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Tabled dreams.

Of the risk management industry's difficulty in attracting top talent into its ranks, there's been talk aplenty. A recent industry awards dinner in New York City may help explain why.

At the 2006 Insurance Leader of the Year awards dinner hosted by the St. John's University Peter J. Tobin College of Business, where Willis Group Ltd. CEO Joseph Plumeri was honored for his contributions, you needn't look past Table 17.

There, seated off to the side in a cavernous ballroom of the Marriott Marquis on Times Square, was Salvatore Sama, a professional risk underwriter with Ace and a St. John's graduate; Bryan Low Yew Pha, a sophomore in actuarial sciences; Natasha Bien-Aime, a graduate with a major in risk management; and Laura Winn, another actuarial science major and Aon intern.

Why wasn't this sliver of the new generation seated with the guest of honor?

Their Italian heritage aside, Sama and Plumeri would have found lots to share about professional struggles. Plumeri, coming from hardscrabble Trenton, N.J., is the quintessential Italian-American success story. Plucked from retirement by investor Henry Kravis to reinvigorate a hidebound British brokerage, Plumeri managed to turn Kravis' $300 million investment into $3 billion. How great a story is that, especially if you have $300 million?

Sama is the poster boy of a recent graduate, struggling to make a living in an expensive city, worrying about a brother fighting in Iraq's Anbar Province, desperate for a little guidance.

The dinner was a networking opportunity for the Young Turks, yet at its core still an exchange of business cards, an evening easily forgotten.

Those at Table 17 could have walked away with a dream: an hour of undivided attention with Plumeri and Kravis. Plumeri said it best: "This shouldn't be an industry of memory, this should be an industry of dreams." Let school officials next year make it so and invite the Samas, Lew Yew Phas, Bien-Aimes and Winns to sit at the honoree's table.

Cyril Tuohy

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Author:Tuohy, Cyril
Publication:Risk & Insurance
Date:Mar 1, 2007
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