Departure – London & Berlin 2018

“The engine ingested the bird.”

Thus began my journey from Austin, TX to London, England earlier this afternoon. The plane that was to carry me from Austin to Houston struck a bird on approach into Austin, causing a significant departure delay as mechanics inspected the left engine in search of damage – or, in this case, ingested bird. Their findings prompted the announcement from the gate agent, “I wish I had better news; the engine ingested the bird. We will be delayed as repairs are completed.”

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Airline mechanics inspect engine for bird damage at Austin Bergstrom Airport. 9.19.2018

I always feel bad for inexperienced travelers when these things happen – some panic, some cry, some get angry. I spoke to one lady who absolutely had to be in Kuwait tomorrow. She was upset that United Airlines had ruined her plans, as she only had a one-hour connection in Houston which she would definitely miss.

Rule-of-Thumb #1: Allow more time than you think you will need when making connections, especially when traveling internationally. Things happen; allow time for that. Worst case scenario? You have two-plus hours to explore a world-class airport like IAH. And maybe even enjoy a nice glass of wine!

I talked to a young lady, about my daughter’s age. She asked me if I’ve flown before – this was her first trip, heading to Little Rock via Houston Intercontinental. She was waaaay back in line. I gave her the toll free number to United and suggested she call as she waited in line. She did call; United couldn’t help her over the phone. I assured her she’d get to Little Rock

Rule-of-Thumb #2: Use the airline mobile phone app and have their customer service number stored on your phone, just in case. While I don’t know why United couldn’t assist this young lady, I’ve circumvented many a delay line by calling customer service.

As I looked out the window to see what the mechanics were up to, I heard a man nearby yelling at an airline representative over the phone, as if he or she had special ordered the bird, directed it to this plane, and personally sucked the bird into the engine. As I listened I shook my head. I’ve never understood why some passengers treat airline employees so poorly.

Rule-of-Thumb #3: Airlines don’t cause bird strikes. Airlines don’t create bad weather. Things go wrong sometimes. Their employees are there to help. The employees didn’t create the issue. Trust me, they don’t like these situations any more than we passengers do. I understand being frustrated, even angry, but take a chill pill. Please don’t treat them rudely, and be sure to thank them for their assistance once you’re finished.

Screen Shot 2018-09-19 at 11.49.35 PMAs I type this I’m on my United flight to London. I’m looking forward to visiting this world-class city and Berlin next week. Tonight, as we head across the pond, I’m thankful for the privilege of traveling and for the people that make it happen. And, of course, I’m looking forward to exploring two of the world’s finest cities. I am blessed indeed.

 

Hurricane Harvey: Evacuation

Monday, August 28, 2017, 11:30 AM. The boats on which we rode out of our flooded neighborhood dropped us off at the main entrance to our subdivision. Coast Guard helicopters hovered in the sky above us. Clutching two kitchen trash bags hastily stuffed with clothing and our cell phones, I along with my wife, my son, four dogs, and one cat stood trembling with wet cold on Memorial Drive, which was becoming somewhat of an island among the rising flood waters. The transportation to shelter we were told would be waiting was nowhere to be seen. Although the guts of Harvey had departed our area, it was raining. We were wet, we were cold, we had four animals with nowhere to go and no way to get there. How did we wind up in this perilous situation?

IMG_1131Sunday, August 27, 2017, 6:45 PM. As I sat in the family room completing my fantasy football draft, the power suddenly went out. I was surprised; so far, Harvey had passed with no power issues in our neighborhood. As the evening wore on and the power remained out, my surprise transitioned to concern. We began to see chatter on Next Door (nextdoor.com, a website on which neighbors can commiserate on items of interest in the neighborhood) and other social media apps that the US Army Corps of Engineers would begin opening flood gates on nearby Addicks and Barker Reservoirs sometime during the night, and that water would soon begin to enter adjoining neighborhoods. The chatter included assurances that the releases would be controlled and we in the path of the coming floods would have ample time after daylight to safely leave our homes.

