Barney’s Story

Living an exceptional life by making a difference in the lives of others is really exciting and is hard to describe. It is said that success is not how high you rise but how far you have come. This is certainly true for me, as I describe my personal story here. I hope that people will understand that what has happened for me and my family can happen to anyone with commitment, discipline, patience and desire. The life that we lead today is beyond anything I could have ever aspired to or dreamed about growing up. I am not sure if you can understand what I mean, but if you think about how you would feel given similar circumstances, you might get what I mean.

Bonnie & Barney Hellenbrand
Bonnie & Barney Hellenbrand

The best way to tell my story is to describe in simple terms my upbringing. I am one of four children from the same mother but with three different fathers with no child knowing their own father and barely knowing the last. I was born in New York but my family moved to California when I was two. My older sister was six and my younger brother was 6 months. It was shortly after we moved west that my mother divorced my father, her 2nd husband, who then died a couple of years later. We rarely saw my father after they were divorced, and I was too young to remember him anyways.

We lived in a series of apartment buildings, and I can’t tell you how many different elementary schools we attended, as we were constantly on the move. Being exceedingly shy and reserved as a child, moving was extremely difficult for me, as I hated having to repeatedly try and make new friends. Fortunately, I loved to read and was a bookworm who was attracted to great, powerful, heroic figures that exist in literature.

When I was nine years old, my mother married her last husband (he lasted less than one year) who proceeded to take me, my brother and mother on a yearlong wild journey across the U.S. in a Volkswagen beetle with all our possessions…the clothes on our backs! My older sister had run away to live with our grandparents by this time. This marriage lasted less than one year, but a couple of months after he left another new baby brother arrived, and within a short time I was left alone at age 10 to care for an infant and watch out for a younger brother, as my mother tried to go back to work. At this point, we would have needed a raise to qualify as poor.

Without going through all the gory details of growing up in that situation, you can imagine that these were difficult circumstances. After a few years my mother finally started doing well in sales until the real estate crash of 1974, nearly wiping her out again when I was 19. Finally, my Mother died two years later at 46, and at age 21 I was basically alone. I was in college to play football at the time, and I was at least smart enough to complete my degree, but I had no idea what I was going to do with myself.

It was quite a journey to say the least; going from that particular unfortunate set of circumstances to the CEO of a good sized, national, financial services organization. There was an event that occurred in about 2003 that starkly illustrated the distance I had travelled. While my wife, Bonnie, and I were on a business/pleasure trip to London and Italy, we had the privilege of staying in a beautiful suite at the Four Seasons Hotel in London. One evening during our stay we were invited to dinner at the nearby Dorchester Hotel by the President of one of our insurance carriers. This was not just any dinner. The dinner was prepared for just 6 couples personally by the Head Chef of the Dorchester in their fancy private dining room adjacent to the kitchen. It was a seven course meal with special wine chosen for each course, and the food was exquisite, prepared from the finest ingredients from all around the world. I don’t drink, but I certainly was amazed at the entire process and took a sip of a $300 bottle of Krug Champagne because I had to know what kind of grape could possibly be worth $300. I still don’t get it, but that’s just me.

It was during this dinner party that I was suddenly hit by the distances I had travelled, and I don’t mean in miles. I had gone from being so poor that all my mother could afford at one point was a loaf of bread and a pound of bologna with us sleeping in a VW bug, to staying in the Four Seasons in London and dining like Royalty. It was nothing short of remarkable and even a little breathtaking. I describe this experience to make a point. You cannot imagine all of the wonderful experiences you will have as a result of your success, and it is more than worth all of the efforts to make it happen.

The Hellenbrand Family
The Hellenbrand Family

I want to share two more stories with you about living an extraordinary life which may be beyond your wildest expectations. When I was 12 years old, I read about the Pro Football legend, Raymond Berry, on the back of a box of Wheaties and was inspired by the great man’s achievements and wanted to be like him. Having no father or real male influence, Raymond became a surrogate for me in my mind, and I read everything about him and tried to model myself after him. Growing up, Raymond was by far my most important role model, and when I was forty, I actually had a chance to meet him. This amazingly led to a friendship and eventually a bond as strong as family. We have taken vacations together and our families have grown quite close over the years. I cannot describe to you what a thrill it was for me when our daughter, Samantha, asked Raymond to perform her marriage ceremony when she and her now husband, Shane, were married in the fall of 2009.

Interestingly, Samantha’s wedding was another absolute highlight of my life. The wedding took place at an unbelievably beautiful resort in Santa Barbara, California, called The Bacara, which is an amazing property overlooking the Pacific Ocean on one of the most beautiful California afternoons you can imagine. This wedding was in every way absolutely spectacular, and Samantha was one of the happiest, most gorgeous brides you ever saw. Equally as important, Bonnie was one of the happiest, most beautiful mother-of-the-brides ever. We were able to spare almost no expense to give Samantha and Shane the wedding they desired and that Samantha had always dreamed of having. It was one of the proudest moments of my life and was made even more poignant by what happened a few weeks later.

Sam and Shane had gone to Kauai, Hawaii for their honeymoon and when they returned, Bonnie and I went to Kauai and Maui ourselves with some friends. Shortly after we returned, I came home from the office to find Bonnie a little dewy eyed on the couch. When I asked her if she was crying, she replied that she was so happy because she never thought she would have been able to give her baby that kind of wedding. If you have children, just imagine how your spouse saying something like that to you would make you feel. I was over the moon with pride, joy and gratitude that we could do this for the people we love.

Bonnie & Barney Hellenbrand
Bonnie & Barney Hellenbrand

I should point out that Bonnie lost both of her parents when she was 27, so it is not like we have ever had the parental back stop that others may enjoy. Our life together has been a miracle, an unbelievable joy and we are very grateful for it. We have travelled the world, seen things that we never imagined, formed relationships with amazing people and, equally if not more importantly, have been able to help so many people who have not been as fortunate or blessed as we have been. It may not be appropriate to mention many of the things that we have done and continue to do, but I want to just share some amazing aspects.

My hero and mentor, Raymond Berry, is a part owner in our company and a virtual father to me. Samantha, our daughter, is our corporate meeting & event planner/sponsor coordinator and travels with me frequently. My wife comes and goes as she pleases, free to work when she wants and how she wants in helping our business. Our employees are treated like family with love and respect and a great deal of appreciation. It is literal pleasure to come to work every day and be with these people. The decision to build a business, a company, a corporate work of art has changed the lives of thousands of people all across America, not just our home office employees, but all our associates in the field who see and serve their clients. This does not include all of the investment people, underwriters, parameds, and all the employees of all of the companies and carriers we do business with who are employed because of the business we all create. While I may not be Bill Gates yet, the life I lead is beyond what my humble beginnings would lead me to have expected.

You may ask what the difference is between me and most people who don’t have these experiences. Very little, in my opinion. I think that I was simply too stubborn to give up and quit on my dreams and perhaps too limited in imagination to figure out anything else to do. Basically, I removed all the options from my life except to succeed or die trying. This was and is a fairly simple game plan. I would add only two other factors: I was driven to be successful, yet I was insecure enough to know that I needed help. Therefore, I was and am obsessed with learning as much as I can about personal development and getting better in every way, so I remain an avid reader of anything I can find in this arena. Next, I am obsessed with trying to surround myself with the absolute smartest and best people possible to help me accomplish our collective goals.

At HBW we want everyone to have a success story to tell. It is up to each person to take advantage of the opportunities presented to them and create the kind of life they truly wish to live.

Next: The HBW Dream


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