Good Company Culture

If you’ve ever been to any of the infosessions I’ve held on behalf of AAA, you’ll know that one of the things I emphasize most about AAA is its awesome company culture. Some examples that I give include the trust managers give to you in terms of projects, the study dinner and study program that brings all the actuaries together on Mondays and Wednesdays, the Tuesday/Thursday basketball “meetings”, Poker Nights, Game Nights, etc. A lot of that makes us sound like the Google of insurance companies – and in many cases, we are (except the market share, haha). But when you boil that down, all that really consists of is just time for fun and games. That’s something that should be consistent across all companies with a younger workforce (which, as I’ve learned, is actually pretty difficult to find in the insurance sector). But to me and my short 1+ year tenure, AAA is something different, its something that transcends that – I have just never been able to formulate exactly what and have always chocked it up to the infamous “Honeymoon phase”. Well, last Friday, I had my epiphany.

So maybe some background on the situation.

Around 3 weeks ago, in our Quarterly Actuarial communications meeting, our head actuary told us that the Research manager, James, would be leaving us in 2 weeks. From what he described, the issue was more personal related as opposed to company related – which implies negotiation is probably out of the question. To most of the actuaries in the room, 80% of who (including me) have been directly a product of the expansion of the actuarial department, this came in complete shock. For the whole last year, we’ve seen more and more people join the department, seen more and more events to accommodate the growing population, it seems almost inconceivable that people would be leaving right in the midst of that. I still remember, after the head actuary announced this news, the whole room was silent. Now, for those who know me, I’ve never really been bothered by silence in my life. People have always used the phrase “awkward silence” to describe situations, but I really have never felt that. I have never felt the urge to fill any sort of silence with meaningless chatter or random jokes. But this was different – this silence was deafening. I couldn’t handle it. So being the inconsiderate prick that I sometimes am, I asked the head actuary “What is your timeline in filling the position?” I think I regretted that question as soon as it left my mouth. Interestingly enough, while my question sought a professional response, the head actuary did not give me one. He said that he was still in shock and would like to get to the bottom of the situation and he began recounting some of the feats that James had accomplished while he was with us. From the head actuary’s words you can tell – he was in emotional denial and James, in many cases, is irreplaceable.

Coming out of the meeting, it was evident that the shock was only just dissipating. The usual random chatter that would fill the first floor as we left these large meetings wasn’t at its normal decibel. I went through the rest of the day with a heavy heart and it was quite strange. To be honest, I have not really interacted much with James during my tenure at AAA. He was in a lot of my meetings earlier in the year, but didn’t say much. I went to Berkeley with him during a career fair during the Fall of 2011, but, while I got to know James a lot better during that trip, I wouldn’t consider it as something that would make me react this way to the news. James really was your typical quirky, super intelligent, yet not extremely outgoing individual. He was always smiley, always polite, but never said much.

Now fast forward two weeks to last Friday. After successfully dodging the elephant in the room during our goodbye lunch to James, it was finally the time for James to leave AAA. After receiving the final goodbye email from James, telling us all to keep in touch and thanking us for our companionship, I tried my best to summarize my sentiments:

“James,

It will be tough to see you go.

Best of luck to you and all your future endeavors.”

I don’t know if he read it, I don’t know if he even got a chance to. But before you know it, he was passing by my cube on his way to the elevators. With the head actuary accompanying him out, James smiled and waved – “Goodbye Alen.” And really, it was at that moment that I finally realized what good company culture really meant.

Any company can segment days out for fun and create game days, basketball days, poker nights and call it team building. But really, only companies with a good company culture can “team build.” The perks are only there as a mask to attract those seeking it. In fact, “company” culture doesn’t have anything to do with a company’s policy. The real “company” culture lies in the quality of its employees. Sure you can have all the game days in the world, but what use is it if there are consistently people thinking they have better things to do or people who just can’t get along with others? The attraction that AAA has to me is not about all the time we have to hang out, to go to happy hours, to play games – its about mutual respect. The terrific company culture comes from the hiring of people who are just excellent, upstanding individuals (note: there is a subtle difference between this and people who are quantitatively strong – which has been and continues to be a typical hire for most companies) . Then, when you mix in all the fun and all the parties, your coworkers no longer are just coworkers – they’re like family (cliche, I know). The real reason why I was so sad to see James go is not because I had some deep spiritual connection with him – it was because deep down I knew, that at the next event when I turn around expecting to see James smiling at one of my dumb jokes about credibility or statistics, I won’t see him. There will be a missing cog in the team, an absent member in the family. And that, my friends, is always sad.

With that being said, you can take it as a plug for AAA, or maybe just as evidence to my over-sentimentality – either way, I’m pretty fucking happy to be here.

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