Allianz Life Blog Touches Sensitive Nerve

Amazing! Only in America! What a great country!

Judging by the hornet’s nest of comments created by my recent critique of Allianz Life it is obvious that the issues discussed did touch a nerve rubbed raw by the company’s recent activities and results.

A couple of obvious conclusions can be drawn from such an intense reaction. The issues raised must have some validity or they would not have triggered such an outpouring of comments. The reactions – pro and con – show that there are still a large number of people who are concerned and passionate about the future of the company. That is a good thing.

At the time I am writing this entry more than 40 comments have been posted. That is about half the number that has jammed my personal e-mail box. Sadly, for fear of corporate retribution, many of those writers felt too intimidated to “go public” with their views.

Frankly, I was not surprised by the maelstrom that followed the blog. (In case you missed it, this is the blog that created all the controversy.)  It has been over six years since I retired as CEO of the company, but I have remained in close touch with many of the people and the activities of the company. I knew the blog would raise a firestorm, but so be it. The time is right and the issues need to be discussed.

With my background and connection to the company, no one can claim to be more interested in the success of Allianz Life than I. I may have retired as CEO, but neither my feelings for the company, employees or the field went away. An examination of my activity since retirement will show a history of doing all I could to support the company. However, in light of all that has happened at Allianz Life during the past few years I could no longer remain quiet.

I am sure the bureaucratic minions now in charge of the company will not agree, but my objective in going public with my concerns is to help Allianz Life. It was Henry James who said, “The critic is a valuable instrument, a torch bearing outrider.” I offered my views and will continue to do so because the biggest business challenges for Allianz leadership is to understand why business has fallen so precipitously and why so many employees – past and present – are so discontented. And then they must be challenged to do something about it.

The worst thing that can happen is for Allianz management to dismiss the issues we’ve raised as just so much disgruntled disparagement from past and present employees. That’s the bureaucratic way. Bureaucrats discount and dismiss dissent as they plow forward with business as usual – till it is too late.

I would be even more disappointed with myself if I continued to stand by quietly watching the continued decline and destruction of the company. Not to mention seeing more talented good people being “escorted out” or discouraged and frustrated to the point of leaving.

Et tu, Brute?

Believe it or not, I appreciate the comments from those who attempted to “bury” Mac even more than those who sought to praise him. Compliments make us feel good, but constructive criticism helps us to learn and grow.

It is important for the critics to understand that my comments are not Johnny-come-lately. Since the day of my retirement, both behind the scenes and publicly, I have worked to resist and fight the destructive changes that have led to the decline of Allianz Life. One might go back to read my presentation at the 2005 FMO meeting titled “The Agony of Success” (converted to Chapter 19 of “Cheat To Win”). It explains how even extremely successful companies sometimes rest on their laurels, whereupon they stagnate and decline as brighter, nimbler entrepreneurial companies seize the competitive opportunity.

To be honest I am itching to respond to the negative comments of some, but that would shift the focus of the discussion away from the real issues here. The debate and discussion should focus on what can, should and will be done to stop the spiraling decline of Allianz Life as a successful company and a great place to work. For this forum I am satisfied to stand on my record of 20 years building companies, cultures and relationships.

The purpose of my blog was to ask the question and stimulate the debate as to why a great company and a wonderful place to work is being destroyed. My personal belief is that the company’s culture and future is being destroyed by a self-serving, insecure, incompetent bureaucratic management group of Allianz Life and AZOA. I may be wrong, but that is not the point. The point is that these issues do need to be brought to the surface and addressed before it is too late.

Can’t Change the Facts

We can argue about cause and effect, but the fact of the matter is that for the past several years the performance of Allianz Life has been in steady decline. In addition, the culture and work environment of the company has turned from positive to negative. There are also no indications that this poor performance and negative work environment will turn around anytime soon. Or even that there is a plan to do so. (Of course, to do that you would first have to admit that there is a problem and bureaucrats are loathe to do so.)

From my perspective the core, overriding and defining reason Allianz Life is declining is due to a change from a vibrant entrepreneurial culture to one infested and dominated by bureaucrats and bureaucracy. In order to regain its balance, success and greatness Allianz Life must return to a culture based on entrepreneurial philosophy.

