Sweet & Savory! Top Shelf Adjuster Recipe – Adjust U

I am no chef but I did stay at  a Holiday Inn recently. Also, I have watched Hell’s Kitchen and Iron Chef a few times. So, I know a thing or two about recipes. Only a thing. Or two.

I have a much better knowledge of the ingredients that go into making a successful independent insurance adjuster.

Anybody who has ever watched anything about cooking on TV has heard the term “sweet and savory” ad nauseum. The term is over-cooked but the idea, in the hands of a crafty cook is pure deliciousness. “Sweet and savory” is the idea of mixing something sweet with something not sweet, maybe salty, maybe even spicy. Think of a chocolate-covered pretzel or a nice hot fudge sundae topped with salty peanuts, pecans, or almonds. Ever eat a slice of apple pie with cheddar cheese or sprinkle salt onto a juicy watermelon slice? Oh boy! Stand back.

Some people think an adjuster can choose one ingredient or the other and enjoy good success. They can choose to be super sweet, ooey-gooey, rose petals and rainwater. Just kill everyone with kindness. They soon find that kind of unmitigated, unregulated kindness kills alright. It kills adjuster careers. Contractors, public adjusters, and attorneys (not to mention some hard-boiled insureds) eat them up like a sweet potato crunch.

Others think being right all the time and smug about it is the answer. Just be salty. Don’t take any guff off anybody. Show ’em who’s boss. You are the expert, after all. So, destroy their meager arguments and make them question their pathetic existence. Be the claims god you were born to be.

Yeah. Good luck with that. Must have gone to Dale Carnegie’s other school, “How to Win Arguments and Influence Law Suits.”

The key to adjusting is no different than the key to life itself. The key is balance. Sweet AND savory. That is the key.

And THIS is the recipe per Chef Gene. Feel free to play around with it. Make it to your own taste. Here it is…

First, a heaping helping of humility

Let’s begin with the sweet. Without humility, the sweet is artificial and always leaves a bitter aftertaste. Artificially sweetened adjusters are insincere and agenda-driven. The sweetness is an act to aid them to the desired end – a closed claim with a good payout.

But what is humility? The simplest definition I have discovered is this: Freedom from pride or arrogance. This, I believe, is a good way to put it in a nutshell. Humility and its root word humble come from the Latin word humilis, which means “low.”

The foolish equate humility with weakness when, in fact, it is a sign of incredible strength. It is not easy to corral one’s own ego and thirst for recognition or acceptance in order to put another above yourself. Humility is strength under control. Humility is the opposite of arrogance and foolish pride.

A humble spirit is a sweet spirit. My longtime best friend is a successful pastor of more than 20 years in the same church. He is supremely talented, blessed with intelligence and wit, and completely devoid of pride. I can tell you this: he is in the minority in his profession.

I have seen plenty of adjusters who know everything and can’t wait to prove it. Not one of them is humble. Every one of them has shown a certain belligerence, an unwillingness to be coached, and has experienced difficulty working with others to resolve a claim.

Humility is the first and one of the most vital ingredients.

Second, a dash of empathy

This also falls into the sweetness category. Fold in gently. Empathy is not sympathy.  The best way I have to explain the difference is this: Sympathy sees a problem from the outside in; empathy sees it from the inside out.

Empathy is the willingness to “go there,” to experience the loss the way the insured does, to see it through their eyes. What may seem trivial to the outsider may be of infinite value to the one who lost it, however big or small. Empathy is asking, “What would I need most from me the adjuster if I was him or her, the insured?”

Notice, I did not say, “What would I want most.” Needs and wants are not always the same. They can, actually, be in direct opposition to one another. What do they need? Read on…

Third, A pound of honesty

Be careful you mix in this ingredient with care. Pointers…

This is the savory part of the dish but it must be blended in with the sweet, the next ingredient…

Next, A cup of kindness

This is when I like to remember when my daughters were young and the original Disney channel was the station of choice in our house. I like to remember Mary Poppins. She gave the children the medicine they needed but sweetened it because, “Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”

Kindness may be the most left-out ingredient in our industry. When it is included in the process, it cannot help but make a positive difference. Think about it from your perspective.

Let me tell you a story about a man who influenced me as a new adjuster. Or better yet, let me share the LinkedIn post I shared on the occasion of his birthday a week ago.

Today, Curtis Henderson’s birthday notification appeared on my Facebook timeline. Curtis passed in August 2020. I met him when I was a fairly new adjuster and still licking old wounds from another life. I was on a hailstorm in Georgia when I encountered a roof system I had never seen before. There was all kinds of collateral damage but I could not find a single hail mark on this roof. Curtis was my field support manager. I asked him to go back with me and have a look. He confirmed what my eyes told me but more than that he showed me that a gentleman with a gentle nature could thrive in a business filled with those less kind and patient.

I kept running into him on subsequent storms and was always glad to have done so. In Philadelphia, he helped me through my first total fire loss. Again, his patience and guidance were invaluable to my success.

As I grew in the business and moved into new levels of responsibility, Curtis remained a friend, a fan, and a supporter. The last time I saw him was in Fort Worth at a random conference downtown. He and his wife were there. He hailed me. We talked. I thanked him for everything and am thankful to have been able to do so.Gene Strother


Kindness costs nothing but has lasting value in the lives of those to whom it is shown.

Finally, an ounce of integrity

Have you ever heard someone say about another, “That guy doesn’t have one ounce of integrity.” A little integrity goes a long way.

“But wait, Gene. Aren’t integrity and honesty the same thing?” They are almost the same thing, yes. They are siblings, synonymous but not exactly the same thing. Integrity begins with honesty but it expands to moral principles. A person of integrity is a principled person.

You can abuse honesty. You can use it cruelly to tell an unattractive person how ugly they are or belittle someone for some other obvious flaw. Honesty must be tempered with kindness, which is why I listed them back-to-back. Integrity needs no such regulator or governor. 

Integrity is doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do. For example, when you refuse to pad an estimate or write damages you know are not attributable to the loss or covered under the policy, you exhibit integrity.

Stir together vigorously until you have achieved the consistency you desire

This is where elbow grease and discernment make for a Top Shelf Adjuster. 

There is no substitute for hard work.John Wooden, Hall of Fame Coach


Famous film producer Samuel Goldwyn said, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.” There is not substitute for hard work. There is, however, a complimentary companion to it. DISCERNMENT.

The Top Shelf Adjuster doesn’t just work hard. He or she works smart. They make the best use of available tools. They manage their time well. They understand it is always good advice to take good advice.

They don’t undercook a claim by rushing through it and closing it out prematurely without all of the ingredients in it. They don’t overcook it by sitting on it for days, either.  Timing is everything to the chef and to the adjuster alike.

At Mid-America, we are always looking for top-shelf adjusters. This is why at Adjust U, we are turning them out, class after class. Whether you are ready just now to get into the mix or you need to improve your serve, we are here to serve. 

Check out our Adjust U class schedule here. Get yourself on the Mid-America roster here.