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Insurance agency principal Mason Lee "Red" Cashion is leading a double life.
During the week, he serves as chairman emeritus of Anco Insurance Managers Inc., a Bryan, Texas-based agency. On weekends, however, he travels the country to watch and critique football referees in action as a National Football League observer and referee talent scout.
In addition to a 40-year career in the insurance industry, Mr. Cashion also officiated at professional football games for more than 25 years, including Super Bowls XX and XXX.
Mr. Cashion, 67, got into both careers by chance. Along the way, he has earned admiration not only for his work in insurance and officiating but also for his community involvement.
Keys to his success are a mix of friendliness and ambition that have served him well both on and off the field, friends and business colleagues say.
"Red has never met a stranger," said his longtime business partner, Anco Insurance Managers Chairman Dick Haddox. "He knows people everywhere, and people have a tendency to remember him." With his red hair, freckles and the trademark "First dowwwwnnn" call that made him famous as a referee, Mr. Cashion "has always been sort of a character," said Mr. Haddox.
"He has tremendous people skills. It's like a God-given talent," said Jerry Seeman, senior director of officiating at the NFL's headquarters in New York. He said Mr. Cashion "can be firm when he has to at times, but he gets along with people." Mr. Seeman said he had known Mr. Cashion for 24 years.
At the start of Super Bowl XX in January 1986, which pitted the Chicago Bears against the New England Patriots, Mr. Cashion started on the wrong end of the field at the packed Louisiana Superdome.
Realizing that he was not standing behind the receiving team, as he was supposed to, Mr. Cashion cleverly found a way to cross the field without embarrassing himself.
"I saw that the kicker (Tony Franklin of the New England team) was a fellow I knew quite well," Mr. Cashion said. "So, I said 'Tony, I'm at the wrong end of the field, but if I talk to you long enough, they'll think it's something special." After a little chat, Mr. Cashion calmly crossed the field.
His distinct personality helped him not only as a referee but also with the business, Mr. Haddox said. "In the insurance business, you have so many people selling insurance that to have an outstanding personality is an advantage," he said.
Mr. Cashion believes that being a referee can also help. "I never sold a policy because of that, but it helped me get into doors," he said. "People want to talk to officials. They want to talk about the game they saw last weekend."
While his NFL fame usually did not hurt, it sometimes caused confusion among unknowing insurance officials. Once, "I was at Lloyd's of London when I suddenly heard someone howl 'First dowwwnn' across the room," he recalled. "The broker there asked me if I knew what that meant, and I said I was afraid I did. The broker just said, 'Here, we don't hear that sort of thing that often.' "
While many insurance clients knew of his second career on the gridiron, the football players usually did not know what he did for a living during the week, Mr. Cashion said. "That did not have a place out in the field," he said.
Mr. Cashion has been involved in football since he played quarterback on his high school team. He went on to attend Texas A&M University in College Station, just south of Bryan, and that's where Red Cashion took up refereeing.
Mr. Cashion went into officiating because "I was in college and looking for something to do. Someone suggested refereeing, and I just tried it." He said he liked officiating because "it's fun being out in the middle of the field and working with all those people."
Mr. Haddox added that "Red is a competitor. Growing up and seeing people succeed makes you want to be that type of person, too. He always wanted to accomplish things."
And accomplish he did -- as a referee, an insurance agent and a civic leader.
Mr. Cashion has been with Anco for over 40 years and helped it grow "very large for a town this size," said Robert Worley, president of the non-profit Economic Development Corp. in Bryan, Texas. EDC is a non-profit organization that promotes business development in the Bryan-College Station area. Bryan and College Station have a combined population of between 120,000 and 130,000, according to Mr. Worley.
Anco is the 87th largest broker of U.S. business, based on 1997 brokerage revenues of more than $11.2 million. The agency employs about 170, all of whom are shareholders in the company. "We think that people that have an interest in the business are better employees," Mr. Cashion explained.
Mr. Cashion served as Anco chairman for about 10 years before stepping down in 1996.
Since then, he has held the title of chairman emeritus but still goes into work every day. "For years, he was the chairman and I was the president," Mr. Haddox recalled. "I said, 'How about me being the chairman for some time?' and he said, 'Fine.' So, we came up with a new title" for him.
Over the decades, Mr. Cashion has remained popular with employees, Mr. Haddox said. And even though he had to split his time between football and insurance, Mr. Cashion always contributed to the development of business, especially by means of his vision, Mr. Haddox said. "He has always been very progressive, willing to lead change," he said. "He is aggressive, innovative and thinks of new products," said Mr. Worley. "He doesn't rest on his laurels."
