Sylvia Garrett: Charting Leadership Success on an Inspirational Odyssey in Insurance and Wealth Accumulation

Embarking on a transformative journey marked by unwavering dedication, Sylvia Garrett, CEO and President of Sylvia A. Garrett & Associates Agency, LLC, emerges as a beacon of leadership guided by profound principles and wisdom.

In this interview, Sylvia generously shares her insights, experiences, and profound wisdom that have shaped her remarkable journey in leadership and community service. From her early aspirations to her current corporate role, she navigates through key milestones, emphasizing the principles that guide her leadership style.

Through the lens of Sylvia’s dynamic leadership philosophy, which focuses on empowerment, education, and giving back, exemplifying a holistic approach that extends beyond the professional realm.

“Life is about the choices you make; you have the freedom and power to make the right choices.” – Mary Alice Johnson (Sylvia’s Mother)

Embracing Servant Leadership and Team Collaboration

Sylvia reflects on her unique definition of success, agreeing with the notion that there are various successful leadership models. She finds servant-leadership has been a well-suited model in an ever-changing environment. As she succinctly puts it, “One leads by serving and caring for others.” This model emphasizes setting an example and exhibiting leadership through values such as faith, excellence, integrity, continuous improvement, prioritization, and empowerment.

Sylvia firmly believes that effective leadership commences with a robust vision and mission. According to her, a leader must articulate a clear plan to achieve organizational goals while guiding, inspiring, and influencing their team. She echoes, “A strong vision and mission can create a sense of direction and purpose, helping to motivate teams and evolve organizations.”

In addition to her commitment to servant leadership, Sylvia employs a team concept model in her leadership approach. She recognizes the unique contributions and value of each team member, relying on their talents. In her words, “I believe each member serves an invaluable role, and I rely on each staff member to execute their contribution; each professional is held accountable and rewarded as well.”

“Don’t sit down and wait for the opportunities to come. Get up and make them.” – Madam C.J. Walker

Navigating Dreams to Reality

In reflecting on her childhood dreams, Sylvia, now serving as President and CEO, attributes her confidence to a Christ-centered upbringing. “I believe that being raised by Christian parents in a loving home, provided such a strong foundation of being secure and confident.

“I loved reading from a young age and it opened up a world of travel and adventure, driving ambition. I actually had the audacity to say, ‘I want to be President when I grow up.’ I am happy to say, I am actually blessed to be a President and CEO,” she says.

Confronting challenges as a female leader in a male-dominated industry of predominately white males, Sylvia, already successful in management consulting, stood undeterred. Stepping into a visible role in a 44-year-old agency initially based in a major insurance carrier’s headquarters, she leveraged professional networks and business acumen.

“Aim for the moon, if you fall among the stars, you will still be fine.” – Lindsey Johnson, Jr. (Sylvia’s Father)

“Because I had already established a successful, award-winning management consulting company, secured and executed major local and national projects in a male-dominated field, with an average age of 61 did not deter me,” she recalls. “With the various networks I had cultivated over a few decades and the business prowess I had garnered, I was confident in my ability to lead a 44-year-old agency, that was initially located in a major insurance carrier’s corporate headquarters. I realized I was stepping into a highly visible role and expected challenges due to my limited insurance tenure.”

However, Sylvia was well aware of what she was bringing to the table, and her management and strategic acumen had been honed over the years. Instead, the opportunity fueled her energy to stay focused on her vision, mission and achieve her objectives. “No one can argue with success, it speaks for itself!” she declares.

“Those that don’t got it, can’t show it. Those that got it, can’t hide it.” – Zora Neale Huston

Creating Excellence in Insurance and Wealth Accumulation

Sylvia A. Garrett & Associates Agency, LLC and its services, the agency, known as SAGA, stands as an award-winning, premier independent insurance and wealth accumulation firm. With over 55 years of passionate service, SAGA’s mission revolves around protecting and building wealth for families and businesses. Sylvia emphasizes, “Our social commitment is to serve, empower, and give back, which is evident in decades of financial reinvestment in community-based and nonprofit organizations.”

