“J. Baker” By Neal Murphy

July 16, 2021 - I wish that you could have met this giant of a man, a fellow worker at Allstate Insurance Company in Houston, Texas.  In the mid 1960s, I was working as an insurance underwriter for Allstate.  In case you are not familiar with the term “underwriter”, let me explain.  Every insurance company has these “risk evaluators” who examine applications for insurance submitted by their agents.  They can approve or reject applications for coverage.  In so doing, they often make people angry.

In the years prior to 1975 before both the state and federal governments got involved in the insurance business, a company was free to insure or not insure any risk for any logical reason.  Then the civil rights movement spilled over into insurance selection, and later political correctness stuck its nose under the tent.  Since then, insurance companies must abide by numerous state and federal laws regarding the selecting of insurance risks, or the non-renewal of an individual policy.  This has resulted in much higher insurance premiums that we all must pay.

Back to J. Baker.  In the early days when an underwriter decided that a particular risk did not meet the requirements of the company, a letter of declination or non-renewal was mailed to the customer, signed by the underwriter.  This resulted in the underwriters receiving many irate telephone calls, and even death threats.  I recall receiving a call one day from a mad fellow, however I had stepped away from my desk.  The underwriter next to my desk answered my phone.  When the irate customer stated that he was on his way out to the office to beat the snot out of me, Chuck told him he had better be careful because I had been the boxing champion at Baylor University in 1956.  He never showed up….I was not a boxer.

This is where J. Baker comes in.  The branch manager decided that he needed a new plan to handle these irate people.  So, he formed a “Customer Service” department.  All calls to the company were funneled through that department. In addition, all outgoing negative letters were signed by “J. Baker”. This was, in fact, a fictitious name.  However, whenever a customer asked to speak to Mr. Baker, it was a tip-off as to the nature of the call.  Mr. Baker was never available for a phone call since he did not exist.  That worked well for a time, however we were still experiencing people coming out to the office in person looking for a fight.  One of the employees in that department was a young fellow, around 6 feet 5 inches tall, and weighing in at 350 pounds, with muscles on top of muscles.  He became Mr. J. Baker.  He was instructed to go out and encounter the irritated and possibly violent customers, and try to calm them down.  Usually once they got a look at Mr. J. Baker, they calmed down rapidly.

I do recall one particularly violent insured who insisted on exchanging blows with J. Baker.  The company manager came out of his office and instructed Mr. Baker, “Don’t hit him first…..don’t hit him first.  If he hits you first, wipe up the floor with him!”  The police arrived just in the nick of time.

Over the years I have wondered what happened to that fictitious Mr. Baker.  I have also wondered if large insurance companies still practice signing the name of someone who does not exist to their adverse underwriting letters.  I have this feeling.