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Power out, monitoring Internet for news and information. 8.27.2017

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Flood waters rising, early morning 8.28.2017

Monday, August 28, 2017, 5:45 AM. We awoke at the crack of dawn with flood waters already halfway between our front door and the street. There was no way we were driving out. Overcoming our initial frustration, we began moving non-perishable food items and other storm survival essentials upstairs, expecting to remain up there for a day or two until the flood waters receded. I pulled our cars as high up in the driveway as possible. As the morning wore on, the waters continued to rise. We began to see people walking out of the neighborhood towing kayaks, pool floats, and even a large inflatable duck. Soon powered watercraft were cruising the street. Jet skis and bass boats operated by volunteers were joined by the red boats of the US Coast Guard. As the Coast Guard was loading up my next door neighbors, I walked over in ankle-deep water that lapped against the front of our house. I noticed the Coast Guard helicopters flying back and forth across the sky over the neighborhood, the thump-thump-thump of their rotors reverberating in my chest. (It was at this moment that I truly understood what the word “surreal” means. This was it.) “Sir, if you want to leave, you’ve got to leave now,” the young man on the Coast Guard boat said as he helped my neighbors climb aboard. “Seriously?” I asked, somewhat incredulously. “Sir, the flood gates are open and you will soon have six feet of water, maybe more, in your home and it will be here for at least two weeks. If you want to go, we will come back for you after we evacuate these people.” We really had no option. “Okay,” I said, “we’ll get ready. Where will we go?” He responded that there would be transportation waiting to take us and our animals to an evacuation shelter at the nearby British Petroleum office building. “Pack light and hurry,” he said.

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Early evacuees walked out with aid of kayaks and other small watercraft. 8.28.2017

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One of many volunteers who aided evacuation efforts. My wife took this pic as they navigated down our street. 8.28.2017

Monday, August 28, 2017, 11:00 AM. As we rushed to gather our pets and a few belongings, the boat arrived at our front door. This was a very nice fishing boat piloted and manned by local volunteers. As we worked to corral our confused animals, they offered calm reassurance. “Don’t rush. We’ll get you out. Take your time. We’ll be fine.” Offering limited capacity, we loaded my wife, son and four dogs on board. As they pulled away from our house, a volunteer on foot towing a canoe approached me. We loaded the pet carrier holding my daughter’s cat and my trash bag full of clothes onto the canoe and began walking down our street. As we walked the water increased in depth until it was up to my chest. A red coast guard boat (different from the one that picked up my neighbors) came around the corner and picked us up. The young man piloting the craft told me they were with the Coast Guard unit from Memphis, TN. He was 24 years old. I was impressed at his maturity and his ability to pilot the boat amongst the submerged mailboxes, shrubbery and other obstacles. Pulling up to Memorial Drive, we offloaded and I was reunited with my family.

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My wife took this photo of our poodle held by our son as they pulled away. Our house is in the background. 8.28.2017

Monday, August 28, 2017, 11:45 AM. That, dear reader, is how we arrived in this perilous situation. It was raining. We were wet. We were cold. There was no transportation and no shelter at British Petroleum. A neighborhood security guard was parked at our subdivision’s entrance. I asked him about the promised transportation. “You’re on your own, man.” We had nowhere to go and no way to get there. Frustrated, we considered flagging down a boat and having them take us home. It was at that moment the beautiful, shiny black Cadillac Escalade pulled up alongside us.

“When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You.” ~ Psalm 56:3

(c) Jeffrey R Strege 2018

On Being Well Read

I attended a risk management conference last week, and one of my most important takeaways was the need to be more well-read. As a risk management professional, I seek to be more informed about news & current events, global business climate, and important business transactions among other things. Since returning home, this has been on my mind, and I have explored subscriptions to a few publications.

Yesterday morning, during my daily devotional time, the Lord offered up this reminder:

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This is what is most important: to be well-grounded. I must set my foundation on solid ground and let everything that I am be built on that. To be sure, I fully intend to subscribe to a few news and business publications. I want to be that informed, well-rounded individual. But my time in God’s Word comes first. It defines me. It sets the tone. The others will help me be well-rounded; God’s Word will help me be a better man as it keeps me well-grounded.

Soli DEO Gloria!

RIMS 2018: What Did I Learn?

