Sunday, May 2, 2010

Change, and Assurance

Had a nice long conversation yesterday with my friend Robert.  Robert and I have been friends practically our whole lives, and we talk frequently about practically everything.  Yesterday, we covered various items—our digestion (we’re middle aged now…), our weight (same deal), upcoming television programs, the Gulf Oil Spill (and some of the ramifications), and such.  We almost always wind up asking, “How on earth did we get here?”

My grandfather, Jester Jones, moved to town (Malvern) when he was in his early 20’s, and started to work at the Bank of Malvern as an Assistant Teller.  He wound up being de-facto President (the titular President was a Board Member) from 1955 till he retired in 1971.  He worked at that bank for 50 years. 

My Dad joined the US Army Air Corps in WWII.  After the War, he was in the USAF, then worked a couple of other jobs before going to work for the Department of Defense.  He retired from DOD in 1982, putting in over 30 years.

Mother worked for Southwestern Bell Telephone Company for 16 years before deciding to stay home with the kids.  Aunt Joy and Aunt Joydean put in over 30 years apiece with SWBTC.

Robert’s dad, Ed, graduated from TCU and went to work for National Cash Register.  He retired from NCR around 1982 or 1983, after well over 30 years.

Robert’s mom, Betty, stayed at home while her kids were little.  While they lived in Houston, she went back to school, got her degree, and began her teaching career.  She worked for HISD, then in Baton Rouge; then, when her husband’s career took them to San Antonio, she taught 5th grade for Northeast Independent School District for 30 years; retired, and is still substitute teaching at 82.  You go, Miss Betty, I hope you’re still teaching young minds when you cross the century mark.

Aunt Shorty worked for the Department of Defense for over 30 years.  Uncle Cal flew for the USAF for 25 years, then taught at the University of Arkansas for 20 years.  Pop Fink was an MD for the VA from the end of WWII until the early 80’s.


When Robert and I got out of school, the times, they were a changin’ (thanks, Bob Dylan).  Suddenly, you weren’t “job hopping” if you changed jobs often; in fact, you were kind of a dolt if you didn’t.  Liberty Mutual was paying me $12,500 a year with a company car; Alexander and Alexander offered $20,000 plus a car plus air travel and a dee-luxe cubicle in the sky (21st floor, Diamond Shamrock Tower, with a west view, Dallas).  I mean, look at the size of that increase!  Yeah, I took it.

Over the years, I’ve worked for various insurance organizations.  For those who don’t understand anything about it, your hometown insurance agent is one small piece of the grand insurance puzzle.  Other than 2 years, I’ve never handled personal lines (and hope I never do).  This means:  no, I can’t get you a better deal on your car insurance (I buy it just like you do, and know just about as much about it).  No, I don’t sell life insurance.  I don’t sell anything.  I handle commercial insurance claims, specifically products liability, general liability, commercial auto, and my specialty, Workers’ Compensation.  I have dealt with treaty reinsurance, Lloyd’s, multilayered excess and surplus lines, and workers compensation in 40 states.  I’ve worked for major insurance carriers, brokerages, self-insureds, and Third Party Administrators.  I’ve been part owner of a TPA, as Vice-President.  Each one of my career moves (save one) has been for what I consider to be a good reason; more money, better job, desired location.  I say “save one”, because the billion-dollar company for which I worked, the large self-insured, laid me off in December, 2008.  That’s the only time in my life I’ve ever been involuntarily separated from a company; the rest have been at my own behest.

Rob, too, has worked for all kinds of companies.  He started in sales, then made a mid-career switch to real estate appraisal.  He, too, made each one of his moves for “a good reason”, whatever the case may be.  One of his big things has been to stay in Texas (I’ve moved all over); he’s a good son to his parents.


Why all this verbiage about dull-as-dishwater business resumes?

This last Thursday, the employer which moved me to Houston, the one that laid me off in December, 2008, filed for bankruptcy.  Their stock was trading at $0.58 a share, too low to be traded on NASDAQ.  It was over $15 a share when I joined the company in 2007.  The Great Recession got them.  I haven’t talked to anyone over there, but I’m sure this means heavy-duty reorganization, probably with some layoffs or spinoffs.  I know many people lost a fortune (literally) on the stock.

