Meet The SOAs Executive Team
By Jacque Kirkwood
Introduction by Bruce Schobel
The Society of Actuaries is a large and complex not–for–profit association based in Schaumburg, Ill. The SOA's size can be measured in many ways: more than 19,000 members; nearly 100 employees; an annual budget exceeding $30 million; almost 40,000 actuarial examinations each year (including those cosponsored by the Casualty Actuarial Society) written, administered and graded for about 20,000 distinct candidates; roughly 6,000 annual attendees at various meetings and seminars (many of which are cosponsored with other actuarial and nonactuarial organizations), as well as many more participants in webcasts and other forms of distance learning. While the content presented in all those various formats is almost entirely produced by the SOAs nearly 5,000 actuarial volunteers, the delivery is managed by the staff.
As current president of the SOA, a Board member since 2001 and an E&E Committee volunteer since 1976, I have had the pleasure of working closely with and getting to know most of the SOA's staff. To many members and candidates, however, the SOA's operations are mysterious and the staff is somewhat anonymous.
The following is the first in a series of articles that will familiarize members with many on the staff at the SOA—a staff dedicated to meeting the growing and changing needs of the membership and the profession broadly. The SOA is your organization, and we are happy to introduce you to the staff who serve you so well.—Bruce Schobel, President
The Actuary talked with the Executive Team—Greg Heidrich, Stacy Lin and Sheree Baker—about their backgrounds, their day–to–day business, their top priorities and the future of the SOA and the profession in general. (Note: This interview was conducted in late September, prior to the SOA Annual Meeting.)
Heidrich came to the SOA in July of this year. As executive director, he brings 24 years of association management experience with him. An economist by training, he began his career conducting public policy analysis for the Alliance of American Insurers (AAI) in Chicago. He worked his way through a number of positions there, and later was put in charge of all the administrative operations for the AAI. The group then merged with another trade group and Heidrich ran the policy, development and research arm of the newly formed association.
"In the policy shop, we were responsible for working with members to determine all the positions the association would take on any public policy issues that we were dealing with at the time, either in Washington or other state capitals," he said.
Stacy Lin, CPA, deputy executive director and chief financial officer, has been with the SOA for eight years. She's held the posts of director of finance, senior director of finance and interim executive director until being named to her current position. Lin began her career in public accounting and spent some time in middle market firms auditing and conducting operational reviews of not–for–profit organizations.
"During the operational review of one not–for–profit organization, the controller quit on the spot," said Lin. "I was asked to step in as interim controller. I really enjoyed the work and took other positions in the not–for–profit realm. That's how I came to join the SOA."
Veteran Sheree Baker has been with the organization for 19 years and holds the position of governance manager. She started in the communications department working on The Record, the North American Actuarial Journal and Annual Meeting materials. From there, she moved to research, then academic relations, where she collaborated with several SOA presidents and associated boards.
"I think my move to this job is a natural fit," said Baker. "I've been here for nearly 20 years. I have a good handle on how all the departments work and a good understanding of the organization overall. It seemed like the logical next move."
A Typical Day
For Heidrich, a typical day starts with talking with both Lin and Baker prior to a meeting with the SOA's Leadership Team—the four presidential officers and the secretary/treasurer."We discuss major initiatives, the budget, preparation for the Annual Meeting and other events, fostering stronger relationships with other actuarial associations—the topics vary from day to day," he said. "It's always interesting, and we always leave those discussions with more items on our to–do lists than we came in with, but that's the challenge."
Afterwards, depending on the day, Heidrich may meet with the staff of the human resources department to discuss current projects, such as the employee benefits plan renewal. Getting an update on the strategic plan progress may be next on the agenda. Then it's answer some phone calls and field some of the many e–mails he receives every day. There are always surprises, too, but as Heidrich says, "We just work those in between all the other issues of the day."
A good deal of Lin's time lately has been spent filling Heidrich in on the many initiatives underway throughout the organization. Top on the list is the Marketing and Market Development Plan (MMDP).
"Right now we're working on 2008 measurements, targets of measurements for the MMDP and making sure these measurements align with the overall marketing plan," said Lin.
The team is also collaborating to enhance interorganizational relationships. "There are nine North American actuarial organizations," she said. "We plan to work with each organization to best meet the members' needs and serve the entire profession."
