Phyllis Taylor, an institution at Erie Insurance, where’s she’s worked with every chief executive from founder H.O. Hirt to current boss Terry Cavanaugh, is stepping down after 50 years on the job.
The length of her tenure can be marked in changing technology, sales charts and an ever expanding payroll. Taylor was one of 390 employees when she started in 1962. Her departure leaves the company with 4,479.
Cavanaugh doesn’t know all of them on sight, but he knows Taylor.
“Everyone knows Phyllis,” he said. “Phyllis is an institution. “Fifty years with Erie is a remarkable statement about the type of person she is. In her role in the office of the president, she was the face of Erie (Insurance) for many people.”
A measure of her importance to the company?
She was one of the first employees to have a calculator, but only after President H.O. Hirt signed off on the purchase.
Like a professional athlete who spends his entire career with one team, the arc of Taylor’s career is a departure from the norm.
Numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics tell us the average person spends 4.1 years at a given job.
Taylor, who is active in the Rotary Club and at Faith Lutheran Church, wasn’t sure she would last that long.
“Like any other 18-year-old, you don’t think ‘OK, this is going to be a lifetime thing.”
But the seeds for a career in the industry had been planted early.
Taylor remembers going with her parents when she was young to pay the insurance bill at the Erie Insurance office, now the Achievement Center.
“I remember going in there and I was really impressed,” she said. “As a kid, you go home and play office. I was always an insurance agent.”
Taylor never did become an insurance agent, but she did get to play an increasingly important role in the fortunes of her employer, working for the past 15 years in the office of the president, mostly handling complaints that made their way to the highest level.
“You have to be a very big diplomat. They tell you to do things that are physically impossible,” Taylor said. “You know they are disgruntled and you don’t take it personally.”
Taylor said she’s inclined to miss the more personal moments.
She said she has memories of all eight of the company’s chief executives, including H.O. Hirt., who she remembers summoning her and some other employees to help crank out that week’s overdue edition of the company newsletter.
“I kept wondering, who is this little old man?” she said.
Cavanaugh, the current chief executive, left an impression as well.
Taylor remembers heading with other employees to the company’s assembly room to hear from the new chief executive in July 2008.
Before the meeting began, however, he walked up to Taylor and introduced himself.
“He said, ‘I am Terry Cavanaugh. I understand you are the most tenured person here and I am the least,” Taylor remembered.
“It was the coolest thing,” she said. “It endeared him to me forever.”
Cavanaugh, who chatted about the company’s senior employee Thursday night, made one thing clear. The feeling is mutual.