Sales, CEOship and Unknown Unknowns with Bart Hedges

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Next on the Not Unreasonable Podcast is Bart Hedges. I’ve been doing business with Bart for years and I’ve always liked his style. Bart is an actuary, former teenaged entrepreneur and the son of a car salesman. He recently stepped down as the CEO of Greenlight Re, an affiliate of David Einhorn’s Greenlight capital and an innovator in the reinsurance business. On top of it all, Bart’s ‘good guy quotient’ is off the charts.

One book we discussed on the show is The Mental ABC’s of pitching, which I actually came across in a David Brooks column. Here is the passage that got me to buy the book and the key lesson from it that I carry with me to this day:

A pitcher is defined, he writes, “by the way the ball leaves his hand.” Everything else is extraneous.

In Dorfman’s description of pitching, batters barely exist. They are vague, generic abstractions that hover out there in the land beyond the pitcher’s control. A pitcher shouldn’t judge himself by how the batters hit his pitches, but instead by whether he threw the pitch he wanted to throw.

Dorfman once approached Greg Maddux after a game and asked him how it went. Maddux said simply: “Fifty out of 73.” He’d thrown 73 pitches and executed 50. Nothing else was relevant.

 

Focus is one of the most powerful forces in the universe. Cultivate it!

Do listen to my interview with Bart. And if you want to receive an email when I publish a podcast, please sign up here!

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The Not Unreasonable Podcast Episode 3- Don Mango

The first Not-pilot episode of the Not Unreasonable Podcast is up! thinking-chimp_card

Don Mango is one of the most important thinkers in insurance. He has published numerous papers and helped, in my mind, the rest of us figure out what on earth to do with all the computational advances of the last 20 years.

In this episode we talk about that as well as how publishing research changed his life; what is relative strength is among published authors; the peculiarity of the intellectual community of actuaries; how capital should be modeled (you can all eat the pie!); the future of technology in insurance and more!

I’m happy to say Don’s also an excellent guy and very gracious interviewee.

In the conversation we discuss a few papers I enjoyed:
Mango’s first publication
http://www.casact.org/pubs/forum/97spforum/97spf031.pdf

Capital as a shared asset (eat the whole pie!):
https://www.casact.org/pubs/forum/06fforum/577.pdf

On his paper on random number generation: “This is really valuable and I couldn’t imagine an actuary in a more traditional role would have had access to” http://www.casact.org/pubs/forum/99spforum/99spf337.pdf

risk load and default rate of surplus, which got him attention from the more traditional capital markets:
http://www.casact.org/research/dare/index.cfm?fa=view&abstrID=3684

His pragmatic papers:
how the normal copula is flawed.
https://www.casact.org/pubs/forum/02wforum/02wf057.pdf

How to present DFA results to the board of directors (including stories of his errors!)”
https://www.casact.org/pubs/forum/00sforum/00sf055.pdf

The Kreps reserve range presentation (I think… two choices here):
http://slideplayer.com/slide/9444105/
http://slideplayer.com/slide/9706775/

Writing on actuaries as engineers (and the future!):
http://www.casact.org/research/dare/index.cfm?fa=view&abstrID=6676
http://blog.casact.org/2015/12/16/the-internet-of-things-and-actuarial-engineering/

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Interview with Me

I did an hour-long interview with Nick Lamparelli for his Profiles in Risk podcast. Nick and I met when he commented on this very blog a few years ago, an experience that he says inspired him to engage with social media, blogging and podcasting himself. Needless to say, Nick’s rocketed past me in accomplishment there.

In the interview we cover:

    • That time I cried and other exam experiences
    • How my two main jobs now, sales and analytics, are both things I hated/feared before starting work
    • Honesty and being real
    • Reinsurance and the recent hurricane events

Link to the full interview here. I did enjoy it. Maybe there’s something to this podcasting thing. Stay tuned!

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Burnout

A couple of years ago I (once again) swore off exams and this past January I (once again) broke that promise. I started studying for CAS Exam 7.

There wasn’t a lot of room for this. I had a pretty demanding job and three kids at home under 5. I bathe them every night, read them books and tell a story before bed. Now I was to detonate this nice little balance with a first attempt at an upper level actuarial exam? No way.

