Talking Business: Continental chief expects staffing growth

As part of a $100 million deal with insurance giant Aflac, Continental American Insurance Co. boss Chris Goodall got an autographed photo of the famous duck mascot - and a boss.

Goodall, 52, will continue to run the Columbia company that his father, Leon, founded in 1980.

But Goodall now reports to Aflac President Paul Amos - his first formal boss since he was a law firm associate in the 1980s.

The State spoke with Goodall soon after the sale became final last week.

What was your reaction when Paul Amos first called about coming to Columbia to meet with you nearly a year ago?

"It was out of the blue, and I had never spoken with Paul. He didn't discuss anything specific (when he called), but instinctively ... in the back of mind, I knew that it probably had something to do with establishing a relationship."

Soon after the call, the pair met over dinner at Dianne's on Devine. They first talked about business philosophies. It turned out that they shared many of the same views. "It went in different directions," Goodall said of their meal chat. "By the end of the evening, the focus was around an acquisition."

Had you fielded other buyout offers?

"This was not first time we've been approached. Our response had always been, 'We're not for sale.'" Revenue was growing rapidly, and Continental had received a boost in its financial strength rating from insurance industry watcher A.M. Best.

But this offer was different. Goodall called it a once-in-a-lifetime chance to work with a large company that had plenty of resources.

"Not everything is going to come consistent with your timetable," he said. "You have to have the courage and wisdom to recognize a good opportunity."

Were there any reservations to doing the deal?

"The disparity of the size between the companies was an apprehension," Goodall said. "And we don't have a lot of public exposure."

Privately held Continental American had revenues of $79 million last year versus Aflac's $15.4 billion. Continental American employs about 166, while Aflac has more than 8,000 on the payroll.

Another matter to consider: "At age 52, I will have someone I have to report to."

Goodall has not had a boss - at least one who was not his father - since soon after law school. "The folks at Aflac have been sensitive to this complete change for us."

What will change with the merger?

Goodall said he expects rapid staffing growth at Continental by leveraging Aflac's strengths - its brand, marketing and even the duck.

He would not say whether that brand leveraging would extend to changing the Continental name.

Meanwhile, there are no plans to move from Continental's two offices on Devine Street.

"There's still a lot left for me to learn," Goodall said. "But at the end of the day, we all do the same thing. We collect premiums, pay commissions and pay claims."