Andy Potash ’66 knows how to stay busy.
It started at Cornell, where he was a two-sport varsity athlete playing both sprint football and lacrosse, while also being in a fraternity and serving as the senior class president. Prior to his final year on East Hill, he worked a summer internship with Bayly, Martin, & Fay (now part of AON) and accepted a job with the company immediately following graduation.
Potash spent the next 28 years in the retail insurance brokerage industry in a variety of roles, but when he turned 50 in 1994 he began to feel the need for a change.
“Fifty was the only birthday that ever bothered me,” says Potash. “I decided I needed to do something else, but found out I was too cheap to buy the red sports car of my dreams, and my wife [Andrea ’66] told me that I could do anything I wanted – other than getting a new wife.”
With a lifetime of experience under his belt, Potash used his over-achiever spirit to start two separate businesses in the insurance industry.
“One was really intellectually fascinating and didn’t work out,” he says. “The other one turned into what today is called Distinguished Programs.”
Distinguished Programs pools small- to medium-sized businesses to use their buying power to get more effective insurance programs. In 2003, that business spawned a new one, Resource Pro, a remote staffing and process improvement company serving the insurance industry. A decade later, the Insurance Brokers’ Association of the State of New York honored Potash as the 2013 Insurance Person of the Year.
Potash decided to start another new company two years ago, Bikelane Solutions, which focuses on helping small business by providing hiring, revenue generating, and insurance expertise. And it’s this new business that has brought Potash back to East Hill, and more specifically to the athletic department, where he has begun providing internship opportunities to some of Cornell’s best and brightest.
“There was this insurance company that I always admired, and one time I had the chance to ask one of their founders how they went about recruiting sales people, and he told me that they recruit college athletes with good GPAs,” says Potash. “He said they found the ideal candidate was the person that was the Most Improved Player on the team. He said that person had to struggle and work really hard to ultimately contribute … They aren’t the stars, so they are persistent, disciplined, and, like all athletes, achievement-oriented. And I said to myself, 'Boy. What else could you ask for? That's a perfect description of the characteristics that anybody would love to have in their workforce.'”
And with that Potash began reaching out to Cornell coaches, looking for student-athletes with “most improved player qualities.” In the end, he found four – Kristen Ferguson (field hockey), Taylor Gladd (field hockey), Rob Lincoln (swimming) and Taylor Reed (field hockey) – making up half of the company’s entire 2018 summer internship group.
“All four were terrific contributors,” says Potash. “The four of them really proved my thesis. They were driven. They were persistent. They were fearless. They were results oriented. All my colleagues and I just loved them. Rob was the only rising senior, and we’ve hired him and four other varsity athletes to join us full-time after they graduate this Spring as a result."
“I learned so much,” says Reed of her time at Bikelane. “My partner Katie Shum (a Cornell applied economics and management student) and I spent a lot of our time researching the market and we interviewed over 100 business owners about their marketing challenges. We ended up creating a wireframe for an app for both small business owners and their customers to use, and we were informed at the end of the internship that Bikelane is going to invest in our product idea and start building it out. Walking away having created an entirely different product with Katie, which Bikelane is actually investing in immediately, is so much more rewarding than anything I could have ever imagined from an internship.”
While the internships provide great mentorship opportunities for Cornell undergraduates, Potash and his wife give back to the university in myriad different ways.
The couple contributes to the Cornell Prison Education Program through their Distinguished Social Ventures Foundation, a philanthropic endeavor that invests in companies that focus on creating jobs for people needing a second chance in life. Potash is also a lifetime member of the Cornell University Council, and the couple sponsors the Ethics in Public Life lecture series at Cornell, which brings them back to their alma mater several times a year.
“Cornell was a big deal in our lives, and is still a big deal in our lives,” says Potash. “I grew up a lot at Cornell … It was a wonderful four years for me … I met my wife here. We have two sons [Scott ’98 A&S and Adam] and we have the potential for Cornellians of the class of 2030, ’32 and ’34. So Andrea and I are happy to give back any way we can.”