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Joe Plumeri: The Apostle Of Life Insurance

He runs Traveler's PFS with evangelistic fervor--and charging these prices, he has to

The moment Joseph J. Plumeri II bounds into the spotlight at the Philadelphia Convention Center, the crowd erupts in a raucous ovation. No doubt many of the 4,500 people on hand have caught his act before. Nattily attired in grey pinstripes with matching tie and pocket square, he plants himself center stage and opens his arms in a hey-look-me-over gesture. "He's a stud," someone shouts as Plumeri, a short, stocky 53-year-old, saunters stage right in super-slow motion. "It's a cool walk," he says, getting a big laugh. "I learned it in the old neighborhood."

That would be the blue-collar precincts of North Trenton, N.J., just 15 miles from here. The cool-walking demonstration ended, Plumeri explains how he stumbled into a career on Wall Street by taking a menial job at a brokerage house that he had mistaken for a law firm. He tells his tale with brio, working it for laugh after laugh. Finally, he lets the hilarity fade. "I tell you this because it's O.K. to be embarrassed, it's O.K. to have childlike enthusiasm," he says softly. Plumeri pauses and then looses a full-throated cry: "Don't live your life without having a dream. Otherwise, you've wasted it. O.K.? Are you with me?"