It’s Not the Score It’s the Trip

It’s Not the SCORE, it’s the TRIP ISBN: 978 1642251494  Advantage Media Group copyright and written by Brian O’Hara.

Sub- titled “One man’s journey to building a global franchise is a memoir by the founding president and COO (later CEO) of XL Insurance. A company described by importantly prominent members as “the Bermudian re-insurance market instrumental in raising the bar of economic landscape of the island to a now globally recognized as a prominent reinsurance domicile.”  “The publication is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered.” The book opens with the usual Forward, Preface, and Introduction followed by 9 chapters, an Epilogue, acknowledgements and About the Author, some photographs scattered throughout and a collection at the end. End Notes (18) and a closing note depicting a slightly less formal description of the author complete the volume. Each chapter describes advances and occurrences leading toward his goals as they occurred chronologically. The first accounting Family Luck 1948-1965; #2 Testing my luck 1966-1970; #3 Fun into prophet 1970-1979; #4 No simple highway, the road 1978-1989; #5 Buy or be bought 1990-1999; #6 Leading the industry 1999-2003; #7 Rough Waters 2003-2006; #8 Plan B 2007-2008; # 9 Now what? 2008-2011.

It is a quite personal story of how Brian worked his way through the business to become CEO of a global corporation largely bringing recognition to Bermuda as a prominent center for the insurance-reinsurance industry. His personally rigid belief and adherence to collegiality and integrity he believed were most important for survival and were the keynote to all operations as well as knowing the rules but being flexible in relationship to them. He further worked on the principle that you get better results if you ask people if they can do something, rather than tell them to do it. He was acutely aware of the magnitude of inherent risk in the industry’s cycles and the corresponding uncertainty, especially when it came to matters like budgeting for the premiums. (Especially with Fortune 500 Companies operations and products. “They appreciated their underwriting discipline that would create a stable long-term relationship despite the cyclicality of the insurance industry overall.”) He used his program in Barbados as well as Bermuda and the company went from $450 million in ’87 to $1 Billion by ’90 and ultimately an organization employing 2400 people in 20 countries. Eventually, the main operations moved to Bermuda from Barbados and also started a branch in Dublin, Ireland. Their entire mission was as insurers/reinsurers that dealt with providing coverage for large-risk properties. Finally they opened to become a public company and success continued but he found it to be personally unpleasant because he felt required now to satisfy so many strangers who had invested in the work. Interestingly, the day he was forced to step down as CEO was the year that catastrophe struck the company along with most others involved in this high risk business.

Discussion: The author has written a most interesting memoir from several perspectives. First, it presents an impressive insight to the drivers and inner workings of the property and casualty risk industry for interested parties. Second, the details about this phase of insurance underwriting offer fascinating ‘inside’ information for uninvolved individuals interested generally in how other businesses operate (such as this reader). Third, it is studded with interchanges with well-known athletes and coaches from football, basketball, tennis and golf as well as cinema celebrities, Heads of State and powerful individuals within the world of finance. Thus, the author has offered the entire package in a personally oriented manner that removes it from the more usual somewhat dry and subject oriented business reminiscences.

5* Informative and unusually enjoyable business memoir.

After Olympus

AFTER OLYMPUS ISBN: 9781733801713 Lone Think Press copyright by Desmond Mascarenhas written by Santiago Xaman.

Description/Discussion: Pragmatically, and referred to by the author as “pseudo-fiction”, this most unusual book follows a rambling plot following the lives of three men besides the story teller and their wives or significant others as their lives play out after discovery of a hitherto unknown/unreported Russian Space craft of unusual components and containment. The tale is a tumultuous mixture of mystery and mythology with overtones of mysticism (?), occult (?), history spread over a wide section of the world ranging from Guatemala to Russia, the Serengeti and other parts of Africa, India, throughout much of the U. S. and Europe. The four protagonists all are exceedingly well educated and from backgrounds (families/cultures/traumatic occurrences) that make them prone to a somewhat different manner of living, employment and in their reactions to these matters. The pages are replete with thought provoking messages on such matters as the fact that every subject deserves empirical, intuitive and pragmatic contemplation; everything good grows from the bottom up (plants, trees, cultures?); everything projected from the top down is bad – organized religions, governments et al. – these latter often ‘dodge’ by forming protocols that ‘adapt’. Good comes from people thinking alone; e.g. Plato, Einstein; bad from organizational groups at the top claiming from their collective decision that they are right and everybody else wrong. And unfortunately, even authenticity is vulnerable if railed against at a high level maintained for a sufficiently long time. The author seems most interesting, but who is the author? The book includes a previously published “Opinion Piece” of interest in itself, as is another “Rebuilding the House” that discusses replacing organized religions, governments, corporations “with better versions of themselves”. Also some notes About the Author are quite fascinating when contemplating the entire book and the thoughts that arise from the ‘experience’ of reading this book.

