Inspirational People

There are several people who had a profound effect on my life. This list excludes family, because parents etc have immeasurable effects on us.

Henry Essert (1982)

Henry hired me for my first actuarial job, a summer position at Crown Life Insurance Company in Toronto. I was in my second year at The University of Western Ontario. This was the first time I lives away from from on my own. I stayed with a friend in a bachelor suite for a few weeks and then moved to a University of Toronto dorm.

Lessons Learned

Verbal Communication

Henry was a master at communicating. I could ask almost any question and he'd have an answer. We could go on tangents of tangents. He'd address them and then return to the original topic. Once we ended up talking about pork bellies before getting make on track. I was amazed at this ability.

I came to realize that you can be intelligent, but if you can't communicate then no one knows. As Einstein said, communication puts your intelligence at your disposal. Until then, I'd focused on written communication. In those days, I was shy and lacking confidence. I couldn't phone people. Even now, I'd rather send an email. When I did have to phone, I'd jot down bullet points and practice. In future years, voicemail was a godsend. Most of my calls were internal, which meant that I could record my message until it sounded reasonable —- which ususally took 2-3 attempts. I'd get thrown off if someone actually answered. To avoid this "problem", I'd call when the other party was likely unavailable: lunchtime, later in the day, when they were in meetings.

Discovering, Not Telling

Henry wouldn't assign specific projects. Instead, he'd give background on a situation. As we talked, I'd start to see the issue develop like a Polaroid instant photo, and what I could contribute. This discovery process was much better than being told specifically what to do. Even a kid doesn't like that.

I use that approach even now (though with family there's still a tendency to save time by telling them…). The discovery process works with

  • staff: you want them to eventually figure out what needs to be done by themselves, bypassing you
  • clients: as they talk and you ask questions, you'll both undserstand the situation. They often realize that what they think is the problem is really a symptom. So there's an opportunity to address the underlying need, rather than applying a bandage.

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