Peter Rosengard is not your average life insurance salesman. His career has spanned everything from working as DJ in swinging sixties London to managing 80s pop group Curiosity Killed the Cat, cult comedian Jerry Sadowitz and one-man Al-Qaeda deterrent John Smeaton while also finding time to help establish the alternative comedy scene by co-founding the Comedy Store.
Along the way he has managed to get himself into the Guinness Book of World Records for selling the world’s largest life insurance policy and rubbed shoulders with some of the 20th century’s most famous people.
But in between bumping in to Henry Kissinger at breakfast and helping to lobby London mayor Boris Johnson to agree to setting up a permanent public memorial for the British victims of 9/11, Rosengard says he has been proud to call himself a life insurance salesman.
The twists and turns of his eventful life have been documented in his auto-biography, Talking to strangers: The adventures of a Life Insurance Salesman, which was published earlier this year. As with everything else in he turns his hands to, the enthusiasm he brings to describing his escapades is palpable.
At the age of 67, Rosengard is showing no signs of slowing up. He can still be found every morning in what is possibly the most comfortable office in the world, Claridges’ dining room, having three meetings and up to three portions of crispy bacon and scrambled eggs. His table is booked for every morning until 12 December 2046, the day after his 100th birthday.
In person he is no less engaging. Over breakfast at his customary table he talks enthusiatically and almost non-stop on dozens of different subjects. From his upbringing in West London to hanging out in the Ad Lib club in the early sixties with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, to his brushes with gambling addiction to almost becoming a dentist.
Rosengard’s introduction to financial services came in 1969 when he moved back to London after several years spent living in Stockholm. He recalls that he was receiving weekly letters from his grandfather asking him to come back to the UK and suggesting various potential careers. After having working through law and accountancy he received a letter suggesting a career as a life insurance salesman.
“Clearly he was getting desperate. Life insurance salesman? He was scrapping the bottom of the barrel,” jokes Rosengard.
But by May 1969, he was back in London and in response to an advert, he took a job selling insurance for Abbey Life. After a brief interview and a 60 second training session in the art of selling life insurance, he left the office got in the first black cab he could find and promptly sold the driver a policy.
Since then he has not looked back and despite the public’s perception of financial services he is genuinely proud to describe himself as a life insurance salesman.
“I am a life insurance salesman. The only job I have ever had since I was 22, my only profession or income earning activity, has been as a life insurance salesman.”
In fact, he says he insisted that his business cards issued by his current network Openwork use the title life insurance salesman something the compliance department had to be convinced of.
His most high-profile escapade in insurance was selling of the world’s largest life insurance policy, a $100m policy for David Geffen, the boss of Geffen Records, but he cheerfully recounts similarly entertaining stories about unwittingly insuring the life of a Mafia hitman or trying to sign up a new client in a nightclub toilet.
He also discusses some of the downs he has experienced along the way, such as his gambling addiction.
“I’m one of the few men in the world to have their Rolls Royce repossessed aged 22. I though I was a rock star in the life insurance business,” he jokes.
The energy that Rosengard brings to the projects he gets involved with led to him setting up the Comedy Store.
“You’ve got the be able to get away from the glamour of life insurance sometimes. The groupies, the women. Some people would stop at nothing to buy life insurance.”
Tired of seeing the same tired old comedy acts and being inspired by the new comedy coming out of the United States he decided to give it a go and borrowed the back room of a strip club in Soho. Although he is no longer involved with the club, it is still going strong and helped to establish the careers of some of the UK’s biggest comedy names such as Alexei Sayle, Ben Elton, Rik Mayall, Ade Edmonson, Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French.
The most high profile of his recent achievements is helping to set up the educational charity the 9/11 Education Programme and helping to establish the campaign to erect a permanent public monument to the British victims of 9/11.
Rosengard played a key part in securing a piece of steel from the World Trade Centre to be turned into a sculpture to act as a memorial for the 67 British victims of the terrorist attack. It was unveiled in time for the 10th anniversary memorial but only in a temporary location and it had proved impossible to find a permanent location for it.
However, last month, after a three year battle, London Mayor Boris Johnson bowed to public pressure and announced the sculpture would be placed in the Jubilee Park being constructed on the sight of last year’s Olympics.
To his list of accomplishments, Rosengard can now add best-selling author as earlier this year his book on his adventures was featured on the best-selling lists for business, humour and biography and his story is a compelling mix of all three.
His enthusiasm seems as bright as ever and it would be unwise to bet against further escapades from the most unusual career in life insurance.
He says: “It has been a life of great adventure. Every day has been a birthday, every day has been a holiday, every day has been a celebration.
“My father used to say he was having a bubbling love affair with life and that is how I feel. I love life, I love selling, I love selling life!”
Born: Hammersmith, 1946
Lives: Maida Vale, London
Education: Latymer Upper School, Hammersmith; London University
Career: 1969-present: life insurance salesman, Abbey Life, Allied Dunbar, Zurich Advice Network then Openwork
Likes: People, life, talking to people
Dislikes: I’ve never met a man a didn’t like
Drives: Red Vespa scooter
Book: How I raised myself from failure to success in selling by Frank Bettger
Film: The King of Comedy
Album: Anything by the Doors, Art Lee or Sam Cooke
Life ambition: Two weeks ago I won proudest father of the year award when my daughter Lily went to Cambridge University
If I wasn’t doing this I would be… Are you crazy? Why would I stop doing something I love doing!