 19th Century white farmhouse Addison grew up in. He’s also the cousin of Linda Hays, Clerk of Newton County Superior Court.
He’s scheduled for an appearance and book signing beginning at 7 p.m. on Monday, April 4, at the Emory Library, 201 Dowman Drive NE, Atlanta. A second appearance is scheduled for Friday, March 25, beginning at 5 p.m. at Barnes and Noble, 3333 Buford Drive, Buford.