The title may be a bit of misnomer since I don’t think most people ever had fun with insurance, or would at least admit to it. I just wanted to see what the words working, insurance and fun would look like together on the same line. Now that I look at it, the combination does not seem as engaging as I had hoped. So insurance may not necessarily be fun, but the people working there, well now you have something.
Going through law school, I thought it would be helpful to at least spend some time in an actual office setting just to see what that might be like. I spent the previous five field seasons up north or in some other remote part of the country. And when you live in Canada, remote means remote. I mainly spent this time catching, measuring, weighing, gutting and sexing fish. The last one simply meant determining what sex the fish was, not whatever popped into your mind first.
So when an opportunity came up to work downtown for an insurance company, I brushed off the fish scales from my resume and sent it in to their human resources. I got an interview quickly enough. This compelled me to buy a shirt, tie and some shoes that didn’t have to come up to my knees and have the essential component of being waterproof. Mind you, the tie was one of the neat woven ones. Whatever they make rope out of, I think this was about the same material. I could have used it to tow a car.
The interview process began easily enough. They were interested in my background and the fact that I had a previous science degree and one year of law. The company was bringing in a brand new process. A computer program that didn’t use those IBM punch cards. This is how far back we are going here. The company was relatively young. I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think any of their clients died yet to allow the beneficiaries a chance to claim any of the life insurance proceeds. The Company thought this was a great business model. People just give you money and there’s no outflow.
In any event, the interviewing manager asked me to write out a process on how to tie your shoes. This seemed relatively straight forward. I visualized what I would normally do. If I knew there was going to be a test on this I wouldn’t have worn my slip on hush puppies that day.
Anyway, I laid it out fairly simply in about 10 numbered steps. They looked it over, went out and talked, and came back in after a few minutes and surprisingly, they were somewhat surprised. No one they had interviewed before had bothered to write out a simple follow the numbers process. Everyone else, arts majors I suppose, wrote out a nice narrative prose with a beginning, middle with a bit of character development, and a dramatic unrequited love ending. Usually tragic. My stripped down version would have flunked me in English but I got an A as in accepted the position.
So, I started the following Monday. I never saw my boss again after that. She had been a few months pregnant at the time and her blood pressure shot up. She was told to stay off her feet. I’m fairly confident that I had nothing to do with that. Her blood pressure I mean.
So, I then reported to her boss instead. Unfortunately my first manager was the point person on this entire project and my new boss was not completely sure what was required. My title of methods analyst/technical writer didn’t quite make a lot of sense to him at the time or what I was supposed to be doing.
My new boss oozed management from every pore. He sported one of those stylish porn king type of mustaches that every male seemed to have back then. He walked fast, talked fast and thought just as fast. Whether he had directional plan on where he should be going or simply used confidence to make up for the lack of planning I couldn’t really tell. He could have launched himself off a pier, climbed back up wringing wet and confidently state that the launch went far better than expected.
So this gave me a fair bit of time to read up on what insurance actually did for people. I also walked around a fair bit and talked to people about what they did and sometimes why. Who I was and why I was there mystified some since without a proper introduction, I had a difficult time articulating why I was there. I epitomized the stranger in a strange land scenario, and I met with anyone that seemed friendly and not too scared of me. A few people did seem to be somewhat scared since they must have thought I was an efficiency expert or something. If I was documenting processes, well I could document them out of a job quite possibly. My emotional intelligence may not have been my best attribute. I merrily met with all those nice keypunch operators and innocently told them that this new system would likely mean that we didn’t have to do anymore keypunching. The fact that this was their livelihood didn’t strike me at the time.
The new computer manual on how to operate the system went on for hundreds of pages. The main issue seemed to be how to integrate this new system into the company’s operations. After completing my MBA years later, I learned the importance of overall change management. But back then, I was happily opening up new process grenades in the various departments. Without an immediate manager, my approach may have been a bit chaotic and a lot anarchic.
During one of the training demonstrations on the system, I looked up one of the shorter processes. Just to get my feet wet, now that I didn’t have to do that literally any longer. Fisheries you know. So I tried the log off process, entered some of the preliminary codes and my screen logged off. The interesting part was that all of the other terminals in room also logged off at the same time. I did learn the important difference between logging off, which is what I was trying to do, and a system shut down, which is what I actually did. For the entire company. I demonstrated the importance of having a practice dumbass sandbox for just this reason.
They gave me an office somewhere in the middle part of the hallway. My boss had his corner office a couple of floors up and overlooked the main street and some trees. He seemed to be far too busy to look out and see what was happening. He told me about the upper reserved floor. They reserved these floors for the most mythical of creatures. Actuaries. He told me that it would be better if I didn’t interact or speak with them lest I startle or scare them away somewhat. These creatures demanded great penance at the time such was their ability to pack up and join another company. I don’t think I actually ever did meet one, not that it would have been obvious. Mid management always seemed to have their suit jackets off and sleeves rolled up. The actuaries always kept their jackets on. And although they didn’t have the single horn of the mythical unicorn for example, the actuaries always did present themselves as having an ethereal inner glow. This may have been more of a glow of self-satisfaction, but it was hard to tell at my respectful distance.
I also don’t think they allowed sales staff to mingle with the actuaries. If the other group ever found out what the others were thinking, it wouldn’t be an oil and water situation. It would be more like gasoline and electricity. Under controlled situations, the result can create tremendous power. In uncontrolled situations, well the result has never turned out to be optimal.
I came across a series of books that comprised the Insurance course at the time. I scanned the first book relatively quickly since it only covered the very basics. The second book became far more detailed in its accounting descriptions. That managed to dissuade me a bit more from reading further along the course. This increased my respect for numbers people, and I did keep my respective distance from the actuaries lest I scare one and be further responsible for a company-wide actuarial system shutdown.
I did spend a week speaking to some nice people in purchasing. They saw the opportunity of someone documenting their procedures for them. I am sure I must have tired them out with some constant quizzical questions and looks as to why they did what they did. Seeing something for the first time can give you that childlike sense of wonder. So annoying.
At the end of the summer I learned a fair bit about insurance and a lot about office politics. Some of the lessons may have been somewhat earth, myth and ideal shattering, but the experience put me in good stead for the rest of my office career.
They did offer me a job in some capacity. This would have meant giving up the law career which I had also fallen into. I politely declined, but I wonder about the road not taken at the time. Never too late perhaps.