SAGA directly engages with over six carriers, boasting strong financial strength ratings, to provide protection and insurance. Additionally, the agency collaborates with over 200 brokers, offering a spectrum of insurance products such as home, auto, life, and annuity products. The licensed, experienced insurance professionals at SAGA collectively bring over150 years of expertise to ensure exceptional customer service and empowerment for the team, clients, and the community.

“Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Triumphing Over Setbacks with Resilience and Strategic Evolution

When discussing setbacks, Sylvia emphasizes, “I see ‘setbacks’ as opportunities.” Reflecting on the unique challenges posed by the global health crisis, COVID-19 pandemic, she recounts the need to swiftly transition the workforce from in- person to virtual environments, necessitating a reset of the strategic business plan and model.

“It was a unique time in history when the COVID pandemic erupted in 2020. Many small business owners had to transition their workforce skillfully and strategically from in-person to virtual environments. We had to reset our strategic business plan and business model swiftly and efficiently. Mo st of all, it required equipping your team with the necessary tools to succeed in a different paradigm,” she recalls.

Ensuring a protected IT environment, a capable computer-centric VOIP phone system, and a customer management database were essential aspects of the transition. Sylvia underscores the significance of leadership skills, stating, “It comes down to having the leadership skills to steer one’s ship and to navigate the pitfalls.” She notes the challenges faced by small businesses during the COVID pandemic, stating, “I am sure everyone has read the statistics of how many small businesses failed to survive, even with the government financial support.”

In response to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, recruiting qualified staff became quite challenging. Sylvia thought that offering a competitive salary and a great working environment would suffice but learned the crucial lesson of hiring the right talent, noting a shift from an initial focus on skill and experience. Drawing from her experience in a former company where subcontractors were hired for specific services within a determined timeframe, Sylvia states, “I quickly learned after failure to maintain skilled talent, I needed to hire based upon culture, a value-based methodology.”

Reflecting on advice from a seasoned entrepreneur, Sylvia observes, “One cannot teach someone to be truthful and have a hard work ethic. However, you can train someone how to follow up on a person who has filed a claim. As a leader, I had to make the decision to capitalize on a slightly different business model to provide relief to my team until I was able to hire the talent required.”

“Instead of letting your hardships and failures discourage or exhaust you, let them inspire you. Let them make you even hungrier to succeed.” – Michelle Obama

A Vision of Empowering Women in Leadership

When asked about her contribution to the industry and her journey as a woman in leadership, Sylvia asserts, “Our contributions as women are impactful and we belong in the industry.

Reflecting on her strategic planning and analytical skills, are just a few of the attributes Sylvia acknowledges as strengthening (or developing?) her servant leadership model and sets her apart in community investment and business profitability. Regarding making an influential impact on the next generation of women, Sylvia draws parallels with her community-building model. She stresses the importance of “pouring” life into young female entrepreneurs, recognizing the challenges they face.

Sylvia believes that being an entrepreneur requires a diverse skillset, a strong work ethic, and a passion for turning challenges into opportunities. She states, “Success is often not possible without a huge reservoir of support and encouragement.” In keeping with this view, Sylvia intentionally allocates time and space to support other women pursuing entrepreneurship. I “It takes a village to be a successful female business owner,” she said.

When asked about her personal goals for the next few years, Sylvia expressed her desire to return to the classroom, whether virtual or in person, to pursue a Ph.D. Additionally, she aims to author a book titled “The Power of Giving – Lessons in Leading from the Heart.” In her own words, she envisions sharing her business model with fellow aspiring women leaders, and within the next three to five years, she anticipates navigating the speaking circuit.

“Do what you can to show you care about others and you will make our world a better place.” – Rosalyn Carter

Balancing Leadership and Family, and Future Growth

When asked about her life before Sylvia A. Garrett & Associates Agency, LLC, Sylvia reflects on founding a successful management consulting firm with her husband. She recalls her grandmother, Virginia Cherry’s wisdom highlighting the importance of forgiveness in successful marriages, which echoes Sylvia’s commitment to building meaningful connections.

Rooted in familial guidance, Sylvia’s parents, Mary Alice Johnson, and Lindsey Johnson, provided the foundational principles — choosing wisely and living a life that speaks volumes. Lindsey Johnson, Jr., Sylvia’s father, instilled in her the ambitious spirit to aim for the moon, embracing any achievement as a step toward greatness. Sylvia regards her greatest joy and blessing as raising four daughters and being present for them. She expresses, “To see them and how they care for each other and others is quite special.”

