After eight months at the helm of the IFoA, Nick Salter reflects on the careful planning involved and the journey so far
I've always wondered what it must be like to be the captain of one of those massive container ships sailing the high seas and what impact those captains have on the voyages they make.
There must be months on end where, with the ship having all mod cons and facilities, all you have to worry about is whether it is on the right course, all the cargo is secure and if the destination ports are ready for your impending arrival. Time must pass slowly.
News of the CSCL Globe, the world's largest container ship, arriving in Felixstowe last month therefore caught my attention. With its cargo of 19,000 containers, housing a diverse mix of goods and materials to meet UK consumer market demands, the 184,000-tonne ship had travelled for a month from China at the steady and somewhat sedate speed of 19 knots (around 22 mph - even slower than I can cycle).
What stood out to me was that this story wasn't just about a large ship, but the planning that went into its journey. The arrival of vessels like the CSCL Globe has taken years of preparation by the Felixstowe Port Authority.
Such efforts and investment have resulted in the UK becoming capable of receiving more mega-container ships in the future and therefore, as a trade destination, remaining relevant to the ever-changing scale of the shipping business.
Voyage of discovery
So why, as your president, am I so interested in container ships?
I've always had a bit of an interest in matters maritime ever since I left school and worked my passage on a cargo ship to South Africa prior to going to university. However, the serious point is that there are many similarities between the CSCL Globe and the IFoA. The IFoA's journey is clearly mapped out (in the corporate plan and strategy document). It facilitates the movement of its valuable cargo (in our case, our members) to the four corners of the world, ensuring that destinations are prepared and capable of receiving and valuing it.
There may be a need to enter waters that have never been entered before and that takes planning too. All this requires excellent preparation, execution and oversight. My time as president has demonstrated to me how well the IFoA does these things.
Staying on course
As I reflect back on the past eight months, I feel I have had my hand on the ship's wheel, helping to guide it along its journey, on which I've tried to put my mark.
Like the captain of the container ship, as president you rarely have to make radical course corrections, a testament to those who have captained the ship before you and helped map out the route ahead, as well as those who have helped mentor you on your way to the helm. However, you do hope that the little nudge you gave the wheel has had an impact.
As I said in my presidential address, diversity is something that the profession needs to embrace for the whole journey that we are on, not just during my presidency.
I know that the effects and benefits of my gentle nudge are not going to be felt properly until much further along the line.
However, I am reassured to see that small yet significant steps have already been made. If you take the captain's bridge for example, we now have a more diverse group of individuals on council than ever before, better reflecting the composition of our membership and where they are located. And we are taking steps to consider areas of work (or uncharted waters, perhaps) where actuaries have not yet had much impact but could genuinely make a difference.
Unlike the voyage of the container ship, my time as president is flying by and, I was honoured recently to receive, on behalf of the IFoA, our very own clock.
It was donated to us by the late Geoffrey Heywood, who was a past president of the Institute and senior partner of Duncan C Fraser, the first firm that I joined.
Journeys pass but time doesn't stand still, and GH's clock will continually remind me of that as it takes pride of place at Staple Inn.