5* Unusual, divertingly intriguing experience for certain readers.

Still Standing

Still Standing ISBN: 9781456634414 Orca Publishing, copyright and written by Vicki Fitzgerald and M.G. Crisi.

Sub-titled One Woman’s Struggle with Divorce, Depression, and Betrayal, the story details repetitive painful episodes of a life of gradual descent into the depths of despair but with ultimate survival resulting from unrealized internal strength. The reader follows the gradual decline of an originally confident, outgoing, fun-loving young Vicki as she makes one poorly thought out decision after another unfortunately accompanied by others not of her making. After several poor relationships in early teen years, she finally progresses in her life to gain a position as a respected investigative reporter, finds a loving husband who grows in his executive positions with an international organization, and she gives birth to an adorable son and a lovely daughter. Only three days after her beloved Emily was born, however, her beloved and constant ‘rock of strength’ Grandfather was diagnosed with a terminal disease, one which he fought and she had to watch his gradual decline. During this period, she was invited to report on the opening of a new entertainment park where she was given a ride on a new mechanical device called The Whip. Seemingly a malfunction resulted in a painful back injury. Apparently because of the British Health System, she was sent for examination to an incorrect diagnostic center and her spinal disc injuries were not properly diagnosed. She continued to suffer with increasing bouts of pain, lost the other Grandfather, and her disc problem worsened causing her to enter a deep state of depression until the disc problems finally were diagnosed correctly and she had back surgery. Still recovering, she received word that her almost indispensable childminder, suffered a CVA resulting in loss of vision and speech impairment. The effect upon the already heavily depressed young Vicki requires no words. Still functioning ‘normally’ on the surface however, she was continuing her news assignments and other activities. But now she began to encounter increased problems in her job, which her editor advised to ‘forget about’. Recounting the situation to her husband, instead of providing the loving ‘comfort’ she had expected, she receives nothing more than a repetition of the editor’s advice. She suffers an instantaneous, intense feeling of rejection and truly ‘being without anyone’ and her world suffers complete devastation. From this point on, her downward spiral greatly accelerates. Her husband’s increasing numbers of trips away from home, conjure up suspicion of possible unfaithfulness She encounters deceit and betrayal by trusted friends. Drugs and even an assault occur. Even worse, there is a totally unexpected and horribly frightening encounter with the judicial system, brief incarceration, marital separation and multiple suicide attempts. BUT, the story continues beyond these features as ultimately it tells of her gradual climb back to become an accomplished author and CEO of a rising company.

Discussion: This is a poignant tale of survival by a vibrant young woman who falls to emotional rock bottom as a result of an extended series of devastating, many self-inflected, situations only to courageously once again approach the pinnacle of success. It is a journey which easily can be the tale of anyone who, for one or another reason, still retains and exhibits, much of the naiveté and insecurity exhibited by much younger people. She now readily admits many errors but is glad to have put her trials and troubles on paper and has no doubt they will be criticized and worse by some, but they have provided a welcome catharsis for which she has no regrets. So, “With my children by my side, life is good.” And “After everything I’ve endured; pain, betrayal, tragedy, and near death, I’m still standing.” And, in revealing these matters, she hopes to offer a simple message: “Hope it inspires at least one person at rock bottom to keep climbing, keep swimming and hold their head above water when they’re drowning. “If I can weather the storm until the sun shines, so can you!

5* Message of hope to the confused, depressed looking for help.

 

Figuring It Out

Figuring it Out ISBN: 9781642250435 Advantage Media, copyright and written by Libby Connolly Alexander.

