Photo by J. Alan Paul Photography
Country Financial’s financial representative Taylor Cavanagh graduated from NDSU just over five years ago. He represents one of the many former Bison student-athletes that remained in Fargo after their playing career to transition into the professional “real world.” We asked him why that is and what makes Fargo such an attractive place for his generation, the millennials.
Bison Illustrated – Let’s get to know you better. How did your journey from Perham, Minn. to NDSU unfold?
Taylor Cavanagh – My brother (Lee) went. He was asked to play college golf at NDSU and I liked the coach (Billy Iverson), liked the fit. I’m a big outdoorsman, so I didn’t want to be too far away from that. It was a good fit for me. Went there, loved it, it was a great four and a half years.
Was the opportunity to golf the biggest factor for you choosing a college?
For sure. I wanted to play golf. One thing about NDSU is they didn’t have any scholarships at that time, but their schedule definitely helped with recruiting. The first tournament of the year was out in Annapolis, Md., at the Naval Academy. In the spring, we’d either go to Hawaii or Southern California, which is an absolute blast. In February, we always went to San Diego, and then if we didn’t go to Hawaii that year, we’d go somewhere not in Southern California, but somewhere around San Francisco. It was a really good schedule.
Which trip was the best?
The trip to Kauai was the best because that was the first time I’d ever been to Hawaii and it’s a tiny little island, not very commercialized. The golf course was phenomenal, and we got to play some other really good golf courses on the island and it was a lot of fun. It was a two- or three- day tournament so we were there for four, five days. We definitely had a lot of fun. You want to know the worst one? It’s Western Illinois.
Yes, and why was that?
The worst is the drive. I’ll never forget. We had to leave Fargo on April 7 and we got a blizzard the night before we left. I’ll never forget, Billy and I are driving down the road and we hit a patch of ice, and we weren’t out of Fargo and the van was sideways. We’re like, “This could be a bad trip.” The place where we stayed, which was like their best hotel, it was not clean. We’ll put it that way. And the golf course, the problem is too, you never really give it a fair assessment because you’re playing golf April 7, and it’s 45 degrees and, well, we drove that far so we’re going to play. Who wants to go out and play when it’s blowing sideways?
I always bring this up with golfers, your schedule is weird in that you’re always gone in the beginning of the week and how that must throw off your schedules so much…
Yep. It’s always Mondays and Tuesdays.
And you’re missing class…
Yup, you get back and you’re a little tired from the whole trip and everything, but you have to catch up. You know what, every other athlete that we would talk to at workouts and stuff would say, “You guys have it so good. You get to go on these trips,” and they’re right. We didn’t get beat- up physically. I mean, if you can’t walk 36 holes as an athlete, if that’s going to take too much out of you, then wow. We were very spoiled. We had it the best. The only thing, like you said, was being gone the Mondays and Tuesdays. It was challenging with some professors to get caught up and everything. But other than that, it was awesome.
What was the most challenging part of trying to keep up when you were gone?
Missing tests. When you miss a test, that was the worst. Just because most of the time, they’d let you take it again or take it at a different time, before or after. Most of the time, before. I had one professor that you had the opportunity to drop one test throughout the semester and she just said, that’s the test you’re dropping.
Didn’t your finance degree require an internship, too? When did you find time for that?
It does now, but not when I went to school. It was so weird because there was an internship requirement and then I think that was getting abused by people just working as a bank teller or something so they dropped that, then I know they added it back again after I graduated.
So what was your plan after your golf eligibility was up and you were getting ready to graduate the following December?
That fall, I did as much hunting as I could to get it out of my system because I knew the glory days were coming to an end. I ran into an old friend of mine, he actually babysat us when I was a kid, and he was the manager at Country Financial at the time, Phil Haug, and he was like, “Hey, you should come work for me.” I’m like, “Sure.” I said, “Yes I’ll take the job, I would love to start my career here.” You never know being in your first job, and surprisingly nothing is different after five years. I’m very happy. It’s been very good. We’ve grown quite fast so that’s good. It was so weird running into him, I haven’t seen him in years.
How did bump into Phil?
We both golf and I just ran into him at the golf course, and he was like, “Hey, I want to talk to you about something.”
That’s textbook networking.
Yeah, networking on the golf course.
Did you always want to get into the insurance industry?
No, I really didn’t have anything in mind. I wanted to do something in the business finance world, not exactly sure what exactly it was, though.
Was that common for business students?
I wouldn’t say that. I had a general interest in it because my dad was a banker and I had worked at the bank growing up. I’m not a huge fan of science or anything like that.
Do you feel like you’re in the minority that you are still working at the same place as your first job?
Yeah, for sure (laughs). I remember when I first started, the hours I would work, for just the fewest amount of clients and stuff. I ‘d get there at 7:30, leave at 9, four nights a week. It was a grind. Now that I’ve met more people, business comes a lot quicker. You don’t have to work those hours.
Do feel fortunate you stayed in Fargo after college?
A couple guys have come to me looking for advice. If I had to do it again, I would do some sort of sales job before, get to know a few more people just to make the transition easier. I knew nobody. I wasn’t from Fargo, so it just took a little while to build my roots, for the most part. I’ve got a couple guys, one guy, really, that was good for me was Steve Walker because he worked at Country at the time when I first started. He and I are friends and he’s a great guy.
You’re still close in age to the golfers at NDSU. Do they ever reach out and ask for advice on life after school?
A couple guys have come to me looking for advice. If I had to do it again, I would do some sort of sales job before, get to know a few more people just to make the transition easier. I knew nobody. I wasn’t from Fargo, so it just took a little while to build my roots, for the most part. I’ve got a couple guys, one guy really that was good for me was Steve Walker because he worked at Country at the time when I first started. Him and I are friends and he’s a great guy, good man.
If you had to stand in front of a college class with a bunch of business students, what would you tell them about the “real world?”
The biggest thing is having an understanding, make sure you know what your expenses are, and make sure you’re putting away money each month. Make sure you’re not spending more than you make. Real life stuff, just wake up, this whole thing, living off dad’s credit card or all these student loans, be smart about that. That money is really expensive down the road, later on in life. I saw so many people, and granted they had a hard degree that would not work during the school year and they would have to take out loans to live on. And I understood that if they wanted to focus on their degree, I understand that. It’s crazy how much debt you can be in. I can’t believe how much more expensive it’s gotten since I graduated.
How has the industry changed since you arrived five years ago?
Not a ton of changes. Dealing with the millennials, the people my age, that’s the biggest thing to overcome right now. Just the different types of communications that they like. I’m unlike my generation in that I like face- to-face meetings. A handshake means a lot more than a signature.
Through all this, are you still keeping tabs on the old team?
I follow the Bison, football and basketball. I still follow golf. I come in and have my coffee in the morning and see if they have a tournament. I know a couple guys that are still on the team, just from playing a few rounds with them and it’s just fun to follow them and see how they’re doing. I’m really excited they are fully funded now, which is awesome. I’m excited to see what Steve Kennedy can do with that. He’s a really good guy.