The title of this column, once labeled "Alternative Risk," has changed, as you may have noticed. In the process, I have become simply Roger. Many great artists go by a single name. One thinks of Ovid, Sibelius, and Cher.
Since we will be spending time together, I thought an introduction might be in order. The better you know me, the better you might enjoy my commentaries, or the more easily you might learn to hate me. The mail suggests it runs about 50-50.
I was born at an early age, in London, and was educated there. I moved to Bermuda in 1975. Professionally, I have never wanted to do anything other than write, which my schoolteachers repeatedly and vociferously urged my parents not to let me do. This misunderstanding arose from an error on my part. In school, one is asked to write essays. Faced with "What I did With my Summer Vacation," I would write that I had, for example, visited the planet Saturn. Now, I knew that I hadn't visited Saturn, and I assumed that my teachers would know that, too. I expected to be judged on my creative abilities. As it happens, that is not allowed. But when forcibly instructed not to write about Saturn, I wrote instead about Venus. Hang the risk, I thought. Surely they would see it my way. They didn't. I failed my English exams and was consigned for my sins to the dry world of accounting, where making it up is also not allowed, with the exception, of course, of the insurance industry from time to time.
I have lately come to understand that expecting schoolteachers to tolerate a smart Alec in their midst is folly. I learned many years ago that you can beat neither City Hall nor an English teacher. For 20 years, I toiled in the fields of audit, accounting and, eventually, management. I worked in banking and served for some years as the chief accountant of a life insurance company, which made it tough to get babes.
As in education, commerce employs a flawed model. Your best salespeople, who love being out and about meeting people and making sales happen, have only one path to promotion. They become sales managers and spend the rest of their days motivating other salespeople, not selling. Similarly, to improve their lot, reporters must become editors; they rarely write again. And accountants who speak fluently the language of numbers soon find themselves managing other accountants. They never again know the immaculate joy of debits and credits.
I can't manage anyone else. Managing myself is a full-time job. After a few years of trying to make an office full of skivers and layabouts earn their pay, I abandoned the world of business and took off to write a novel, "Oliver's Travels." It was a work of great depth, about a manager who couldn't manage. It was also, by acclamation, the worst novel ever written. "You can write, but you can't make it up," a newspaper editor in Bermuda told me. "Those are the exact qualifications for a reporter. Want to be one?" Having failed as a manager and a novelist, I accepted, becoming the world's oldest cub reporter.
I was quickly sucked into the world of local news. In a community of 60,000, in which eight people do things and everyone else sits back and criticizes, it was a professional dead end. When Kevin Stevenson, a fine Bermudian writer who reported for this magazine for several years, died at a young age, I was dragooned into writing about insurance, there being no one else even remotely interested in doing so within 800 miles.
So insurance is my manifest destiny, despite my best efforts to distance myself. Actually, I don't mind. Here I am, writing, for what passes as a living. Next month, I'll be reporting to you on a fascinating visit to Saturn.
is a Bermuda-based columnist for Risk & Insurance®.
June 1, 2006
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