Sub-titled, A Memoir of Connolly, Inc.’s Journey to the Top, the book is a memoir by a woman who, with her brother and tech-savvy husband had taken the company successfully established by her entrepreneurial father to the point of eventually going public at a high market evaluation before reselling at an even greater value. The story opens with “To the three legs of the stool and all that we accomplished together” referring to the extended activity and accomplishments of she and her brother under the tutelage of her father, along with her husband.  Then, following several letters of praise for the book, quite lengthy acknowledgements are listed, an Introduction, ten chapters and a conclusion. The Introduction is prefaced by “A Jim Connolly Mantra: If you’re going to do something, do it right or don’t do it at all”. This in turn is followed by his opening statement to the family at dinner in the late 1980’s that he was resigning the quite prestigious position of Chief Operating Officer at Gimbel’s NYC department store to initiate a new entrepreneurial project – a recovery auditing business. Ten chapters and a conclusion then explains that she has “mapped out in this book her father’s blueprint that masterfully explains the core values and principles that support any successful business.” She begins by describing the changes taking place during the period of his change in position – the conglomerates, junk bonds, management shake-ups and the rest – beginning with Chapter 1 where her “father’s footsteps” include many of his admonitions such as “Above all, learn and constantly practice the art of adjusting to change” as they provided the groundwork for successful establishment of Connolly, Inc. referred to as Cotiviti.  Much of her father’s biography, including a fascinating account of wartime experience, largely in the Pacific Theater, proceeds to describe the man’s fundamental beliefs. The ensuing chapters present a gradual unfolding of the ‘Blue Print’ she has set forth and a Conclusion mentioned where she describes stepping down but summarily reflects upon important attitudes she believes necessary to succeed.

Discussion: This is an interestingly ‘different’ approach to the establishment and maintenance at a high level of an entrepreneurial start-up from very limited beginnings. The constant reference to bio- and autobiographical material quite interestingly provide material to bolster the author’s intent rather than offer what might be considered material detrimental. It recalls a time slightly before the evolution of the ‘Me’ outlook. “A time when reciprocal respect existed among a group of honorable men who openly shared their thoughts and moves with integrity, intent and purpose.” It also was at a time when a businessman could consider “One client at a time. No outside investment. No acquisitions. Just hard work and a determination to be the best by delivering quality results with low noise.” Troublesome business situations such as junk bonds, conglomerates and management shake-ups were developing during Jim Connolly’s early years, but he still believed in the ‘old fashioned’ basics and was still able to demonstrate they functioned well even during the progression to the rash of mergers, acquisitions and consolidations, restructuring, bankruptcies, highly intensified competition and price cutting so prevalent today. His methods of hard work, ingenuity, integrity, persistence, ability to adapt quickly to the rapidly changing environment, courtesy, professionalism and tenacity of purpose combined with hiring and inspiring a talented team were the key ingredients to formulate the multi-billion dollar businesses his son and daughter, Larry and Libby, further developed and ultimately walked away from. He was a great coach and roll-model whose early Recovery Auditing Company discovered and promoted innovative ways to identify and recover lost revenue, pricing and promotional funds in the 1980 – 90’s when auditing was an entirely different form of business than exists today.

5* Excellent self-help business suggestions in unusual memoir format.

Jumping from Helicopters

Jumping from Helicopters ISBN: 9781732736115 Turtle Creek Publishing Copyright and written by John Stillman and Lori Stillman.

This is a Vietnam Memoir dedicated “To the 58,000 plus names on the Vietnam Memorial Wall, they are the true heroes of the war. They gave all.” It is a book whose story was told to, and written by, the daughter of a man who as a 19-year-old endured the struggles of spending a year in almost endless combat as a member of the 101st Airborne in 1968. He, like most young men, enlisted seeing only the adventure and even, for some, having the thought of helping the downtrodden people of South Viet Nam. Instead they encountered the realities of war and under some of the worst conditions possible – endless days in the sweat-drenching jungle heat, little sleep, bad and frequently missing food, venomous snakes, leaches, impossibly annoying and even dangerous insects, days to weeks without being able to wash, and all with the constant watchfulness required to avoid hidden traps that maimed and killed, as well as enemy ambush, mortar rounds and more. And then later, discovering that you have been affected by a persistent life-threatening parasite and/or the residual results of Agent Orange or some other highly effective weapon that unfortunately only later was discovered to be deleterious to your life.