But a colleague started studying for 7 and I felt a pang of.. jealousy? Brutal though the exam process is, that feeling of pushing yourself to your limit is addictive. Real life problems are hard, too, of course, but real life payoffs tend to take a long time. That buzz of a duel on exam day and the rush of the result with genuinely high stakes is hard to get anywhere else.

So this was an experiment. Can I start four solid months out and study only on my commute and in little chunks here and there and pass an exam? Well, the self-talk went, if I can cover the whole material twice by the signup deadline, I’ll go for it. But that was in March! To get there I needed to commit hard in January. If this was nuts at least I’d only lose two months of my life.

Turns out it wasn’t nuts! Or at least it was achievable. It was definitely nuts. I had my 500 cue cards done by mid Feb. I scheduled daily close reading sessions with my co-studying colleague (we actually got to about 2 a week). Every minute I was focused.

In the back of my mind I knew that the chances of my delicate little balance blowing up in my face was pretty high. That means I was scared. Constantly. For months.

It works, you know, fear. Learning is so painful your mind desperately looks for every little way to procrastinate or avoid the work. You convince yourself to focus on the things you’re good at. You self-deceive about the stuff you’re not good at, like, “oh, I get that” after one problem (Liar!).

The way to suppress the fear is to feel mastery over the material. But since exam outcomes are always a bit random true mastery is almost impossible. That’s why the fear comes back fast and drives you on.

I tasted the lash of fear for four months. I had good weeks and bad weeks but contained studying to my commute and the cue cards I literally carried everywhere. Still reading to my kids at night, I started cautiously feeling good.

Then the wheels came off. We had the floor replaced in our house and it went wrong. I had to take the week off work (no commute!) and we moved into a hotel for 5 days. With the kids of course. Two weeks before the exam. The very day we move back in I fly to Europe for a week-long business trip. And on the first night in Europe, I get the flu. Influenza B, from a Chuck E Cheese we visited trying to kill an afternoon while they demolished our living room. All three kids and my wife got it, too. And they were home sick while I was away. I had it bad. They had it worse.

I wasn’t able to crack a book until Saturday night having not studied for 13 days. The exam was the following Thursday morning. My family was exhausted. I was exhausted. But fear had been there all along, growing stronger. It was terror now. Did I have enough time?

I sat for the exam. Felt good about it. But I was burnt out. Normally after sitting I sheepishly look up the next exam’s syllabus: what’s next? Not this time. I couldn’t bear to look at it. Others download the exam when it’s released and replicate their answers to guess their grade. That thought made me nauseous. My colleague was all ready to dig into Exam 8. No way. I don’t want to do that again. I’m burnt out.

Where I come from a burnout is a kid that smoked too much weed and has that heavy lidded, slow talking disposition welded to their personality. This feeling is similar. It’s not laziness, really. Lazy people are lying to themselves about the consequences of them parking their ass for another week. Burnouts know what we’re missing. We’re making an informed decision to sit stuff out. It ain’t worth it!

So my result notice went to my junk mail and I got it late. I was in no rush. This exam didn’t mean much on its own if I was truly done. A pass, though! It still feels good, I have to say, but…

No more exams.

(again! I know..).

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Disruption In Insurance

My latest on insnerds.com. Here is the intro:

For any company, it’s good to be relentlessly focused on the customer: success means knowing what they want and delivering that with discipline and low prices.

Or maybe not! The amazing thing about disruption theory, as defined by Clay Christensen, who coined the term in his 1996 HBR article and subsequent book, is that it reveals this strength to also be a deadly weakness.

Do click through and read!

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Me on Pod-listening

At insnerds:

So back to Tyler’s question: listening fast does increase my talking speed because I’m just used to it. But this is a bad, bad habit. Why do we converse at 1x anyway? I say that thisis the speed limit of talking, and faster talking degrades the quality of thought: faster talkers make less sense!

More at the link!

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Study Tips – How To Be Awesome in 10 Steps

My latest for insnerds. Here’s the intro:

I have a longstanding love/hate relationship with professional exams since starting my career. I’ve done CFA exams and actuarial exams (CFA are easier.. just). I’ve passed exams; I’ve failed exams. I’ve panicked in an exam and failed. I’ve cried after passing an exam. I was once so ashamed of myself after failing (fourth fail in 7 months) I couldn’t bear to talk to anyone and hid in a coffee shop for hours. And when I emerged I lied about the result!

Then..

And I persevered. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Please do click through and read!

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