The leaders must understand that for successful companies, it is not the company that defines the culture, it is the culture that defines the company.

From some of the comments to the blog it is obvious that many do not understand the real tenants of an entrepreneurial philosophy. Mention the word entrepreneur and many conjure up the image of a wild, swashbuckling dreamer interested only in money. Nothing could be further from the truth.

A true entrepreneur is not determined by the measure of his or her results, but by how those results were attained. Being an entrepreneur is more about attitude than aptitude.

Entrepreneurialism is a way of living life,
not a way of managing life.

The real entrepreneur or entrepreneurial culture has a certain spirit, élan and approach to issues that is just different. And that is the key. In a bureaucratic system that demands sameness, the entrepreneur is willing to be creatively different. Bureaucrats fail to understand that only by being different can things be made better. That is the philosophy at the heart of an entrepreneur and an entrepreneurial culture.

By my definition an entrepreneur is an individual with the experience to recognize an opportunity, the inherent instinct to visualize its fulfillment, and the courage to reach for it. An entrepreneur is by nature a leader who has the talent to clearly, simply, consistently and relentlessly communicate the vision to employees and to others; one who can motivate others to be successful because they believe it is in their own best interest to do so.

Using my definition then an entrepreneurial culture consists of a group of individuals who have suppressed individual interests in an effort to achieve group success because group success will advance both their individual talents and their ultimate success and rewards. This is difficult to achieve when the leaders demonstrate interest only in their success and not others.

Honestly, I ask you – How many of the leaders at Allianz Life and AZOA would qualify as believing, thinking and acting with an entrepreneurial spirit? Just how entrepreneurial is the Allianz Life culture of today?

It is important to understand that bureaucratic management and cultures destroy value while entrepreneurial leaders and cultures create value.

No company starts as a bureaucratic company but it begins to fail as soon as bureaucratic leaders and bureaucracy begin to infest and gum-up company actions and thinking.

Employees wondering if they work in an entrepreneurial or bureaucratic culture need only ask:

  • How well does the company communicate its mission to employees? Do I even know where this business is heading?
  •  Is change resisted, tolerated or welcomed?
  • Is experimentation encouraged, important and constant?
  • Is risk regaled or reviled?
  • Are the leaders satisfied with what worked yesterday, rather than trying to find new things that will work tomorrow?
  • Do the leaders find it easier to hire more people from the outside than to nurture and develop them from the inside?
  • Do the leaders define success by what they have done rather than what could be do?
  • Do the leaders feel that getting better is not as important as keeping what they have?
  • Is process and procedure viewed as more important than performance and progress?
  • Is extraordinary performance recognized and rewarded or is cronyism the way to the top?
  • Do the leaders share in the financial pain of any downturn or do they insulate themselves at the expense of others?

 

You should ask and answer these questions about Allianz Life and then draw your own conclusion. When doing so, you should also ask the following specific questions about Allianz Life and its leadership.

 

  • How many years has it been since Allianz Life introduced a truly creative and innovative product? (I am not talking about bells, whistles and gimmicks added to “accessorize” existing products.
  • How many new markets, i.e. retirement, has Allianz entered?
  • What new sources of production have been added in the past few years?
  • Does Allianz Life now lead or follow?
  • Do the actions of management seem reactive to problems or are they proactive in searching out new opportunities?
  • Do the actions of management in an effort to increase sales seem based on short-term fixes and stimulants rather than long-term plans?
  • Why does management spend more time planning additional outsourcing and layoffs than it does helping people become more successful and productive?
  • Does management make you feel personally valuable and important?
  • Do you feel that you are encouraged to “make a difference,” and if you do, will it be recognized?

Point Made

I could go on, but I think the point is made. My belief is that Allianz Life is declining because weak, insecure, self-serving bureaucratic managers at Allianz Life and AZOA have failed the culture of success at the company and that they lack the vision to build parallel interests and reminisce about the future.

