“In real life, strategy is actually very straightforward. You pick a general direction and implement like hell.” ― Jack Welch
“The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do. ” ― Michael E. Porter
“However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.” ― Winston Churchill
There is a happy coincidence between the topic of my first column the Institute’s 2015-17 Strategic Plan – and our new Actuaries Digital medium. Members can now easily engage in commentary on this article and see replies as quickly as I can post them. I look forward to your thoughts. This new interactive, real-time and transparent way of communicating with members is a key feature of the Plan. Such is life in the digital era.
The Strategic Plan 2015-17 is a product of a lot of work and, critically, input from a wide range of stakeholders, including: members, Practice and other committees, and Council. When Council signed-off on the strategy in March, which they had conceived over two separate days in November and December last year, they needed to be confident that it passed the following tests:
- it reflected the intent of Council;
- it was affordable; and
- it would resonate with members.
I am confident that the strategy meets those tests and puts the profession on the right track to meet the changing business world in which actuaries will continue to work. I also think it’s important to acknowledge that it builds on the work of previous strategies which were effective and appropriate for the times that they served.
Picking up on the first of the pithy quotes above, let’s first talk about the general direction of the strategy.
Council spent some time identifying what it thought was the preferred future for the profession in 2024. Understanding and agreeing this was an important pre-requisite to ensuring that goals for the 2015-17 timeframe were set in the proper context.
In summary form, the table below captures the essence of the preferred future in 2014 – by way of key descriptor for each of the four key stakeholder groups that are essential to implementing the strategy.
The five goals for the strategy are very clear and set out both what we want to achieve and by extension, what we are choosing not to do – captured in Porter’s quote above.
Goal 1: Education and CPD – update and modernise qualifications, and build a stronger CPD program.
Goal 2: Increase engagement with members and students.
Goal 3: More influence and better known. Have a significant influence on decision-makers and employers where we have credibility.
Goal 4: Reach further into Asia. Build stronger relationships with Members and other stakeholders and be a supplier of choice for local actuarial societies for CPD.
Goal 5: Extend the reach of actuaries within the data analytics and banking sectors.
As you can imagine there is a lot more detail behind these goal headlines. I will, however, single out four elements of the strategy.
The first is the commitment to developing a new CPD program. This will include new content and more of it, and making sure we deliver it in the most educative and cost effective way. This requires an extensive exercise which our new Head of Learning, Sarah Tedesco, has already started. There will be extensive consultation with members. Timing-wise, the CPD business plan will be presented to Council at its December meeting.
The second is an extension of the ongoing commitment to transparency of the Institute’s operations which is covered in Goal 2. Members will be encouraged to attend and participate in meetings of committees and other fora. This is important because a lot of the work of the Institute occurs at these times. Having more members engaged can only help.
Goal 4 – Asia is now being recognised as a clear area of focus. A clear goal will ensure that HQ attends to this import group of our membership – some 13%.
Similarly, under Goal 5, singling out the banking and data analytics practice areas will ensure commitment of HQ resources to these growing areas.
To follow Churchill’s dictum on results – I will be reporting to Council each quarter on progress and then in turn to the members, so that you know how we are tracking against our plan. Each year we will review the Plan to make sure that its remains up-to-date and relevant.
From the pages of history
The words ‘controversial’ and ‘actuary’ don’t often meet in the same person or story, but in the case of Gallipoli veteran and WW2 Australian Army general, Gordon Bennett, they certainly do.
Given the intense interest in the centenary of the Gallipoli landings this year it is interesting to reflect briefly on this larger than life character. As commander of the 8th Australian Division (a force of some 15,000), Bennett was a central character in one of Britain’s worst military and naval defeats – the fall of the Malayan peninsula, and then Singapore, to the rampant Imperial Japanese Army in 1942.
Admittedly, Bennett’s actuarial career was relatively brief. He was employed by the Australian Mutual Provident Society as an actuarial clerk and continued these duties while training in the militia prior to the outbreak of World War 1.
During WW1, Bennett, unquestionably had what might be euphemistically termed a “good war”. He was part of the initial wave of Gallipoli landings on 25 April 1915, and led his unit bravely. He was wounded while directing fire at Turkish positions on the first day, evacuated to a hospital ship, and then absented himself to return to the front.
Later on in France and Belgium he led large bodies of Australian troops during the key battles at Bullecourt, Menin Road, the horror of Passchendaele and against the Hindenburg line. His bravery and leadership skills, however, contrasted with his difficult manner – his superior General Glasgow said: “Bennett is a pest!”
This feature of his character grew during the inter-war years and manifested itself in WW2 and afterwards. During the Malayan campaign his conduct of operations was “questionable” and his British superior, Percival, noted that his interest in the campaign waned towards the end.
It was Bennett’s next act that earned him infamy. During the surrender talks, he handed over command of his division and left Singapore for Melbourne. The response to Bennett’s escape was mixed. Many senior figures vilified him for deserting his soldiers who subsequently suffered as prisoners of war with the Japanese. Others thought his actions justified because his escape allowed him to pass on valuable lessons about fighting the Japanese.
In any event his career never really recovered and he spent a lot of energy in his remaining years defending his reputation. A Government commission of inquiry, after the war, concluded his actions had been unjustified.
There is no record of Bennett returning to his actuarial duties after he retired from the Army – he became an orchardist at Glenorie, near Sydney.1
1 In preparing this column on Lieutenant General Bennett I drew heavily on the Australian Dictionary of Biography: http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bennett-henry-gordon-9489
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