Spring on the York College campus

Alumni Spotlight: John Wilkens '02

By Richard Byrne
Being in the insurance industry means knowing your community, and Wilkens has seized on that knowledge to give back in his own region.
John Wilkens poses for a professional photo outdoors

John Wilkens ’02
Agency Principal, Robert Wilkens Insurance Agency

Using success as a springboard to give back to your community and your alma mater is at the center of John Wilkens’ experience as a rising figure in the insurance industry. And his commitment as a York College alumnus is one reason that he has received a 2020 Spartan of The Year Award from the College. 

Wilkens is the agency principal at Robert Wilkens Insurance Agency, which has three locations in Northeastern New Jersey—and a new branch just about to open in Southwest Florida. He was also a 2019 recipient of Insurance Journal’s Top 20 Insurance Agents in the United States. 

“I’m second generation to the agency,” says Wilkens. “I came in right after graduating from York College.” The firm specializes in property casualty. “We work with a lot of small business owners,” Wilkens observes. “Homeowners. People who have investment properties. That’s really our niche.” 

Wilkens says the pandemic has given the agency a chance to demonstrate its essential nature and its values. “A lot of our small business owners got hit hard,” he says. “So we’ve been proactively reaching out to everyone, whether it’s reassessing workman’s comp policies, or payroll estimates and the number of employees, and seeing what the true sales are going to be so we can reduce rates that way. We’re just trying to get ahead of it.” 

Being in the insurance industry means knowing your community, and Wilkens has seized on that knowledge to give back in his own region. The tragic death of his cousin provided Wilkens with the opportunity to co-create the Darren Drake Foundation with his aunt, uncle, and sister, which provides Bergen County Trade School students financial support as they learn and grow. He is also a member of the board of the Eastern Bergen County Community Chest, which recently celebrated its 90th anniversary. 

A York College education—and a degree in Public Relations—helped give Wilkens a solid foundation for his success. He points to strong mentorship from Associate Professor of Communication Brian J. Furio as a highlight of his degree program. “He is someone I could always turn to,” recalls Wilkens. “He really connected the dots between school and the real world.” 

York College graduates often cite the school’s internships as a vital part of their professional trajectories. Wilkens points to his experience with local beer distributor Brewery Products as a key learning experience. “They had a slogan there—Making Friends Is Our Business— and it kind of stuck with me,” he recalls. 

Wilkens says that he got to see “the full spectrum” in his time at Brewery Products. “I was on sales calls a few days a week. And I’d be in the marketing department for one full day a week....To be honest, you learned even just being in the garage.”