Farmers Insurance contractor worked her way up

If Jenese Gallardo ever needs to motivate the agents she manages for Farmers Insurance, she can just tell them her own story.

At 30 she was a single mother of four young children with little work experience. Twenty-one years later, she’s a trailblazing district manager overseeing 34 Farmers agents in the Wichita metro area and — she doesn’t mind mentioning — making a very nice living doing so.

“It is a story when you start out making $5.25 an hour,” she said. “That was a lot of hard work, a lot of sweat equity, a lot of not taking ‘no’ for an answer.”

This month, Gallardo reached another milestone, moving her office from South Broadway to Hillside to a building with 6,000 square feet. She’ll host an open house from 2 to 8 p.m. Friday, with a ribbon cutting at 3:30 p.m.

Gallardo says she’s really lived two lives. Growing up in Wichita, she was expected by her family to marry and have children, so that’s what she did. When her marriage broke up and she needed a job, she first took a stab at journalism, working as a reporter for the newspaper in Yates Center.

A year later, she returned to Wichita and got a job as a receptionist for four Farmers agents. At the time her children ranged in age from 4 to 9.

“It wasn’t what I wanted to do,” she said. “I needed a job. That was the thing that came up.”

And it wasn’t love at first sight

About three years after she started, she met an agent who became a mentor. “He taught me how to sell, how to relate to customers. At that point, I really started to see the potential.”

Gallardo also noticed a change in herself. Although “always outgoing,” she began to assert herself with a goal in mind.

“I learned if I don’t ask for something, nobody’s going to give it to me,” she said. “At some point I made up my mind, if I am going to acquire family wealth and be successful, I’m going to have to do it on my own. I just haven’t looked back on it.”

Motivation was as close as her children.

“Sometimes we ate mac and cheese to get by,” she said. “My kids really motivated me to do better, be better.”

Gallardo became a customer service representative, then went to work for a district manager. She was promoted to assistant district manager in 1998 and became a district manager in 2006.

Gallardo’s role is that of an independent contractor who works only for Farmers. In addition to recruiting and training new agents, she assists existing ones in meeting sales goals and serves as the contact point between agents and the Los Angeles-based Farmers, the nation’s third largest insurance company.

“You’re very much in the center of things,” she said. “I get to motivate other people to do great things.”

For the last two years, Gallardo has been named Farmers’ top district manager in the state, an award based on her agents’ productivity. One of her busiest agents is her 30-year-old son, Matt Mills, who was the state’s top auto policy agent last year. A daughter, Kelsey Mills, is one of six employees who work in the district office.

With a smile, Gallardo remembered that her children “used to play Farmers Insurance when they were young” using brochures and paperwork she lugged home from the office.

Outside home and office, she’s chairwoman of the local chapter of the March of Dimes, which benefits from Farmers’ “Be A Hero For Babies Day” fundraiser. In Wichita, Gallardo hosts a golf tournament to raise money for the organization.

She also advocates for other women, saying she’d like to see more female district managers, and she tries to help the home office understand the challenges that women face.

Now 51 and a grandmother of six, Gallardo says she’s not close to writing the last chapter of her career. In fact, she’s thinking about writing a book.

“I would like to inspire women to do whatever they want to do,” she said. “There are no limitations. It doesn’t matter what kind of background you came from.”

“I’m not done by any stretch.”