Let the debate begin. Not a debate about how we got to where we are today but how we can get to where we need to be tomorrow.

(While I have you, here is a commercial message. Just to prove to the critics I am only interested in money. If you are serious about this discussion and would like more depth, I encourage you buy a copy of my newest book “Beat The System – Building an Entrepreneurial Culture in a Bureaucratic World.” You can do so here on the Web site or by going to Amazon.com)

 

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11 responses to “Allianz Life Blog Touches Sensitive Nerve

  1. This is more like it Bob. Its better to get people thinking vs. just being bitter and finger pointing.
    If anything your last one did get the people talking, so its a good start.

    The one thing I have learned over my time with LUSA/Allianz and all the other places I have worked is: its easy to point out the problem and have no solution but be a real leader and have a solution to bring to the table for the problem.

  2. EastCoastFriend

    It certainly did hit a nerve.. Nice job! Big wake up and shake up in the organizational structuring just announced today.

    Nice to see things come full circle..
    Leaves me wondering when the last leg of the stool will be cut…

    Gota luv it…..

  3. Way to keep looking forward. It was a joy to work at LifeUSA when Halloween was fun and everyone participated, when FOG walked around and talked to home office owners because they wanted to, and everyone pitched it and went over and above. People wanted to work hard because they believed. Today, that drive is gone and sadly I just show up for the paycheck.

  4. A solution?

    Let’s assume our senior leaders are going to continue to not to listen to us, if they change, we can all be pleasantly surprised. With that assumption, the question becomes how do we get anything done if our leaders are so busy reorg-ing the structure, out sourcing our talent, and suitabilityafying our products, they don’t have time to notice we have a business to run? Lets talk behind their backs. 🙂

    I don’t mean gossip, and I don’t mean the normal communication you should be doing with your team to get your job done every day. What I am talking about is what I see the people who get the hard stuff done, doing… talking to people outside their department, about work, family, friends, whatever. Then, when the schnitzel hits the sauerkraut, they have a person to call, or visit, who can tell them where to go, what form to fill out, who to ask to get the thing they need to do their job or resolve some issue. They have a friend at work, and when things get rough, a friend in the office is better than closing a million dollar sale. Think of every friend you make at work as a potential doubling of your knowledge of the company.

    The first time I walked into the LifeUSA building (unescorted) I didn’t even make it to the far end of the floor without someone saying Hi. When people found out I didn’t know something, they took me to the person who knew. People formed new relationships EVERY DAY!!! Stuff got done because we talked to each other. The only reason I haven’t gone insane already is because of the relationships I formed before we moved into this building that was to unite the two companies. Remember how excited Bob and the executive leaders got us about getting the Golden Valley building? We had to wait weeks to get in on a new building tour.. and even with that kind of a distraction, we were bringing in record business.

    I am not saying that when you have a 401k problem that you should go down to HR and just start ‘talking’ to people, there is a process for that and you’ll muck up a lot of peoples jobs if you start tracking down people when you have a problem. Call the service desk, call GoESS, do the right thing,,, if that doesn’t work, give your manager a chance to fix it,, and if all that fails to resolve the issue,, then use the relationship you built, when you didn’t need something, to find out how to get what you want. Be sure to say thanks, maybe take the person to lunch.

    What I am suggesting is saying hello in the elevator. Take a walk around a floor (not yours) once a week and see if anybody says Hi. If you do it a couple times, and no one says hi to you, just say hi to somebody yourself. Don’t be surprised if they say hi back,,, most IT people and even some actuaries can respond to normal salutations. If you are nervous, go in pairs. Ask someone if you can sit with them at lunch. If someone says no, smile, say OK, and walk away. If you find a person who will talk to you, ask them what they do. Tell them what you do,,, don’t ask for favors, but say hi again the next time you see them. If you can help them, offer to help. Before you know it, you will have a relationship. It sounds basic, but it is something we that used to happen at Allianz/LifeUSA all the time. Once you have the relationship established, talk to your new friend, or friends, about what could be… reminisce about the future,, eh Bob? Be optimistic, what can it hurt? Maybe the two of you, or the small group of people you gather together can think up a better process for resolving that 401k issue. Heck, the next big idea for a product, or a money saving process could come from that quiet mail room kid, or a small group with passion around an idea, but if we never talk…

    So, basically, what I am trying to say, is talk to somebody. Don’t gossip, talk about something nice, like the weather, or sports… if you feel brave take on politics (be nice). Talk to anybody who will listen, if you see someone who looks confused, offer to help. I know that sooner or later, if enough of us do this, we will start to feel like a family again,, and we will be able get the job done, no matter what our leaders do.

