Impacting The Lives of Others


In college, I majored in mathematics, and when I left teaching, a career as an actuary seemed appropriate given my educational training. Actuaries are experts who apply their knowledge of mathematics, probability, statistics, and risk theory to insurance-related problems involving future uncertainty. It’s a highly technical career, and although I knew it would be quite a change from teaching mathematics, which I had greatly enjoyed, I took to it with interest.

During the 1980s, I was in various positions at Maccabees Mutual Life Insurance Company. Though my training was as an actuary, I quickly moved into more generalized financial management as the corporate CFO and later was placed in charge of all functions related to the company’s life insurance, disability insurance, and annuity lines of business. Before leaving the company in 1991, I had advanced to the second highest-ranking executive position at the company, reporting directly to the chief executive officer, Jules Pallone.

I’d loved my previous career as a teacher, and my role at Maccabees was very different and more technical. Although I felt that by changing careers I had lost some of the ability to impact young lives, I felt fulfilled and I could see that God was using my newly developed executive skills to positively manage and lead the company’s employees.

I felt a strong affinity for my colleagues who were engaged in the highly complex work of actuarial experts, not only at my company in Michigan, but elsewhere in the insurance industry. I was truly grateful that my actuarial training and background had been such an excellent launch pad for an interesting and successful executive career. Because of that gratitude, I wanted to give back to the profession, to stay abreast of important industry issues, and to remain in contact with my actuarial colleagues. So I volunteered on a number of industry committees; I also went through a series of leadership positions in the Michigan Actuarial Society, ultimately serving as its president in 1986.

In the year of my presidency, I was invited to Central Michigan University (CMU) by the math department to speak to students and faculty about the actuarial profession. I discussed the variety of strong career opportunities for actuaries and the rigorous study regimen required in achieving the exam-based professional designations of Associate of the Society of Actuaries (ASA) and the higher-level Fellow of the Society of Actuaries (FSA). Even for superior college graduates, achieving the FSA designation required well more than five years of intense post-graduate study and the passing of multiple examinations.

The presentation went well—reminding me how much I loved teaching and how I still desired to positively impact the lives of young students. Many questions were raised by both the faculty and the math students, and I felt good about introducing the profession. Maybe some of the young people would now consider entering the industry and I hoped that the university might establish a curriculum to help educate them on some of the more difficult mathematical concepts.

Following that visit, I didn’t maintain any further contact with the university, its faculty, or its students. Nonetheless, I felt good about having donated my time in this way that allowed me to “give back” to the profession.

After I moved on to New York Life in 1992, my career flourished. I enjoyed annual promotions similar to those I had enjoyed at Maccabees, but New York Life was a Fortune 100 company—by most measures at least twenty-five times larger than Maccabees. But despite my intense work schedule, I remained committed to some level of volunteer work within the industry.

Over the subsequent years, I maintained only occasional contact with many of my friends from Maccabees. In 2005, when I was the president of New York Life, the president of the Michigan Actuarial Society wrote to ask if I might be available in July 2005 to speak to their society meeting in Ann Arbor. As it turned out, I was planning to return to Michigan to attend the Major League Baseball all-star game, which was being played in Detroit that year—and the society dinner just happened to be scheduled for the night before the game. “Yes!” I replied. “I would love to attend and to speak to the group.”

How many members of the society would show up in mid-July? I recalled that dinner meetings held on Monday nights typically attracted only thirty or forty people. Nonetheless, I put a lot of thought into my presentation, which covered brief background information on New York Life and my analysis of the key issues facing the insurance industry. To my absolute delight, there was a huge audience, and a significant percentage of them were former colleagues of mine from Maccabees. What a gratifying and wonderful reunion. And to top it off, my former boss and mentor, the retired Maccabees CEO and Chairman of the Board Jules Pallone, drove two hours from his home to attend.

But the most moving moment came before I was even introduced to speak. Although there were more than a hundred attendees, the moderator asked each of them to briefly introduce himself or herself by name and company affiliation. I listened carefully to get a feel for the background and experience of my audience, and adjusted a few of my remarks accordingly. But God touched me deeply when the introductions finally ended at a table of nine young people and one older gentleman at the back of the room.

“I am on the faculty of Central Michigan University,” announced the older gentleman, standing. “And I’d like you to meet my students.” He went on to introduce all nine—all of whom had driven well more than two hours from Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, to attend this dinner. “It is an honor for all of us to be here,” he told me. “We came in order to personally thank you—as the founder of the actuarial studies program at CMU.” He mentioned my visit in 1986 and how that presentation had triggered activity on the part of the faculty to learn more about the profession and to then establish an academic program in actuarial science. What a success the program was, he said, reporting the number of students who had entered the profession over the years and were now working in the actuarial field in Michigan and elsewhere in the United States.

Until that moment I had almost totally forgotten about my visit to their campus nearly twenty years earlier. I didn’t deserve the title of “founder.” Nonetheless, I was moved by this recognition, wondering why God chose now to remind me of this distant and seemingly inconsequential bygone event.

In my busy schedule as president of New York Life, I was asked to speak on the evening before a day that I had already planned to be in Detroit. Yes, it was wonderful to see my friends and colleagues from Maccabees, especially my dear friend and mentor Jules Pallone, but I felt certain God was behind this for a bigger purpose. As I contemplated that question, it became clear:

I was just beginning a self-assessment of the passions I would follow into retirement. Two years later, I would retire early, at the age of fifty-nine, in order to pursue several such passions. This providential moment in 2005 was important in collecting and assessing my thoughts on how, in retirement, I could most effectively impact the lives of young people and, more specifically, how I might act on my lifelong love for education and teaching.

Shortly after the experience in Michigan, I began to construct a curriculum for a business school course in executive management and leadership that I would market to three universities, all of which were eager to hire me as an adjunct professor.

The Michigan experience also revealed to me the unanticipated but enduring benefits that can result from volunteer work and other acts of kindness. In addition to teaching the business school course, I was determined to remain active in volunteering my time and talents to the profession and its young, aspiring executives. Since retirement I have been actively mentoring four such individuals pursuing careers in management.

The enormous personal satisfaction from these post-retirement activities may never have materialized if it hadn’t been for that poignant and surprising moment in Ann Arbor at the Michigan Actuarial Society dinner. Many of the attendees later sent me notes and emails indicating how much my remarks had educated and enriched their business knowledge. What they couldn’t possibly have known is how much the experience contributed to a far more meaningful retirement for me.

For Reflection

And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.
— Hebrews 13:16

When we give unselfishly of ourselves, when we reach out and help others through volunteerism, we often don’t realize the far-reaching impact it can have. Even small, single-event gestures of kindness can impact multiple lives over an extended period.

I was reminded of this at the dinner meeting in Ann Arbor some twenty years after I had donated only a half-day of my time to promote the actuarial profession to students and faculty at Central Michigan University. God was reminding me that my passion for impacting young lives was paying off in ways I never dreamed possible.

God knew I was struggling with my own retirement plans at that moment, and through this experience He was speaking to me about my future in a way I had not anticipated at all. Following retirement, some of my most gratifying experiences have come from my actuarial volunteer work, my teaching of business school students, and my mentoring of aspiring executives.

Do you have a sense of gratitude for your many blessings that inspires you to sacrifice some of your time to “give back”? Giving back may involve a host of different kinds of volunteer work—church programs, missionary work, or many types of community service. I can assure you that you will find it very rewarding and gratifying.

More importantly, the benefits go beyond you and even those you serve. As the writer of the letter to the Hebrews reminded us, when we do good and share with others our sacrifices are pleasing to God.