Wednesday, May 30, 2012

(No.200) Media myths & RickardsRead,part 1: 200 columns & counting

"Media myths and RickardsRead, part 1: 

200 columns and counting"

by Alastair Rickard

This is the 200th column since I started nearly 3 1/2 years ago, an average of 1 to 2 columns a week. It seems the right time to mark the occasion with some comments about how it came about.

It began after I decided to take early retirement from Sun Life Financial which had taken over Clarica Life, the rather silly name invented by highly paid New York consultants and bestowed upon the demutualized Mutual Life Assurance Co. of Canada (founded 1870). Mutual Life had been my port of entry into the financial services business.

Writing columns for RickardsRead was not a leap for me since I had been writing for various publications, including my own, for many years. While I had been employed by Mutual Life I had established in 1978, much to the surprise and consternation of its senior management, the Canadian Journal of Life Insurance, aka CJLI.

The Journal was from its first issue a spare time project of mine and entirely separate from Mutual Life in every sense. However I came within a whisker of having my employment terminated because of it, a possibility I had taken into account.

I still cherish the letter I received after CJLI's startup from Mutual Life's then CEO John Panabaker in which, inter alia, he warned me that my job was hanging by a thread. It turned out to be a strong thread indeed. CJLI survived threats of legal action from some in the industry who disliked what I had to say. So did my job when, especially in those early days, there were regular post-issue publication calls of complaint to my employer from CEOs displeased by this or that editorial or article in CJLI.

It was a tribute to Panabaker that he resisted what must have been a strong impulse to rid himself of the source of this regular irritation. Several years later and quite by accident Panabaker and I, both descending to the conference floor in a Toronto hotel, shared an elevator. It stopped and another life insurance company CEO got on who proceeded to tell Panabaker that he thought CJLI published worthwhile material.

The Journal accepted no advertising and I published it as a spare time activity, one I often described as my contribution to the industry's mental health. The popular media's coverage of the life insurance business was then pathetically inadequate. The reality was that the industry's advertising dollars and various trade associations helped ensure that trade publications were editorially supine when it came to anything truly controversial. Things have improved somewhat since then -- but not enough.

Over the years the length of time between publication of CJLI's issues steadily lengthened as the demands on the spare time I needed to put out the Journal kept increasing. The point came when I put CJLI on the shelf.

I left Sun Life to whose senior management I had said -- at least twice -- everything I thought needed saying on issues about which I had experience and expertise. Afterwards I had neither the desire nor willingness to commit the time needed for restarting CJLI as a hard copy publication -- or even as a digital one.

I had continued over the years, after placing CJLI on the shelf, to address a variety of financial services and insurance issues in both published and unpublished forums as well as in speeches to North American audiences. Happily by the time I had emerged fully from the corporate tunnel the rise of new technology had provided a comparatively easy way for me to continue via the internet to express my opinions; hence the start of this blog --

In my next column I'll relate this journey to some of my experience with the media.




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