New York Life has given Dunwoody native Benjamin Yin two of its most prestigious awards for the year 2011 – Rookie of the Year and New Organization Agent of the Year – for outperforming all other metro Atlanta company agents in their first three years.
“To win both was more than I had expected,” said Yin.
“It’s most unusual for anyone to win both awards,” said New York Life Senior Development Manager Bruce Lai.
Unusual, but not surprising to Yin’s mother Corina Chou, herself a New York Life agent who has won Agent of the Year for 22 of the last 26 years.
“I was not surprised,” she said. “He will do even better in the future. He has my genes. He is very aggressive.”
“Aggressive” was not always a word used to describe Chou.
But things changed on September 29, 1985, when Yin was only 5 years old. That was the day his father, Paul Yin, an avid parachutist and owner of Yin’s Chinese Restaurant in Georgetown Shopping Center, died in a plane crash that killed everyone aboard.
Seeking a stable alternative to the hectic restaurant business, the elder Yin had been preparing to start a new career as an agent with New York Life.
Instead, he left behind a young stay-at-home wife with two small sons, a restaurant she knew little about, no legal will and no life insurance.
When the elder Yin did not report to his new job, his manager called to inquire about his absence. Without thinking, Chou asked if she could take her husband’s place.
“I was naive,” she said. “I knew nothing about insurance. I didn’t know the outside world.”
In fact, she had never driven her car beyond the confines of Dunwoody.
However, four days after her husband’s funeral, armed with an MBA from Eastern New Mexico University and a fierce desire to provide for her children, Corina Yin, who now goes by her maiden name Chou, made her way to the New York Life central office in the heart of downtown Atlanta, took the required tests in English, her second language, passed them and began her training.
“I was late every day,” she said, “because of having to get the boys to school.”
When the trainer gave her a warning about her tardiness, she sat in the back of the room and cried.
“Nobody understood me,” she said.
Being left with no financial resources, she did her new job for the first year while trying to also keep the Dunwoody restaurant going. The lack of estate planning and resulting government red tape forced her to close the restaurant.
She vowed that no one she knew would ever end up like her. What followed were years of 16 hour days, seven days a week, helping others, mainly in the Asian community, to plan for their future.
She raised her children in Dunwoody, and they thrived. Yin was student body president at Dunwoody High School in his senior year. He learned to make his own decisions.
“I was not a tiger mom,” she said.
She sent both sons to college: Ben to Emory, his brother to Georgia Tech. Both graduated debt-free.
Along the way, she wrote her memoir, “Dad, Please Don’t Leave Us,” now in its second Chinese printing, to help others understand the importance of financial planning.
Today, she has her own office, where she has trained many new agents, including her award-winning son.
Yin worked as a sports agent until his mother “recruited” him.
“I realize I’m in this position because of her sacrifice,” he said. “She’s my inspiration.”
“His future is better than mine,” she said. “He knows the business system, how to delegate and how to cooperate and grow bigger. I only know how to work hard.”
Nevertheless, the awards are proof that her son has inherited her work ethic.
“This business is all about how much work you put into it,” he said. “There’s no structure. There are no hours. It’s all about self-discipline.”
However, as hard as Yin works, he has no plans to emulate his mother’s 16-hour workdays.
Now married to his Dunwoody High School sweetheart, with whom he has a 10-month-old son, he plans to have “a more balanced life.”
“When I’m away, I miss my wife and son,” he said.
Chou approves of her son’s decision to pursue a balanced life.
“I didn’t have a choice,” she said.
One comes away with the feeling that giving her sons the freedom to choose is what her story was ultimately all about.
Yin will receive his award on Saturday, Feb. 4 at the Retreat at Perimeter Summit.