About 20 years ago, for example, Mr. Cashion came up with the idea to have the agency do personal lines and small commercial lines business as a managing general agency. The idea was a success, Mr. Haddox said.
It was while running Anco that Mr. Cashion served as an NFL official for more than 25 years, during which his peers named him the top referee twice. Before some NFL referee talent scouts asked him to try his hand at professional games, Mr. Cashion had officiated at the high school and college level for 21 years.
Mr. Cashion is a past president of the Professional Football Referees Assn. and has refereed almost 500 professional games. He said that Mr. Haddox has been "a good partner," who ran the business while Mr. Cashion was officiating.
Besides being fun and a good way to get away from everyday work and life, refereeing also taught him important lessons for the business world, Mr. Cashion said. "You've got to take care of your people in both roles," he said. On the gridiron, he said, he also learned the importance of organization.
One quality that has served him well on the football field but that Mr. Cashion does not apply to business is fast decision-making, Mr. Haddox said.
"I think it's ironical that he really doesn't like to make quick decisions in business," Mr. Haddox said. "He prefers to have other people make them."
Mr. Cashion said he retired from refereeing in 1996, while he was ranked the best NFL referee, "because I thought it was time. I didn't want anybody to tell me I'm too old. I didn't want to go down in my ability to officiate. I wanted to go out on top."
His drive to excel also made Mr. Cashion a civic leader. In the late 1980s, when his home region tried to expand economic development, "he was one of the first who bought into the idea" of having Bryan and College Station cooperate, said Mr. Worley. "He agreed to serve on the board (of the then newly created Economic Development Corp.) that helped create thousands of jobs and brought dozens of companies" to the area. The cooperation has proven to be very successful, local business leaders said. Among other leadership roles, Mr. Cashion also served as president of the Bryan-College Station Chamber of Commerce.
In 1994, his local civic involvement earned him the "Citizen of the Year" award from the Chamber of Commerce. "I suppose they didn't have anyone else to elect," Mr. Cashion joked. And then, more seriously, he said: "When you do business in a community, you've got to give back to the community."
Mr. Worley said that though Mr. Cashion was not formally involved in civic efforts any more, "he is (still) one of those very influential leaders behind the scenes."
Mr. Cashion was born in 1931 in College Station, at Texas A&M. His father, the general secretary of the school's YMCA, lived on campus, and "my mother had me there," Mr. Cashion explained.
As a boy, he got his nickname "Red" because of the color of his hair, Mr. Cashion said. The name has stuck ever since, even though his hair has turned mostly gray over the years.
Mr. Cashion has stayed loyal not only to his nickname but also to his home state and Texas A&M, from which he graduated with a degree in business administration in 1953.
Only when he entered active duty in the Army as an administrative officer, according to Mr. Cashion, did he leave his home state for two years. But "the Army was good for me," he said. "It taught me about organization and that sort of thing. I think everybody ought to do a little of that."
After finishing his tour of duty, Mr. Cashion opened a small charcoal manufacturing business, but "I couldn't make any money in it," he said. At that time, his father-in-law co-owned a small insurance agency. When his business partner left the company, Mr. Cashion's father-in-law asked him if he wanted to take his partner's position, Mr. Cashion recalled. So, "I bought half of the interest" in the agency, he said. Asked whether he had planned or always wanted to go into the insurance business, Mr. Cashion replied with yet another one-liner: "I was just looking for a job, I guess."
The job turned into a career. Mr. Cashion persuaded Mr. Haddox, against whom he competed in high school sports, to join the company, and in 1966, Burgess, Cashion & Haddox merged with another agency, Mitchell-Vincent Insurance Agency in Bryan, Texas. They called the new agency "The Anderson Co.," or "Anco" in its shortened form, in honor of the man who in 1873 founded the company that was Anco's predecessor.
In the currently soft insurance market, Anco tries to stay successful by doing "anything we can do to do business and finding new pieces of business," Mr. Cashion said.
"We have developed some (new) programs to attract business, programs for new industries," such as logging, Mr. Haddox said. In addition, Anco is "in a growth mode," he said. The agency is "interested in buying businesses" and "trying to find new ways of making people interested in coming with us," said Mr. Haddox.
Anco has discovered that one way to attract people is to acquire agencies while permitting them to remain autonomous. Under this arrangement, Anco has a controlling interest in the company but the original management continues to run the agency, said Mr. Cashion.
Anco already has several such partnerships in Texas and more on the drawing board, Mr. Haddox said. "It is one way to grow in the future," he said.
Mr. Cashion is, of course, involved in developing such new strategies. At age 67, he says he is still trying to make things happen. What kind of legacy does he want to leave behind? "I don't think about that a lot," he said. "I just hope that the world is a little better because I came along."