As Robert and I discussed this yesterday, it dawned on me:  of all the employers for whom I’ve worked over the last 31 years, TWO (2) out of the TEN (10) are still in business under their original names (at least the name they had when I worked there), doing business as and owned by the same organizations.  The rest?  Defunct.  Subsumed into another organization.  Spun off.  Bought, sold, name changed, bankrupted, morphed, combined, uncombined and split, recombined, spun off.  Several were victims of the Great Recession.

My friend W (not sure she’d want this on my blog, she’s very private and I respect that), started in the same office one year before I did, 31 years ago (our first jobs out of college).  She worked for that company her entire career.  Didn’t matter.  They closed their Houston office (it opened in 1912) and shifted everything to Dallas.  They offered her a new job (demotion, same pay) in Dallas with no relocation package.  She has lived here 31 years, her husband has about 5 to go for full retirement, their house is paid off, her adult daughter also lives here.  What do you think she did?


All this change has been, to say the least, unsettling.  Finances shot. Retirement?  HA!  I’m incredibly lucky I found a job where I could eat and stay in my house (even if I have to drive 20 miles each way on the Katy Freeway to get to it).  An added bonus is that I actually like the company and the people with whom I work.

Even as late as 2007 (just 3 years ago), who on earth would have thought GENERAL MOTORS would go bankrupt?  I mean, yes, they were in trouble, but somehow I thought they’d pull some kind of rabbit out of their hat.  Who could have foreseen 9/11?  Well, in an abstract way, of course---we all knew it could have happened, and may happen again at any time, but like our own deaths, it’s “out there” somewhere in the future.  Same with Hurricane Katrina---it’s the Gulf.  Hurricanes happen.  New Orleans is below sea level.  There was a huge levee system holding back Lake Pontchartrain.  Think about it.  I lived through Hurricane Ike (with very little personal trauma).  The fact that we had a major hurricane 2 years ago does not preclude us from having another one this year.  It happens.

Now we have this huge oil spill in the Gulf, which has the possibility of being the worst man-made ecological disaster in history.  (It’s fascinating, from a Risk Management standpoint---Enterprise Risk Management---what did the BP Risk Manager do to prepare his/her organization for this?  What insurance coverages did they have?  What are the contracts between them and Transocean?  What did the RM do to prepare the organization from potentially fatal litigation?  This one will go down in insurance lore like Bhopal and the Union Carbide asbestosis claims).  I claim to be a semi-environmentalist, but then, you’ll get my 21 mpg van when you can pry the keys from my cold, dead fingers.

Then, of course, there is the Great Recession.  In hindsight, it was easy to see that it was coming.  At the time, not so much.

How on earth would you have predicted all this stuff?  If you did, why didn’t you tell the rest of us???  And, would we have listened if you did?

I’ve had a pretty crappy last few years (with a couple of years of lovely exception).  Everybody I know has had a crappy last two years, without exception.


As I write this, I’m sitting on my patio.  It’s early morning Sunday morning.  I’ve got a cup of steaming coffee on the table beside me.  My dogs are lounging in their most lazy fashion.  The doves are calling back and forth (this is south Texas), and a mockingbird is singing in a nearby tree.  There’s a little light breeze off the Gulf.  I’ve got some hibiscus and bougainvillea to pot this morning (to replace those which were destroyed this last harsh winter), and a new hosta to replace the one that finally died in my Grandmother’s old wash pot (it was the same age as me, and I managed to kill it).  It’s going to be hot and muggy in Houston today (news flash). 

The sun came up.  Life goes on.  What’s next?


It Is Well With My Soul

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life,
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.

But Lord, 'tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul.

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

Horatio Spafford

(click the title of this piece above if you don’t know the history)

1 comment:

  1. Good post, and one of my favorite hymns, btw. Off to church. Have a good day.