Baker's day is equally as full. She most recently was heavily involved in the elections, Bylaws revision and Board meeting preceding the Annual Meeting. Pulling the Board packet information together was number one on her list. It contains a host of reports including strategic business initiatives, the Web site redesign and the different projects underway throughout the organization.
"What I do every day depends a great deal on the time of year," said Baker. "Right now, the focus is on the Annual Meeting and all projects and initiatives that surround it."
Being relatively new to the organization, it's a given that Heidrich is spending a great deal of time learning what the SOA is all about. But in terms of key initiatives, there's a lot on his plate. His current priorities are making sure the staff structure is aligned properly to get work done effectively and efficiently, getting the exposure draft for the CPD requirement approved, updating the strategic plan for the organization, ensuring that the marketing plan is on target and identifying ways to increase the visibility of the organization.
Although Lin is involved in a number of activities and projects, she stresses that fostering increased cooperation among the five U.S.–based actuarial organizations is at the very top on her list. An example of this is the marketing campaign that is underway to build awareness of the profession.
"We want to change the perceptions of actuaries in traditional marketplaces like insurance and employee benefits, as well as strengthen and expand actuaries' foot–hold in broader financial services and other industries," she said. "This benefits the profession as a whole."Another part of this initiative is working with the other U.S.–based actuarial organizations to enhance the Speakers Bureau by placing actuaries in a purposeful and strategic way at conferences attended by C–suite members and their influencers. The goals of this program include: 1) identify and place actuaries into speaking roles that have a key executive audience; 2) continue to advance employer and client awareness of actuaries' role in social and economic change by choosing conferences that showcase the actuary in nontraditional and traditional roles that directly impact a business' bottom line and are therefore important to the employer; and 3) develop a database of speaking opportunities across the profession.
"Along with booking the events, we also provide presentation training, as needed, to help the speakers refine their approach and ensure that messaging is appropriate and consistent," Lin added.
At the time of this writing, Baker's priorities can be summed up in two words—Annual Meeting—and all the governance, elections and Board meeting issues that are associated with this yearly event.
As a team, the main goal that resonated throughout their interviews was working with the staff and the Board to meet the organization's mission and strategic planning, and ensuring that the SOA staff is equipped with the tools they need to do their jobs well—all in the interests of building trust with the membership and boosting the effectiveness and the integrity of the organization overall.
A Look to the Future
In talking with Heidrich, Lin and Baker, it's easy to see their enthusiasm for the SOA, what it stands for and what it brings to the membership. There's Computer–Based Testing, Fundamentals of Actuarial Practice (FAP), the CPD requirement, the newly designed Web site, the CERA designation, greater cooperation with other actuarial organizations—and that's just the tip of the iceberg.
"There are so many items we're discussing—the future looks very bright," said Heidrich. "There are some challenges, too. We all know that the profession is a very attractive one to pursue, and it takes a lot of study and effort to become an actuary. It's in large part up to us to make sure that our marketing efforts and strategic plan are aligned correctly so that the profession is understood and those in it more in demand. We have to know what employers in the marketplace want and need.
"We also have a large proportion of our new students who are coming from countries outside the United States and Canada. A significant percentage of our candidates each year are coming from Asia—mostly China and Taiwan—and as economies develop, we'll have more students from Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam. That has real implications for us. Do these countries and their national systems want their own credentials?
Will that mean they want something different from us? How will we deliver it? We need a very strong international strategy in the organization.
"With regard to continuing education, we need to continuously examine our curriculum so that there is a way for people who are already actuaries to demonstrate to future clients and future employers, mastery of a particular subject area so they can shift among specialties," Heidrich said.
With the successes, the opportunities and the challenges, Heidrich, along with Lin and Baker, says that no one goes it alone.
"We have a very talented staff here at the SOA," Heidrich stated. "Some people's jobs are more visible; some work behind the scenes. No matter the position, our team is strong, determined and hard–working, and I am fortunate to be counted among them. I look forward to working with this terrific staff of dedicated people and am eager to see what we can accomplish in a future that looks very bright for us all."
Jacque Kirkwood is senior communications associate for the Society of Actuaries. She can be reached at email@example.com.