    ….and if you see a one of our leaders, say hi,,, but don’t be hurt if they don’t say hi back, they are very busy and have a lot on their minds.

  5. Hey Jude … Great job! That’s what I’m talkin’ about. Your attitude proves what those of us who started LifeUSA believed all along. Titles don’t make leaders … people make leaders. Give people, at any level, the respect, information and opportunity to make a difference, and they will join with others to lead the organization. Nice job. I am proud of you!
    Mac

  6. It seems as though you are trying to sell another book. You left AZ Life in a power struggle. AZ Life wouldn’t feed your hungry whims anymore, so you left. Bob, you were self-serving like the rest of them. Now, you are being hypocritical. I think management then and now are both hypocritical. AZ Life made you a rich man, yet you are still greedy, hiring your family and trying to pay them huge salaries for a subsidiary that you wanted to run by yourself with AZ Life’s capital. We insiders all know how greedy you are, so stop your complaining and mightier than tho attitude.

  7. oh yeah, by the way…many of the regulatory issues that AZ Life had was due to your “master dex”. You approved the sell of this product to the elderly. The great profits that you talk about was inflated, since you were selling this product. AZ Life got big under your command and you left it. Also, you were not lured out of retirement…you wanted to make more money, so you proposed a subsidiary with your relatives as board members. You were asking AZ SE to put up all the capital and so you could fly in private jets and dine at the best restaurants. AZ SE did the right thing and not let you have the money you wanted, maybe that’s why you left…

  8. Great points Mac. I worked for Life USA and then Allianz and worked in various departments over the course of 7 years. When I started I new nothing about Annuities, Life, or LTCi. I worked my way up from a processor to call center, to sales and finally the product area. I was told by my “leader” that I was not good enough and let go. Not given an opportunity to switch to a different position and just pretty much set up to fail in the position I had earned. I do believe the company has lost touch with itself and it comes from the top down. Also the guy or gal that says you are greedy or trying to sell another book sounds jealous they didn’t come up with the ideas you have. Also the MasterDex series came out in May of 2004 and I believe Mark Z was the CEO at that time. Keep up the good work and keep thinking outside proverbial box.

  9. minneapolis status

    Just today, AZL announced the movement of an FFIC leader to Minneapolis as the new Head of IT (CIO). This leader is perhaps the worst IT leader I (and all of us) have ever worked for. He is a complete baffoon that sucked his way to the top of the food chain. AZL IT has never been the same since he came on board and will never be able to develop a worthwhile product under his leadership. All this person does is tear things part rather than building something constructive that everyone can benefit from. He is from Germany and regardless of his heritage, Gary should buy him a one-way ticket back to Deutschland and never renew his Visa. This guy gets lost in a telephone booth and is a big fat slob that is full of hot air. He is a hammer and treats evertyone like a nail — except those that can improve his career position. He will gladly bend over to appease their needs while he squashes his subordinates. A complete sphincter of the highest order! Send his big fat bureaucratic butt back to Europe where he belongs!

  10. good site qzyrlt

  11. Field office perception

    As an employee working at one of the Allianz Fully owned field marketing offices, things have gone from good, to bad to worse. The ADG group (The Group who runs the Field Marketing offices or subsidiaries) have transformed the field into biased telemarking shops. Gone are the days of real marketing and unbiased advisement that keep the client in mind. Worse is that the ADG group is so focused on what is in the media today that they are in constant cover up mode as opposed to fixing the real problem, which is true customer service. Unfortunate, but very true. I only hope things change for the better as I honestly am not proud of were I work anymore.

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