In her role as CEO and President at Sylvia A. Garrett & Associates Agency, LLC, Sylvia succinctly outlines her major responsibilities, stating, “It is to establish and execute the vision, mission, and objectives for the company via demonstrated value-based, servant-leadership and to achieve a profitable enterprise. Additionally, it is to give back and serve our community.”

“Lead from the back — and let others believe they are in front.” – Nelson Mandela

To maintain balance in her personal and professional life, Sylvia shares her daily routine. Starting with a prayer of gratitude, she centers herself with scripture and engages in exercise, often long walks with her husband. She expresses morning gratitude to her team and, depending on the day tackles various CEO tasks, spanning business strategy, bookkeeping, partnerships management, analytics, marketing, and more.

Sylvia provides insights into her workday, involving tasks related to business development, quality control, recruiting, training, and HR. She also reviews her team’s responsibilities, offering guidance and feedback as needed. Meetings with community leaders and carrier representatives punctuate her day. Sylvia concludes her workday by reviewing her team’s accomplishments and participating in community events or taking a walk.

“I want our young people to know that they matter, that they belong. So don’t be afraid. You hear me, young people? Don’t be afraid. Be focused. Be determined. Be hopeful. Be empowered. Empower yourself with a good education. Then get out there and use that education to build a country worthy of your boundless promise. Lead by example with hope; never fear.” – Michelle Obama

Addressing the future of Sylvia A. Garrett & Associates Agency, LLC, Sylvia emphasizes a growth-focused roadmap, stating, “Growth, Growth, Growth, we will continue to grow via a partnership or organically.” She ensures her team at Sylvia A. Garrett & Associates Agency, LLC remains motivated through several strategies.

Sylvia emphasizes, “First, I provide clear guidance by sharing documented expectations.” Cultivating a culture that values and expresses core principles is key. Sylvia reinforces appreciation, stating, “I say, thank you, I appreciate you,” and does not shy away from expressing love, drawing inspiration from the former CEO of Southwest who advocated for openly saying, “I love you, I care about you as a human being.”

To support the well-being of her team, Sylvia offers mental health days, team- building opportunities, and thoughtful gifts. Recognizing the importance of professional development, she affirms, “I provide and encourage professional development.” Sylvia adopts a golden rule approach, treating her team as she would like to be treated as an employee. Lastly, she ensures that accomplishments are duly rewarded, creating a motivating and appreciative work environment.

“Relationships are based on four principles: respect, understanding, acceptance and appreciation.” – Mahatma Gandhi


In conclusion, Sylvia’s journey is a testament to the profound impact of relationships built on principles of respect, understanding, acceptance, and appreciation. Her commitment to service is reflected in her determination to make the world a better place through caring actions. Sylvia embraces the power within, evident in her dynamic leadership and contributions to her community.

Inspired by the words of Madam C.J. Walker and Martin Luther King, Jr., Sylvia actively creates opportunities and serves with a heart full of grace. Michelle Obama’s empowering words resonate with Sylvia’s mission to instill confidence and belonging in the lives of young individuals, encouraging them to be focused, determined, and empowered through education. Sylvia’s resilience in the face of challenges mirrors Michelle Obama’s advice to let hardships inspire, fueling a hunger for success.

“Don’t worry about being successful but work toward being significant and the success will naturally follow.” – Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey’s wisdom emphasizes the significance of making choices that lead to significance, a principal Sylvia incorporates into her leadership philosophy. Nelson Mandela’s leadership philosophy aligns with Sylvia’s approach, emphasizing leading from the back to empower others. Mother Teresa’s call for promoting world peace through love at home resonates with Sylvia’s commitment to community and family.

With a foundation rooted in respect, understanding, acceptance, and appreciation, Sylvia’s journey reflects her determination to make a meaningful impact, not only in the professional realm but also in the lives of those she serves. She embodies dynamic leadership, envisioning a future defined by growth, education, and empowerment, and her life mirrors her parents’ sentiment that it is not just a story to be told but a life to be lived.

“It is not a story to be told but a life to be lived.” – Lindsey and Mary Johnson (Sylvia’s Parents)