Today I have been sober for 33 days.
Yesterday evening I attended another AA meeting in Pattaya. It was another good meting and there was some heart searching “sharing” going on. I also “shared” some emotional stuff about my loneliness and shyness that have plagued me all of my life.
When I was a kid, my father was such a domineering and controlling bully, that he made me feel utterly worthless and totally lacking in self esteem. Whatever any of his family did was wrong, and he would shout and scream at us every day over the most trivial matters, and intimidate us into doing everything his way. In effect he smothered any desires we may have had to exercise our initiative or free will.
As a result, by the time I reached my teens I was scared of my own shadow, and it has been a life long battle to conquer this shyness. These days I am a pretty confident and outgoing person, but it has taken me most of my adult life to achieve this state of being, and even now I occasionally have to hide my innate timidity which is still lurking, deep within me.
For a young man, such as Mobi, making his way in the world, shyness equates to loneliness, and I can remember well the long, lonely nights and weekends I spent when I first moved to live in a room in Bayswater, London. For many years into the future, I have experienced countless periods of almost unbearable loneliness that have inevitably led to seeking comfort in a bar and a drink, and which also led to periods of severe depression.
Booze and women were a self prescribed cure for my shyness and loneliness, and helps to explain why all my relationships with the opposite sex have failed and why I have been married no less than 6 times. It goes without saying that this is also one of the many reasons why I descended into alcoholism.
At sixty three years old, I seem to be approaching a cross roads, and if I can continue my sobriety and extricate myself from my latest doomed marriage, I may still have a few years left to find the happiness I have been seeking all my life.
Right now, I feel pretty good in myself; my sense of purpose and determination are stronger than they have been in a very long time, and I look forward with optimism to the next few weeks, as I start to make and carry out some life changing decisions.
Now back to “Mobi’s Story”.
MOBI’S STORY – (PART 11)
THE INSURANCE YEARS (CONTINUED)
Things were looking very grim for our poor little London based insurance company, and the ‘word on the street’ was predicting our demise within months, if not weeks.
About a year before we reached this critical juncture, our masters in Sydney had purchase another small company in the London insurance market, but this one was concerned with transacting reinsurance business, a totally different animal to our own business.
Reinsurance is the business of insuring insurance companies. An insurance company writes an insurance policy for the general public or for commercial concerns; calculates then risk, and then “lays off” a portion of that risk with a reinsurance company. The very nature of reinsurance is that it is not as labour intensive as an insurance business, as although the gross value businesses can be very large, the number of customers is relatively small, ( it only does it’s business with other insurance companies). But the level of risk can often be much higher, and the consequent rewards or losses much greater. So it would be fair to say that a great deal of skill is required to underwrite and manage reinsurance risks.
A majority of insurance companies either transact insurance or reinsurance business – rarely both. The businesses are not compatible in many ways, and the skills required are very different, as are also the administration, reporting, computer and accounting systems.
The reinsurer that my masters had bought was a small, London based reinsurer with a back up office in Shannon in the Irish republic. It was there that the computer systems and other back up work was carried out, and the London office housed the senior management and senior underwriters.
So at the time of this acquisition, no thought was given to whether there could be any value in merging the two companies, or looking at possible “synergies” between the two entities.
But such was the dire state of my company, and also the increasing vulnerability of the small reinsurer, (it became increasingly apparent that in a post Lloyd’s financial crisis, that reinsurance companies would need to have a much higher capital base to survive), I was charged, amongst other things, with the task of looking into a possible ‘merger’ of two small, unviable entities, into one larger entity with a greater capital base, which would be able to transact both insurance and reinsurance business.
At this stage another very strange and fortunate event happened which helped to push me ‘onwards and upwards’ in my career path.
I have recounted how, 2-3 years previously, the senior management of my employers had assumed, erroneously, that they had hired an insurance professional. Well, when we first started looking at the viability of merging the two operations, everyone assumed once again that not only was I an Insurance expert, but that I also knew everything there was to know about reinsurance accounting, which, (you must take my word from this), is a whole different technical ball game to ordinary (‘direct’) insurance accounting. At that point in time I was blissfully ignorant of reinsurance business and it’s associated technical accounting mysteries.
If I thought the learning curve I had been through to successfully hold the reins of the insurance company was tough going, it paled into insignificance in comparison to the multitude of tasks that now faced me. Not only did I have to rapidly get up to speed on the technicalities and nuances of reinsurance and the accounting of reinsurance, but I also had to head up the team which was to produce a project proposal for the merger of the two entities.
Now if you have a company selling sweets, and another selling ice cream, then it is a relatively simple matter to merge the two businesses. But not so insurance. There are thousands policy holders to consider, thousands of potential future claims payments to consider (some of which may take decades to settle), and the whole operation becomes mired in a mass of technicalities and insurance regulations. One of the myriad tasks that had to be undertaken was for us to write to every single policy holder, and every single person or company who may have insurance claim outstanding, and notify them of our plan and in effect, seek their approval. Notices had to be posted for day after day in the national press and the specialist insurance press.
But the worst and most difficult part of the project was to obtain FSA, (then known as the DTI), approval. We held a number of initial, exploratory meetings with them to get some preliminary approvals for our plan, and then had to produce countless financial spread sheets that showed what we were proposing to do, how we proposed to carry it out, and – crucially – to project the combined business forward for 5 years into the future to demonstrate that it would be a profitable and viable concern.
I could write a book about this project alone. What we were undertaking is rarely done. Usually, when an insurer is taken over, its business is retained within the entity that has been acquired, and becomes an additional trading subsidiary with just a name change. In our case, we were ‘backing’ the insurance business into the reinsurance company, and obtaining FSA approval to convert a company that was only authorized to transact insurance business into one that could write all lines of business. It was akin to obtaining approval to set up a new company from scratch; only more complex.
For me, my whole future was on the line. If I could pull this project off, I would be ‘made’, but if it all fell apart and we failed to obtain the necessary approvals, then my career would go down the drain along with our business. The stakes were high, and I sweated like I had never done before.
I cannot recall exactly how long the whole process took, but it was certainly at least a year, and maybe longer, but finally, I will never forget the meeting we had with the Deputy Chief of the FSA, when he informed us that our plans had finally been approved and we could go ahead and merge the two entities under a single, new name.
I am sure that you can well believe that the champagne flowed that night and for several thereafter.
So overnight, in insurance circles I had become a “hero” and a “financial genius”!! I even received personal congratulations from the CEO and FD of the international company, and as a reward, I was appointed as a Director to all the company boards, and became the Financial Director of the company’s European operations.
I had now shifted into the big league; with greater financial rewards and a commensurate increase in management responsibilities.
I was on my way.