I’ve lost count of the number of national RIMS (Risk & Insurance Management Society) conferences I have attended over the years, but I’m guessing it is around 20 or so. I always come away from the conference feeling a bit melancholy as I am reminded of how important the relationship aspect of this industry truly is and how much I enjoy hanging out with my friends in this crazy and wonderful industry. Here are a few key takeaways from my recent 2018 RIMS experience:

  1. Be well-read. I had the honor of joining Chubb CEO Evan Greenberg for lunch after he spoke at Chubb’s annual leadership luncheon. I am always impressed at his worldliness as he speaks on world affairs, American politics, challenges in business, and Chubb’s strategies. Given the plethora of misinformation out there these days, I asked him, “What do you read?” He responded that he reads three newspapers daily: The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Financial Times. He also reads The Economist each week. I have been pondering this ever since, as this is an area in which I can improve.
  2. Relationships are important. In this industry, people prefer to do business with people they know and trust. The purchase of insurance for a large publicly traded organization is an important two-way transaction: While I need to rely on my trading partners to be there if the crud hits the fan, they need to rely on me and my team to manage our risks the way we say we do to mitigate that potential. There is much at stake for both of us. Part of my process is to personally meet every underwriter in my portfolio, and to get to know well those who take on the most significant risk transfer. RIMS offers me an annual opportunity to nurture these relationships, and this is one of the aspects of my role that I enjoy the most.
  3. If you need something, ask. I had a need in my claims program that had not been addressed to my satisfaction. At RIMS I had the opportunity to state my case to senior management of an important trading partner, and within a few days my need was met. One important reason was the foundational relationship between our two organizations and us personally. See number 2 above.
  4. You own your program. We risk managers rely heavily on our brokers for coverage placement and addressing any issues or concerns that may arise. They are an incredibly important leg on this three-legged stool (broker, insurer, client), and I value their experience and expertise. Sometimes, however, we must take ownership of solving a problem, not because our partners are deficient, but because it is my problem; I have the greatest stake in seeing it addressed. See number 3 above.
  5. Never stop learning. I recently joined the Board of Houston’s RIMS chapter. Along with four other Board members, I attended a Sunday morning Chapter Leadership forum led by national RIMS. There was much discussion of the RIMS CRMP (Certified Risk Management Professional) designation. I had heard of it, but never explored it. You see, I am fairly seasoned in my career, I have a graduate degree, and I earned my ARM designation many years ago. “What’s the point,” has been my response to earning CRMP. The point is, retirement is several years out (God willing). I have much work yet to do and my organization deserves the most well-rounded professional I can be. And learning is fun. So I’m going for it.
  6. RIMS is worth supporting. The Chapter Leadership Forum offered the opportunity to learn from many very successful chapters from around the US and Canada. We have great people in Houston and we have a great Chapter but we can be better. I have gained much from my RIMS membership over the years and now it’s time to give back. I’m looking forward to working with my fellow Board members on several takeaways we gained in this session.
  7. Work hard, play hard. OK, it’s not really a takeaway. Those who know me well know how much I enjoy the social aspects of what we do for a living. Yes, it’s fun. But it is also very important. In these social settings, we get to know one another personally. We learn about each other’s families. We talk about life’s struggles. We celebrate life’s successes. We build bonds of trust that are personally gratifying, but also business beneficial. Many who I consider my closest and dearest friends are friends through this industry, and for their friendship I am truly grateful.

I suppose these are not really “learnings” per se. They are reinforcements of things I know to be true and sources of inspiration from which I plan to drive my future success and professional development. Thank you, industry friends and partners, and thank you RIMS for being a very important part of my life. I am blessed.

Hurricane Harvey: Providence After the Storm

We made provision. As recommended by experts, we stocked up on bottled water and nonperishables as we prepared for Hurricane Harvey. We laughed as we bought wine, bourbon, and Courvoisier claiming that, with those purchases, we had the essentials needed to ride out the storm. As it turns out, we had no idea how severely Harvey would impact our home and our family.