Discussion: This is a book that really requires the reader to look beyond the words that on-the-surface offer little of a ‘war story’ or even possibly nothing more than a repetitive listing of seemingly mundane factual material. If this is your impression, you are doing nothing but reading the words. To really understand, you must place yourself empathetically in the situations described and set forth in such an impassive, unemotional manner. From such a perspective, a totally different and horrifying picture is unveiled. A huge mental rearrangement appears where the young soldier gradually is seen to evolve from a naïve young man with thoughts of adventure and doing something worthwhile for a downtrodden people, into an automaton that follows the basic instinct to stay alive simply by becoming a killing machine. The book, fortunately because of the relentless desire of a loving daughter to learn and understand more about her father’s constant refusal to discuss or even mention remembrances that resulted in sleep-shattering dreams, and recurring thought patterns against which he constantly must guard against to withhold violent outbursts. The army had spent weeks training him to be a killer and did not even spend a few hours debriefing him or providing any words to help him re-establish himself into normal daily life. It was literally months before government action even accepted the fact that such an entity existed as PTSD or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Now, after some twenty years, this book has been written that is a culmination of combining details from the soldier’s diary, letters written home and his recall and finally verbal release of the unforgettable, constantly recurring individual and collective memories that a catharsis of sorts was attained. An effort patiently and lovingly pieced together by a daughter who wanted so badly to know more about that dark period in her father’s life that caused his occasional outbursts and so much pain. Finally he was able to talk about the horrible memories and could reach some degree of closure now that he no longer needed to bear the burden alone.

Summary: Riveting, deceptively unemotionally presented depiction of one 19-year-old’s gradual change from naiveté to unemotional machine of destruction from spending a year in almost endless combat as a member of the 101st Airborne in 1968 and resultant struggle with PTSD.

5* Riveting for reader with ability to mentally place self in protagonist’s position.

A Coin for a Dream

Coin for a Dream published, copyright and written by Mae Adams.

This volume presents a series of short stories, the first fifteen of them told to the author in her early childhood growing up in Korea. They are simple tales, the significance of some perhaps even a little unusual for the uninitiated to absorb. Included are tales of egg ghosts, water ghosts, angels of death, servants of the underworld, a 9-tailed dragon shape-shifter and its nemesis, a 3-legged dog, also of the monstrous part lion, sheep and unicorn haechi with scales, feathers and horns who actually seek justice by punishing the wicked. Other tales, some provided a little later, detail the legends and folktales along with historical explanations of Korean beginnings, religions and practices. Included are tales of how shamans, these mediums between this and the spirit world are created, fascinating explanations of the differences among the Chinese, Japanese and Korean Dragons, discussions of their zodiac, and more. All of these later features gradually and ultimately fade into and join material of a bio- and autobiographical nature.

Discussion: This is the second book by the author of “Precious Silver Chopsticks” which I had reviewed approximately a year ago and stated “This autobiography/memoir is written by an eighty-four-year-old Korean woman of considerable intelligence, fortitude and an amazing ability to survive and prosper” and concluded: “Certainly a relieving catharsis for the author and a book of considerable interest for a diverse reading public.” Because I had witnessed the conditions and people of  Korea during the U.S. involvement, my conclusion with respect to this second book retains my admiration for the author and personally find considerable material she has provided to be quite interesting. But regrettably and in all honesty, I must narrow the scope of those for whom I believe this book will have appeal. There is much redundancy in her presentation and repetition within the body of the work as well as a considerable amount from her first book. Thus, I strongly recommend this book to readers who are interested in learning more about other people, their history, cultures, religions, activities, habits, individual beliefs, and their personal abilities to adapt and especially as depicted here, to survive. For readers with these interests, the subject matter most assuredly requires a 5*. The rating unfortunately must be reduced by 2 because of matters that judicious editing would have removed, plus the most regrettable fact its level of interest for others than those mentioned; i.e. general readership, probably would not be extensive.

3* 5* story regrettably reduced by 2 as explained in the discussion.