Today I have been sober for 31 days.
MOBI’S STORY – (PART 10)
THE INSURANCE YEARS (CONTINUED)
For the next two years, I went through some intense learning with regard to the intricacies of the insurance underwriting business, and in particular tried to familiarise myself with the nuts and bolts of insurance accounting.
I have stated earlier in my blog that you can apply accounting principles to almost any kind of business venture you care to name, from manufacturing, to ‘Joe the Plumber”. While to some extent I would still hold that to be true, there is no doubt that without any in depth knowledge of the insurance business, how it works, and how it is accounted for, any accountant would be truly perplexed, were he (or she) were to have an insurance accounts department dumped in his lap. My predecessor did indeed have considerable knowledge of the business, and in spite of this she suffered from a nervous breakdown!!. So what hope was there for little me?
Nevertheless, I persevered, and worked very hard, and slowly began to see the light. Everything started to fall into place, and as time went on, I was able to run the department with some degree of expertise and even made substantial inroads on the mess I had inherited.
before long, in some respects, I now knew more than my bosses – certainly from the ‘ground upwards’, of which they had little or no knowledge.
So about two years into my tenure, I was called to the GM’s office one day to receive the news that The AGM (Finance) was leaving, and his position would not be replaced. He had told the GM that he was fast becoming “surplus to requirements” and that I was more than capable of taking over his role.
So the GM told me that he would be promoting me to Financial Controller, and that the Company Secretary, who was nearing retirement, and the other senior manager who was responsible for the computer systems, would also report to me. I would report directly to the GM. (The GM confided in me that the Computer Manager was a pain in the ‘arse’ and he would be eternally grateful if I could manage this man, as the GM had no desire to take on this particular challenge in man management.)
The GM was correct, the Computer Manager was a ‘pain’, but I managed to develop a good working relationship with him and succeeded in motivating him to help me run the department, even though he had made it clear that he deeply resented me being promoted over him.
Of course generous salary increases came with the new position, and within the next year I moved yet again to another, slightly more ‘up market’ house, but still within the a same area of South Essex. As a family, we seemed to have put our roots down there.
My ‘stock’ within the London Company grew higher and higher, and I was now starting to be noticed by the folks in Head Office. The CEO and FD of the main company were frequent visitors to our London office, and now that the previous AGM was gone, I was the senior financial man in London, and as such, became involved in high level meetings, and also started to socialise with these people at top London restaurants and other entertainment spots.
Over the next year or so a couple of events occurred that had a significant effect on my future insurance career.
Firstly there was the Lloyds of London Collapse.
The infamous ‘reinsurance cycle’ had finally imploded, and many Lloyd’s syndicates were bankrupted, and the whole of the Lloyds insurance market came perilously close to melt down. (In fact it took many years and a great deal of ‘wheeler dealing’ and government initiatives before the market was able to return to some semblance of normalcy and financial stability.) But it wasn’t only the Lloyds market that was in “semi melt- down”. The whole of the London insurance market became affected by what was going on in Lloyd’s, and there were many insurance and reinsurance company casualties. Mergers and take-overs were rife, and hundreds of famous insurance company names, which had been operating in the London market for centuries, suddenly disappeared without trace.
Allied to this, redundancies and unemployment in the London insurance sector spiraled, and all of us at my little insurance company breathed a sigh of relief that we had escaped the worst of the financial ravages.
However, we were not out of the woods, as our business was very small, our overheads were increasing, and on top of that we did suffer some financial fall-out from the Lloyd’s fiasco.
The Head office “wallers” came over for discussions on our future, and the GM was charged with putting together some plans for consideration, which hopefully, would improve the company’s profitability and justify our continued existence.
So for the next few months it was “all hands to the pumps” and “burning the midnight oil” ( don’t I just love these clichés??), and of course Mobi was in the thick of it, crunching and re-crunching spread sheets to try and arrive at the magic solution.
In due course it became clear that the only way we could survive was to decimate part of our business and cease to ‘write’ unprofitable “lines” of insurance. These unprofitable lines were not only transacted in London, but also at a network of provincial offices that we maintained throughout the country. In effect, it meant that all the provincial offices, bar one or two, would be closed down, and all the staff from those offices and a substantial number of people from our London office would have to be made redundant.
The plan was submitted to Head Office and we obtained the necessary approval to put it into effect.
We then had “D” day, when all the senior managers were dispatched to different locations to break the news to those who would be made redundant, and to inform them of their redundancy packages. It was an emotional and difficult day, and I had more than my fair share of “bad news” to impart.
I think the experience of going through that day taught me a lot, and in some way hardened me for my future role as a manager. Up to that point, I had always adopted a patient, softly, softly approach to management, but this event seemed to change me. Was it a change for the better or for the worse? Who knows?
My drinking was also continuing apace, and as previously stated, I would always have very drunken lunches, to be followed by even longer periods of drinking when work was finally done for the day. My drinking was mainly done in the company of work colleagues, but occasionally, when no one was free, or there were no official social engagements to attend, I would pub crawl in the City alone. I would invariably end up at one of my locals near Fenchurch Street Railway station, or even at a bar in the station itself, before staggering onto the last train for home, often without having had an evening meal.
The ‘dramas’, before and during “D” day, had caused my drinking habits to become more serious than ever and probably contributed to my hardening work management attitudes.
Once the “D Day” deed was done, we were a new and even smaller player in the market, but it wasn’t long before this ‘state of being’ once again started to lack viability. Although our business was now profitable at the gross insurance level, (i.e. insurance claims being paid were less than insurance premiums received), the necessary overheads to maintain a London Insurance Company were such that the insurance gross profits were insufficient to carry our overheads. In addition we still had to keep extra staff for an indefinite period to service the business that we had now discontinued, as claims on that business would still arise and need to be dealt with for many years to come.
So once again we had come to bitter cross-roads, and once again we were being pushed very hard by our masters in head Office to produce yet another plan to justify our continued existence.
This time around it didn’t look as though we had much hope for survival.