I just concluded a marathon session of catch-up reading on several blogs, but one particular post stopped me dead in my tracks.
The Aleph Blog’s David Merkel concluded his John Davidson series with a bang this week and if you haven’t been exposed to this fantastic insurance company allegory, I strongly recommend you set aside the time and attention to get acquainted soon.
Many insurance industry outsiders, myself included, don’t possess much more than a very general understanding of the delicate balance between growth and risk at an insurance conglomerate. Insurance, in general, is considered to be the best business in the world (as I’m sure Berkshire‘s shareholders would agree) but the blow-ups and failures that come along with hyper-growth (think AIG) are typically the kind that creep up on you.
How does an insurance CEO balance the desire to continue to deliver profits and dividends to shareholders/ owners with the prudence necessary in order to survive through the next extraneous crisis?
With that in mind, Merkel introduces us to a cast of fictitious characters who are insurance industry executives that will be immediately familiar to many readers:
- John Davidson — Protagonist, CEO of Wonderful Life
- Peter Farell — Chief Investment Officer for Mega Insurance, the holding company for all of the operating subsidiaries.
- Brent Fowler — CEO of Whata Life
- Henry Goldsmith — CEO of Mega’s P&C reinsurance subsidiary
- Marc Blitztein — CEO of Mega’s domestic P&C insurance
- Brad Baldwin — CEO of Mega Insurance
- Stan Bullard — Scion of the family that owns Mega
- Caleb Matmo — Runs a firm that analyzes insurance financial statements, consulting for Mega
What Merkel has achieved with this sketch is as close to the impossible as you get in blogland; he’s made the deliberations and contretemps between executives at various subsidiaries of the conglomerate both interesting and suspenseful.
Will Brent Fowler, the hard-charging salesman running Whata Life, finally get his comeuppance for reckless sales growth?
Will Caleb Matmo, the outside number-cruncher, sour Stan Bullard on the CEO’s responsible for the Bullard family business?
Will protagonist and Wonderful Life CEO John Davidson, who is worried that he played things too conservatively, be able to survive a bloodletting in light of his inferior results as a consequence of said austerity?
Will the Property & Casualty guy allow any of the other insurance subsidiaries the usage of his ass-kicking mascot Ziggy the Zebra (think Aflac Duck)?
Merkel’s clearly spent some time around these guys and his depth of understanding is rivaled only by his ability to nail the pacing and dialogue, essential to maintaining the reader’s interest when dealing with such a wonky subject. The benefit to the casual reader is a completely non-pedantic and engaging glimpse into the goings on behind conference room doors at an insurance conglomerate.
By the time John Davidson is caught in a mens room stall, accidentally overhearing the meeting’s break time banter, you will be rooting for him and tempted to skip ahead for the denouement.
If you can spare ten or so minutes, commit to this narrative. You will learn a thing or too about the insurance biz in the most inarduous way possible.
Full Story: Farewell to John Davidson (Aleph Blog)