From March 19 to March 22 Leive and I were in Oklahoma, attending the international convention for Prepaid Legal Services, Inc. Here are the pictures I took from that event.
Our group arrived a day early so we could visit the company headquarters in Ada, OK. That’s a two-hour drive southeast of Oklahoma City. The scenery on the way is dreary, reflecting a poor, drought-stricken countryside. Even a few oil wells on the ranches didn’t seem to help much. It wasn’t until we were less than a mile from the headquarters that we saw any evidence of it coming up. I concluded that if I was trying to hide one of America’s most successful corporations, this would be a good place to do it. While I was there, a guide joked that back in the 1970s, when the company was founded, the locals wore a T-shirt that read: “Ada, Oklahoma: not the end of the world, but you can see it from there!”
The first sign (no pun intended) of where we were going was this sign, pointing to Stonecipher Blvd. It’s named after the company founder, Harland Stonecipher, of course.
Next, we came upon this sign, at the gate to the grounds. As I noted in another message, it was an unusually rainy day for Oklahoma.
Here is the best picture I got of the building, showing the main entrance. As you can see, it is a seven-story structure; the words on the right say “One Pre-Paid Way.”
This was probably the busiest day of the year for Prepaid Legal. Because so many busloads of visitors were there, we went in the back door and waited in this two-story auditorium, until a guide was available to escort each group. Note the college basketball game on the screen; “March Madness” affects people even here!
We waited our turn in the auditorium balcony. Here are three members of our group: Pastor Rhodes, Heather Cherry, and Alphonso Ferguson.
Here come Terrell (Terry) Cherry and Leive, both waving.
We weren’t allowed to take pictures in most of the building, but I got a few shots in the lobby, which featured photos of the Board of Directors, and statues of the founders.
Directly over the lobby is a stairway leading to the Prepaid Legal Hall of Fame. This area is dedicated to the most successful people in the business. All of the individuals you see in the first picture were at the convention; one of them, Brian Carruthers (second from the right), received a special award, the Chairman’s Award, from Mr. Stonecipher for outstanding work. The wall named “Partners In Excellence” holds trophies for the company’s best law firms.
The building is built around a courtyard with a rock garden, reflecting pool, and a statue of the company’s symbol, the ancient goddess of justice, which is twice the size of the visitors.
The convention itself was held at the Cox Convention Center, in the middle of Oklahoma City. In Orlando, the downtown convention center is across the street from the Amway Arena (formerly the Orlando Arena), but here both the exhibit area and the sports arena are in the same building. Of course you can’t take good pictures in a place as big as the arena, but I tried, as the above picture shows. The next picture shows the usual crowd at one of the arena entrances.
As a newbie to this business, not having come to an Oklahoma convention before, I made a bunch of mistakes at the beginning. First, I got separated from our group, and bought tickets for Leive and I in a separate location from our friends. It turned out to be a top corner section, in a row where the seats were too small for me. Because it was so high, Leive and I only stayed there for an hour or two. Afterwards I wished I had brought a flag with me, so I could make like a mountain climber and leave it at the top! For the rest of the convention we sat in some unclaimed seats in another section, where the only drawback was that we were right in front of “Team Freedom,” a rowdy group of young folks from California; we got the full blast every time they shouted.
Then there was the convention center food. Not only was it overpriced, it was obviously unhealthy. The sodium content was so high that I could feel it doing harm after I ate it. Both of us had to deal with swollen feet during the convention, and I know it wasn’t just from all the walking we did! After that we smuggled in some fruit and snacks (if the convention center people had found it in our bags, they wouldn’t have allowed us to bring it in); not as good as a meal elsewhere, but still better than what the food court sold. All things considered, I trust we won’t repeat mistakes like these on a future visit.
In the arena, the sessions were divided between messages from motivational speakers and recognition of the most successful people in Prepaid Legal Services. The speakers included the Oklahoma attorney general, a state senator, a congressman, and the lieutenant governor. The lieutenant governor said that Oklahoma City doesn’t need an economic stimulus package from Washington, because we were giving it one that weekend! For me, one of the best speakers was John Addison, the president of Primerica. I was briefly involved with Primerica in 2003-2004, and was pleased to see him in an upbeat mood; I had figured that Primerica was currently in trouble, because their parent company, Citigroup, is one of the banks hit hard by the current recession.
Speaking of the recession, when we got our tickets, everybody received a button that said, “I choose not to participate.” For more than half the convention, I thought that had something to do with a scheduled event, some kind of skit, that called for audience participation, but then I found out it was referring to the recession. Do you remember the message around the beginning of 2008, where I wrote that I was planning to skip this recession? It looks like Leive and I have found a way to do it!
As for the successful people who walked across stage, we found them inspiring, too, especially if they came from a situation worse than ours. One of our favorites was a Laotian immigrant named Kao Khamphilavong. He comes from a country poorer than the Philippines, and only got involved with this business to earn some gas money, but pushed it so hard that he ended up making $100,000 in twelve months!
On Friday night the leaders of our group invited the Kentucky-Indiana-Virginia folks to a meeting room, for pizza and recognition of the most successful members. Here they are, along with our friends and sponsors, Terrell (Terry) and Heather Cherry. From left to right: Kennetha and James Kelly, Terry and Heather, Bobby and Angela Diggs.
And here Bobby is giving a gold watch to Tony Hines, who did well enough to get promoted to the Executive Director level in the business.
This is the hotel we stayed in. Our room was clean and comfortable; my only complaint was that the elevator ran so slow that I could go faster taking the stairs, even going up (our room was on the top floor). It had an indoor pool and weight room, but we were too busy to try them out. Next to the lobby was a little cafeteria that served continental breakfasts; Leive and I particularly liked the hot iron with a timer, for making your own waffles. Don’t mind the wet road in the picture; that is not normal for Oklahoma. Remember what I said about it raining most of the time we were there?
And here is the bus we rode, from Indianapolis to Oklahoma City to Ada and back.
One attendee parked a camper right across the street from the convention center’s north entrance. The sign on the back says, “We get paid daily. Do you?” Way to go!
The north side of the Cox Convention Center . . .
And the south side.
This fancy clock on the south side was donated by a local bank in 2007, to commemorate the centennial of Oklahoma becoming a state.
Across the street from the south side is a Marriott hotel and the Ford Center, the home court for a basketball team called the Thunder.
James Kelly is from Louisville, so on Saturday he invited the Kentucky and Indiana folks to have dinner with him in the Marriott. That’s him with the red tie, second from the right. You can see the back of Leive’s head in the front. The fellow on the far right is Alphonso Ferguson, who also came from Lexington with Terry, Heather, Leive and I.
The Saturday sessions were much like the Friday ones. Prepaid Legal Services has produced 125 millionaires so far; the picture above shows the moment when they gathered all of them on the stage. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen that many successful people anywhere else! Later they had a drawing, in which two new cars were given away to folks in the audience.
The last speaker for the convention was the comapny founder and CEO, Harland Stonecipher. Both Leive and I found him inspiring, especially after we found out that he’s a Christian, too. His message started with the story of a great warrior who took his soldiers to a distant land, and because the enemy had a larger army than they did, this warrior ordered the ships burned when they arrived. He did this to convince the soldiers that retreat was not an option; they could only live if they won. Mr. Stonecipher told this because he wants us to look at our business the same way; there is no chance of prosperity if we back out, or try to do anything else. He never said which warrior he was talking about, but as a history, I knew — it was the Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortez, going to conquer Mexico.
Leive will tell you that we went to Oklahoma to see the “big picture,” where Prepaid Legal is concerned. In that sense we succeeded, so the trip was worth it.