May 2015

From the Editors

By Stephen James and Carlos Fuentes

james  Carlos“An Army of One,” an old U.S. Army recruiting slogan captures the idea that, with the best technology and training, each soldier should consider themselves a self-contained, autonomous fighting force. Some actuaries in non-traditional roles can relate to this worldview. With our training and some tools we can either acquire or develop ourselves, many of us find ourselves taking on the world single handedly or in small numbers. When we do so, we need to make sure that we focus on defined, lean goals, that we’re equipped with the best tools possible, and that we look after our “army,” ourselves. In this issue of our newsletter, our authors offer advice on how to manage each of these aspects of developing an actuarial  “Army of One,”

  • “Zen and the Art of Fast Growing Companies”―author Jay W. Vogt offers insights into the focus, calm and determination that CEOs of fast growing companies must possess, that they must be “Zen Masters.” Early in his career, he met a Zen Master mentor who practiced what Vogt later came to know as the “Rockefeller Habits” of priorities, data and rhythm. When these three habits are applied to running an enterprise, they come together to make a One Page Business Plan a powerful tool for implementing corporate focus.
  • “Spreadsheet Errors: Looking Over Your Own Shoulder” by Mary Pat Campbell offers us techniques on how to make our spreadsheets error-free. The spreadsheet is the most commonly used tool in the actuarial tool kit. The very flexibility and power that make it useful also make the spreadsheet rife with opportunity to make errors. In fact, the author suggests that the better we think we are at creating spreadsheets, the more likely we are to overlook errors in them. Campbell provides some sound, practical advice on how to reduce and eliminate errors, from checking ego at the door, to documenting, testing and, yes, “breaking” our spreadsheet creations.
  • “The Work Life Blend: How to Balance Work and Life When You Work For Yourself.” The “Army of One” actuary can sometimes think they need to be all things to all people 24/7. Author Katy Tynan provides advice on how to manage around the clock expectations that sole practitioners put on themself. Stepping away from the smart phone and recharging personal batteries is as important as developing a network of peers and contacts. We are also advised to look to improve our craft and to always remember to have fun in what we do!

Do you have your own “Army of One” stories that might help others? Do you have questions for the authors of these articles? Were you given advice early in your career that proved valuable as a single or small company practitioner? Do you have stories to provide on how you applied your actuarial skills and tools in a non-traditional area? Do you have an opinion on how we could further expand or work into even more non-traditional areas? We would like to hear from you. 

Stephen James, FSA, FCIA, can be reached at

Carlos Fuentes, FSA, MAAA, FCA, MBA, MS, is managing partner at Axiom Actuarial Consulting. He can be reached at