Coaching Actuaries


Career Advice

The Challenges (and Benefits) to Growth (1 of 7)

April 16 2019 • Dave Kester

There are many reasons we start a company. One common reason is we want to build something that will grow. That was why I started my company in 1995. Originally, called SALT Solutions, now you know it as Coaching Actuaries. The company has always provided actuarial consulting and actuarial education. My friends told me that the education was my hobby and consulting was what paid the bills. I never wanted the company to become large, just large enough where we could influence the market and provide opportunity for our staff. For the first 15 years, our company was blessed to survive and have a small staff of 5. We were successful at paying bills and solving our customers’ problems.

I was pleased because we had a small staff that operated efficiently, and we had fun along the way. Growth started when we moved our actuarial education online and introduced Adapt in 2009. In the last 2-3 years, our company has grown from about a dozen employees to 31. I certainly underestimated the challenges and change that takes place going from 5 to 12 to 31.

The biggest change the last couple years has been adding senior leadership. We went from just myself – one – to four. This type of change required a whole new way to operate. It’s not just doing what we did before, only faster. Rather, the larger team required an entirely new way to do business.

I was used to making all the major decisions. I was also heavily involved in the operations. Both of these approaches needed to change. We needed to identify and develop middle managers. We had to develop “real” departments of IT, HR, and, accounting, in addition to our actuarial team. Just as difficult was structuring all this so real and positive communication occurs. You may read this as Basic Business 101. On paper, I’d agree. However there was a large difference between reading about these concepts and actually experiencing and executing.

This has all been difficult because it involves the most complicated equation… the human equation. For sure, I have an amazing staff, far better than I deserve. But, even with the best of the best, building an organization from 5 to 12 to 31 requires many changes and change is never easy. I know I underestimated how much work this required. It’s been 2+ years since my last article I’ve written for the Coaching Actuaries blog and LinkedIn. Even though I enjoy writing, I’ve had to take a break to manage the changes at our company.

Yes, the changes have been challenging. But, I couldn’t be more excited with the results. We have an amazing staff empowered to do amazing things. Now, with 30 other staff providing input, we get a much better understanding of our customers, products, and market. Also, we’re able to specialize more with a larger staff. Personally, I’m close to achieving a balance between work and the rest of life.

Probably most important, as I fade into retirement (still a ways off, by the way!), I’m confident the company will move forward just fine without me. I mentioned my two+ year break from writing. Another reason for the break was the SOA reshuffling the exams, which gave us the opportunity (read: “more work”) to change strategies for the new exams.

My intent is to start writing again. I know I’ve disappointed some of my readers with the long break. My apologies. The benefit is that I have a richer life experience to share in what I write. The reason why I write is to share what I’ve learned with other actuaries, mathematicians, and finance specialists to help your career.

I have big plans for writing as I have a lot to share. I’m starting with a 7-part series (this is part 1 of 7) sharing some of the most important business and life lessons I’ve recently learned. Then, I plan to follow with another series sharing amazing stories about people you’ve likely heard about, but would not have thought they had stories that could make a difference in your career. However, these stories have changed my life, including my career, so, perhaps, they will benefit you as well. It’s good to be back in the writing saddle!

We shouldn’t view math just as numbers, formulas, and problems. Math is much more.

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    About the Author

    I’ve been helping aspiring actuaries for more than 20 years. When I’m not teaching, I like to read, run, and listen to good math stories. When I was preparing for the actuarial exams, there was nothing like Coaching Actuaries. Now, we combine teaching and technology to guide the next generation of actuarial students.

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