John looked at the deep brown wood. When he first came to the boardroom ten years ago he was impressed at its seeming splendor, and thrilled to be a new CEO of Wonderful Life. Today, the thrill was gone and the wood just seemed dark.
“Hiya, Johnny! Howya doin’?”
With a jolt, John Davidson turned to face Brent Fowler, CEO of Whata Life. He answered, “Just fine, Brent, and you?”
“Oh, Johnny. There are always opportunities to be pursued in our business, and we are doing well in exploiting all of them.”
“Indeed, sir. Congratulations on another good year.” John choked up a bit as he said this, because he did not get how Whata Life could be so profitable and grow so fast at the same time.
“Thaaank you , Johnny. If you are in the right place at the right time, the profits just flow, and that is where we aim to be!”
John didn’t have much to say to that, so he bid Brent adieu for the moment, and bumped into Henry Goldsmith, who was the head of Mega’s Bermuda P&C reinsurance company. He had always found Henry to be a straight shooter, so he smiled as he asked, “Hi Henry, how goes it on the rock?”
Henry smiled and said, “Not so bad. No major disasters, so we make a lot. We just have to leave some of it to the side for future disasters. And you?”
“Could be better, Henry. The credit crunch is eating at our assets, and growth has been marginal, despite our best efforts.”
“How much money have you lost?”
“We’re making money, Henry, but less than last year. We can’t dividend as much back to Mega.”
Henry’s eyes widened, and he said, “Oooh. My sympathies. Look, it’s a tough environment; every life company is having a rough time of it. Just look at AFLAC. If they can’t make it, no one can.”
“Very true. Thanks, Henry.”
“Don’t mention it, John. Hey remember, if things go bad, I’m here for you.”
“Thanks again, Henry.” John knew that Henry kept his word, so he considered it an offer to help him in his next job search. Good guy, bad day. At that moment the head of domestic P&C, Marc Blitztein, walked into the room. “Hey, John, old man, how’re you doing?”
Marc was the youngest of the subsidiary managers, but he had turned around the flagging domestic P&C division by focusing on new quantitative underwriting tools before most of the smaller competition caught on.
“Good to see you, Marc. How’s business?”
“Could be better. Competition is rough, but we keep finding new ways for people to know us.”
“Indeed you do. That Zebra mascot of yours is ubiquitous.”
“Ziggy? What a concept! It’s amazing what one good idea will do.” John wished that he had Ziggy. Maybe that Zebra could sell life policies as well. Alas, he had no fancy logos or cartoon pitchmen.
John said, “Well, more power to you. Worried about this meeting?”
“A little. We aren’t growing the way we used to; we’re only around 10% growth, and loss costs are catching up with us, somewhat. How about you?”
John shook his head. “I don’t know. Things weren’t great prior to the credit crunch, but given the effect on asset values, we are pinched here. We won’t be able to dividend as much next year.”
Marc looked at him sympathetically, and said, “I’ve heard what that can mean. My heart goes with you.”
“Thanks,” said John, distracted as his cell phone bleeped. It was his wife.
“Hi honey, you won’t believe what John, Jr., did today…”
“Uh, dear? Can I call you back this evening? The big meeting is about to happen.”
“I’m sorry, dear. Call me back. I’m praying for you. Love you.”
“I love you too dear. Bye.”
As he turned his cell phone off, he saw that the CEO of Mega Insurance, Brad Baldwin, had entered the room, together with Stan Bullard, scion of the family that owned Mega. Behind them was the CFO, the corporate actuary, and a person he had never seen before. John wondered what might be going on, and thought that this would be one bad day.