WHAT IS YOUR AREA OF EXPERTISE OR PRACTICE AREA?
My work has evolved so as to just about totally focus on capital markets and financial activities related to that. At one point I was primarily focused on pensions—because, as we all know, that’s where they keep the money—but these days my practice has become a bit more broadly focused.
Over the years, I have looked for more roles where I could play to my specific strengths and interests while maximizing the impact of my contributions. I’ve essentially tried to craft a job that would to a great extent circumvent those kinds of activities that “make it hard to get up in the morning.” For better or worse, for me that was the regulatory aspect of the pension arena. I just found that area really tough to deal with—and I suspect that a lot of pension sponsors agree on that. (So, thank goodness there are some other folks who feel differently and really like that stuff!)
I now have roles with a smaller consulting firm, supporting that group in capital market-related projects, an advisory role with the city of Detroit—which has had years of financial struggles due to problematic pension plan financing—and, last but not least, a role on the Academy’s Social Security Committee focusing on addressing that system’s financial imbalance. To the extent that I was going to focus on public policy, as I looked around at the array of issues out there, it occurred to me that Social Security was an area where there would need to be lots of focus for a good part of the coming decade, and I thought it would be worth the effort to play a part in that. I also support the Academy’s Pension Committee in some of the areas I focus on, and I sit on a couple of boards, including that of The Actuarial Foundation. I also present a lot at conferences, generally about capital market issues, return expectations, and Social Security finance.
WHAT LED YOU TO BECOME AN ACTUARY? AND WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO THE PROFESSION?
Even as a young student I was pretty analytical about deciding what the best path would be. The world can be a pretty tough place if you end up in a profession that doesn’t align with your interests and skills. When you have both an interest and an aptitude for what you are doing, work is a much easier lift—and can be a pretty satisfying part of your life. After all, for most of us, for better or worse we live what we do. (We kind of live above the store, if you will.) I found that optimized combination in the actuarial profession; nothing else seemed to fit nearly as well.
DESCRIBE A CHALLENGE THAT YOU HAVE FACED IN YOUR CAREER. HOW DID YOU HANDLE IT?
Like most of us, I’ve had setbacks where the life plan didn’t quite work out the way I expected it to. That could be losing a major client, or a job, or a change in a business role. But, as many others have noted before me, each setback is of course an opportunity in disguise—a chance to set a new path that best reflects the person that we have evolved to become.
So each time we are forced to make a new life decision, I really believe we have a chance to improve on the ones we made before. In the end, the dynamic can very often turn into that “lemons/lemonade” thing—which I believe is not just a saying to brighten your spirits, but the reality related to change handled well. You just need to know yourself and put the work in to find new roles that maximize your opportunities to contribute.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU WISH YOU WERE GIVEN WHEN YOU WERE AT THE BEGINNING OF YOUR CAREER?
I was given really great opportunities at the beginning of my career. My first consulting firm job was everything you could wish for in a starting position. And I felt like I was dealing with a meritocracy, or as close to that as it gets in the business world—in other words, do good work (and lots of it) that gets recognized. The only downside to it was that, back then, success in that consulting firm environment was defined only one way: do great work, get promoted, then manage people who will hopefully also do great work while you focus on managing them. But that formula doesn’t always work out in a satisfying way for everyone. For some of us, in order to be happy, we really need to evolve into doing even better work, rather than focusing so much on leveraging our work through others.
The bottom line is that upper-level management roles didn’t seem to play well to my skills or interests, and I came to feel that I was never going to thrive doing that. But, as I noted earlier, I found that it’s a big enough world that if you look hard enough, you’ll always find promising opportunities that do indeed fit what you want to do, and how you can best contribute.
WHAT DO YOU VALUE MOST ABOUT YOUR ACADEMY MEMBERSHIP?
The opportunity to interface with others having expertise on policy issues and the chance to actually have an influence on policymaking in key areas of interest. My Academy roles have enabled me to stay on the cutting edge of things in areas I’m interested in, and working with the various committees on policy issues does indeed enable us to have some impact on the national debate. It’s as simple as this—when Congress or a regulatory agency decides to act, they need access to resources that they can trust, and the Academy strives to be viewed as exactly that.
WOULD YOU LIKE TO SHARE ANYTHING ELSE WITH ASPIRING OR NEW ACTUARIES, OR THOSE INTERESTED IN VOLUNTEERING FOR THE ACADEMY?
There will be a point in your career where you’ve pretty much exploited all the resources that your own firm has to offer and would truly benefit from a broader exposure to resources and expertise. You now have the experience and perspective to participate in intensive dialogues on public policy issues. When you get to that point, I suggest taking a look at the array of opportunities the Academy offers and finding one that fits. And once you do that, get actively involved enough to really make an impact!
SHARE A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF. WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR HOBBIES OR OTHER PERSONAL INTERESTS?
Given the exam process we go through, and our extreme work focus, I think we actuaries may know a little too much about deferred gratification. Still, we sometimes try to pretend that we’re not boring, but I think that’s mostly a sham—we are definitely pretty boring as the regular world would define things. That’s why there’s so many actuary jokes, and why so many of them ring true.
That said, I do at least some non-work stuff. I swim a lot, travel, bike and hike some, and just bought a house on a lake that I’ve been working on making into a livable space. I also have some bad habits like chocolate, and sometimes blackjack. But in the latter case I really only gamble an amount equal to my chocolate budget—which makes it extra important to win, right?