On August 28, 2017, as a result of “controlled releases” by the US Army Corps of Engineers from two local reservoirs, our neighborhood and many others in west Houston were inundated with flood water and we were forced to evacuate. As I write this, our neighborhood and our home remain flooded as the releases continue. The flood and ensuing evacuation will be the topic of another post, as we have quite the story to tell, as do many in southeast Texas.

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In the aftermath of the storm, God has held us in His hand. We have witnessed His glory manifested in a myriad of ways. He has provided for every need as each need manifested itself. We have experienced rescue, hospitality, love, support, kindness, generosity, provision, hugs, and so many other things from friends, family, and complete strangers, some who seemed to appear from nowhere at just the time we needed their help. I know better: their appearance was not coincidental. Indeed, in the midst of all of this I see God’s handiwork.

Romans 8:28 plays like a continuous loop in my mind: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Speaking from personal experience from the center of disaster I can say with no doubt whatsoever that this is most certainly true. In the coming days I plan to tell our Harvey story, not to draw attention or sympathy to myself, but to give glory and honor to God who rescued us from this storm.

Soli DEO Gloria!

Saturday Morning

The house is asleep. It’s quiet. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee wafts through the house as I clear my eyes and set my sights on a brand new day; a day that offers fresh opportunities to impact my world in positive and constructive ways.

Yes, I am a morning person. I’m that guy who wakes up ready to go, ready to get the day started. On a weekday morning, things move quickly as I take my devotional time, prepare for work and mentally run through my calendar and the day’s meetings. But Saturday mornings are different. There is no clanging alarm to rouse me from my sleep; I awaken naturally – 6:39 this morning – I slept in! I take my time catching up with friends on Facebook, reviewing and updating my Twitter feed, reading my Bible, and sipping coffee as I contemplate the week just past, the weekend upon me, and the week to come. In the quiet of Saturday morning I remember how blessed I am to have good people in my life, a comfortable home, a fulfilling career, and a God who loves me even in spite of my many shortcomings.

That’s all I have to say today. If you’re reading this, put a smile on your face, thank God for another day of this wonderful gift of life, and be a positive influence in your corner of the world. After you’ve had your coffee, of course!

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Saturday Morning 7.15.2017

 

The Harvest is Ripe…

For me, there is nothing like live music. I admire those who have been blessed with musical talent and I enjoy music of most genres. Last night I had the privilege of attending Carlos Santana’s show at the House of Blues at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. Until now, I’ve been a very casual fan, if that. It was a business event and I was given a free general admission ticket along with the other business colleagues attending the conference. “I’ll stay for a few songs, then I’ll sneak out to bed.” Was I wrong or what?? His music is infectious, and I found myself not wanting to leave. Just over two hours later, I’m on my feet with the rest of the crowd applauding this man who has truly mastered his craft.

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Carlos Santana performing at the Mandalay Bay House of Blues, February 2, 2017. He is a master at his craft, and his music is infectious! Taken on my iPhone.

A little more than halfway through his show, he spoke to the audience. He told them that there are people out there teaching about “wretched sinners”, that those people are mean and we should run from them. He said that we all have this light inside us, and we should live out our lives in that light, enjoying life, being kind. Many in the crowd enthusiastically received and applauded his message. And that made me sad; sad because the only part of the Gospel message he’s apparently heard is the part about sin and death. If he only knew how beautiful the other side of that coin is – the truth about redemption, salvation, and eternal life through Jesus Christ, he could have shared that Truth with his audience.

As he launched into his next song I looked around the room – all those people. How many know Christ, and how many don’t? How many took his false message to heart? I turned to the colleague standing next to me and said, “His theology is a bit off.” My colleague responded, “He’s talking about his god.”

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We live in a lost and fallen world. As Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.” (Matthew 9:37) My sense of urgency is increasing, but I sometimes struggle to find my place. Talking about things of God is easy in church, but it’s frowned upon in the workplace. Screaming the Gospel at a colleague I just met in a loud music venue doesn’t seem right either. I know God wants me to share the Gospel. This morning I prayed about the harvest and my role in helping gather it. I look forward to seeing how God chooses to use me, and I pray that He will give me with wisdom and courage to seize every witness opportunity He presents.

Soli DEO Gloria!

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