by Kevin Pledge
The Entrepreneurial Actuaries Section has sponsored sessions on starting a business, featuring startups each telling its own story. We are following up with a series of interviews with entrepreneurs who discuss their business experiences. The first of these interviews is with Phil Gold of GGY AXIS.
Phil, please introduce yourself.
I’m Phil Gold, inventor of AXIS. I developed the first versions of this software when I was working at the National Reinsurance Company of Canada (National Re) in the late ’80s. Having bought the rights from National Re, three partners started GGY to develop and market AXIS in March 1989. I’ve been responsible for the systems and quality control side of our operation. Bill Young handles the marketing and client relationship side, and Dave Gilliland has the actuarial development and support teams under his umbrella. I focus on research and development (R&D) projects and the recruitment and development of our chief asset, our employees, who now number over 100.
I’ve been active in the Society of Actuaries (SOA), being a past chair of the Technology Section and then a member of the board of governors and the Issues Advisory Council. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it and learned a great deal along the way.
Would you describe yourself as a risk taker?
Not me. I’m risk-averse by nature. Even if I were a risk taker, March 1989 would not have been the right time for me to take a risk. We had just bought a house we could scarcely afford along with just having our second child, and my wife was still studying for her Ph.D., but I got together with two partners who were willing to take a big chance on me. So they were the risk takers, putting up the cash to get the company going and giving up impressive jobs with a first-rate company.
Was there a significant turning point for your business?
There were two. The first was our decision in 1991 to dedicate ourselves to developing AXIS, shutting down our consulting operation. This gave us the focus we needed to be successful—no more pulling in two directions.
The most significant turning point for our business involved the introduction of ultra-fast seriatim processing into AXIS. Before that we worked only with grouped data. Now we could not only produce accurate reserves by policy, but we could also support total company modeling, including both sides of the balance sheet, with minimal work required from the users. All the business of grouping policies together and manipulating factors externally disappeared, and we had one system that could truly combine pricing valuation and modeling into a seamless whole. This was just what companies needed, putting us in a much more competitive position.
Do you envision any new threats or opportunities in the future?
The threats I worry about are that we might let our clients down in some way—through poor service, buggy code, failing to stay current. We work very hard on service, quality and content, but we don’t worry about what our competitors are doing. You should only worry about what you can control. Our objective has always been to keep our customers happy; then they will stick with us and recommend us to others. We don’t look to make X sales or $Y of income. As to opportunities, we keep a watchful eye but we don’t chase after every possible lead. Our objectives are also very long-term. We see the risk management area of the business to be an increasingly important area of focus, and are very active in the stochastic processing area and in supporting the new international financial reporting areas such as Solvency II and International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS).
Do you have any key values that you feel entrepreneurs should follow?
I certainly have some key values, but they are right for me, not for everyone. They follow in many ways from my own weaknesses. I have a poor memory and I don’t think conceptually, so I try to structure things very simply, so someone else like me can follow. And if I can follow, then everyone can.
The single most important thing for us as a company is that our clients stick with us for the long term, and that means we need to earn their trust and keep it. So we behave ethically and consistently with our clients to earn and keep their trust. We treat our staff the same way. It’s not the best way to maximize next quarter’s earnings, but it does improve the prospects for our clients and our staff to stick with us, and we see that as the best way to ensure long-term viability.
So no, we don’t charge when we switch from DOS to Windows; we give as much training to our clients as those clients need; we convert our client’s data automatically for them so upgrades are easy; and we never claim our system does something that it doesn’t already do.
In short, we treat the client as we would wish to be treated ourselves—the “golden rule,” and it works for us.
Are you an actuarial entrepreneur?
Please contact me as we are looking for more stories like this and for speakers at upcoming meetings. Kevin Pledge: email: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone: 416.949.8920.
Phil Gold, FSA, MAAA, FIA, co-founder of GGY and inventor of AXIS
Kevin Pledge, FSA, FIA, is CEO and co-founder of Insight Decision Solutions in Markham, Ontario, Canada, and chair of the Entrepreneurial Actuaries Section. He may be reached at email@example.com.