Through Hardship, Tait Cruse Helps Others

Dallas-area businessman Tait Cruse. | Image provided to The Dallas Express by Tait Cruse's staff

Prominent Dallas-area businessman Tait Cruse recently told The Dallas Express about the man behind the career.

As managing partner of Northwestern Mutual in North Texas, Cruse’s life experiences drove him to help others.

“I really believed that if I can do this business, I could help others learn it and do it and do it well to serve the clients, the community, and obviously help people with financial security,” Cruse said.

Northwestern Mutual is a financial planning, life insurance, and investment services firm. It is one of the biggest companies in the United States by total revenue. “My parents did not have financial security. I grew up and my father was disabled when I was around 12 or 13 years old when we were living in Rockwall,” he explained. “He had dropped his disability income policy three months prior, so we had no protection on what was about to come.”

“That was the first step… learning what it’s like to have no money coming in, no food, and your father’s at home sick,” Cruse continued. “In other words, I was asked at the age of 12, going into 13 … that summer, to go to work and produce income for food.”

Cruse said he went to work for a local plumber.

“Sure enough, that summer of 1980 was one of the hottest summers in Texas. And I mean, from falling into a septic tank to getting carbon monoxide poisoning, falling off an apartment building, there were so many things that went wrong,” he remembered.

But those hardships proved to be “the first step” in learning the importance of financial planning and security. “So when I saw the opportunity with Northwestern, I really jumped at it because I had a true passion for it.”

Having earned a finance degree from the University of North Texas, Cruse started with Northwestern at the age of 22.

“I built a financial practice … from scratch,” Cruse said, noting that his firm became the largest of the 76 Northwestern Mutual offices in the United States.

Shortly after that, more tragedy struck.

“My mother was disabled with ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease,” he said. “So at 25, me and my older siblings and their spouses nursed my mother in her end-of-life care.”

While his mother had disability coverage, she did not have long-term care.

“So once again, a second disability,” Cruse said. “It really fueled my true belief that Americans need financial security, and I need to be teaching others and helping as many clients as possible.”

After his mother’s passing, he said he became a vocal advocate for disability income and long-term care. When Cruse reached his late 30s, he was offered the opportunity to lead the firm due to his success, and at 38, he took over the existing offices in the Dallas area.

“So what was so shocking was before I took over, my wife had a disability a few years prior and had two open heart surgeries, so this was the third disability that I saw,” he explained. “You’re like, how many more times can you be hit? How many more times do I have to see a family member go through this and the repercussions financially, emotionally, and health-wise?”

Upon taking over, the North Texas operation became one of the fastest-growing in the nation. However, more tragedy befell Cruse’s family.

“Eight months in, I get a phone call on May 15, 2005, to come to the hospital. My wife’s down there with our second child, Connor, and he was diagnosed with stage four neuroblastoma, which is a really bad cancer for children,” Cruse said. “He had a 9-centimeter mass.”

“We go from really looking forward to having a honeymoon [after] taking over the firm and growing it, we had three small children, we were pregnant with our fourth, to literally overnight having a terminally ill metastatic child at the age of four,” he said.

Over the next four years, the Cruse family spent hundreds of nights in hospitals across the country as Connor battled against the cancer. He passed away in July 2009. He was only eight years old.

“So I’ve seen my father, my mother, my wife, my brother — who had gotten kidney cancer — I’ve seen these disabilities and now I have my son’s death and his life insurance claim come across my desk,” Cruse continued. “I’m sitting there at the age of 42 or 43, just in total shock.”

“What do you do when you lose a child? Your family — it’s just total destruction emotionally, financially, I mean… we spent everything we could to take care of him,” he said. “It bankrupted us emotionally, for years, I mean for years.”

Cruse told The Dallas Express that most Americans are not focused on financial security or building a foundation for it. He said it is what drives him after everything he has been through.

“Here I am, preaching and teaching this three summers ago, in 2020, to our new advisors class, and then I’m diagnosed with ALL [acute lymphoblastic leukemia],” Cruse said.

“I was in the hospital for about 75 days, five rounds of chemo, I had less than a 20% chance of seeing New Year’s Day 2021, and this was during COVID,” he said. “So my mother, father, wife, older brother with his kidney cancer, son, and now me.”

“Some people say, ‘Gosh, this is the story of Job,’” Cruse added, referring to the long-suffering Biblical figure. “But I also could say it’s the story of perseverance and tenacity and faith, family, and friends because those are the only things that carried me through.”

The repeated hardships and difficulties shaped his perspective on the importance of building a firm financial foundation and the necessity of being prepared.

“You know half of foreclosures are caused by a disability,” Cruse noted. “What I’m saying is you’ve got to get your financial security set. … I’m a walking billboard of what could happen.”

“So I have a fervor for true passion because of what I’ve seen in 34 years,” he added.

Beyond helping people plan for their financial security, Cruse said he and his family also started TeamConnor, a non-profit organization dedicated to furthering pediatric cancer research.

“There’s just not enough research for pediatric cancer,” he noted. “We’ve given almost $6 million of funding to research at a variety of hospitals, probably 20 different hospitals across the country. And TeamConnor has had a significant impact on early research funding to get them to level one, level two, and level three. This little organization that started in Dallas has really made an impact.”

In addition to his work through TeamConnor, Cruse also helps support the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Children’s Medical Center, ALS Association of Texas, and the University of North Texas, his alma mater.

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