Written By Tom Harris
Judy Fourie’s course was set at age 9, in a Wake County tobacco field.
“I was seventh in a family of nine children growing up near Apex, and in the summer, we worked in the tobacco fields,” Fourie explained. “My job was to hand the tobacco leaves to the ‘looper,’ who looped the leaves onto the tobacco stick.
“Loopers made more money, so I wanted to be a looper. I got someone to show me how, and I practiced until I was pretty good at it.”
That ambition has served Fourie well in a 25-year career in the insurance business. Her company — J. Fourie & Co., Inc. — offers a range of health, life, disability and retirement insurance and is one of the most successful such agencies in the Triangle.
“I’ve always considered myself a laid-back person,” Fourie said. “But, looking back, I probably had more ambition than I thought I had.”
Success didn’t come overnight. After high school, Fourie worked as a grocery clerk, a secretary, a complaints-handler for a cosmetics company and in desk jobs with insurance and mortgage firms. None of the jobs lasted more than three years.
“After three years, I had mastered those jobs,” she said. “I was ready to try something else.”
Work in a Raleigh insurance office caught Fourie’s fancy, however. She figured she could sell insurance as well as the company’s agents, so when another agency offered a job, she took it.
“I’d spent enough years behind a desk; I wanted to go into the field and sell,” she said. “So I joined the Life Underwriters Association and went to work. I was blissfully ignorant.”
A year later, Fourie moved to an independent agency, but times were tough.
“I made $4,000 that first year,” she said. “I wanted to quit.”
At that time, Fourie recalled, there were only five or six women in the Life Underwriters, out of more than 200 members. She also joined the Raleigh chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners, and that provided inspiration.
“Dorothy Austell and Mary Fox were two beacons for me,” Fourie said. “Martha Dozier also was an inspiration. They made me realize that there were women who stepped out and started their own businesses.”
Six years later, in 1987, she started her own company.
Fourie’s business has grown steadily since. She enjoys the “social” aspect — meeting people — and that has led to memberships in civic and business groups and to volunteer work with the Cary and Greater Raleigh Chambers of Commerce, Hospice of Wake County and other local and state agencies. She’s also served two terms as president of the Raleigh women business owners’ group, trying to provide young women with the opportunities she had to struggle to find.
“There is a wider acceptance of women in most fields today,” she said. “Of course, there are still stereotypes, and we are different. We need to foster a greater appreciation of the strengths and differences we have to allow us to work harmoniously.”
Now with three grown children and three grandchildren, Fourie’s tobacco-field ambition has been tempered by time and experience. But that doesn’t mean she’s ready to slow down.
“I made a decision early on to get dressed and come to work each day, whether in the office or out meeting people,” she said. “I still do that.”
But in the last couple of years, Fourie has begun to enjoy her success.
“I’m very, very happy with what I’ve accomplished,” she said. “We’re not the biggest agency, but we’ve got some wonderful clients, and I’ve met a lot of wonderful people.”