Friday the Board of Directors of the Oregon State Fund, SAIF Corporation, fired their CEO John Plotkin after just 3 months on the job. He was terminated in a unanimous vote for “making inappropriate comments” to employees. Plotkin came to SAIF from Colorado’s Pinnacol Assurance, where he had served as Interim CEO and vice-chair of the Pinnacol board of directors. 

Plotkin said he was not aware of any complaints until May 3rd. He was terminated just 6 days later, on May 9th. The SAIF Board of Directors is not disclosing what was allegedly said, citing employee privacy concerns. Unfortunately that silence, combined with the swiftness with which the board acted, only amplify speculation over what actually occurred there.

It does seem a bit surprising that such an issue would appear with no prior indication that it had ever occurred before. Plotkin didn’t just materialize out of thin air, and it is unlikely he recently developed sudden onset Tourette’s Syndrome. He had experience in another state fund prior to joining SAIF, and he was selected out of more than 200 candidates. According to his LinkedIn profile he has extensive experience practicing law, and has served on a variety of commissions and boards, including the Board of Directors of the Mountain States Region of the Anti-Defamation League, where he served ironically as the co-chair of the Civil Rights Committee. 

It makes you wonder what could have possibly happened. One would think to justify the speed of termination the board employed, any comments attributed to him had to be fairly brutal in context, and would almost certainly have violated social constructs as they pertain to protected areas of race, sex or religion. If they did not include those elements, than you have to wonder if politics were at play here. 

One comment of his to an employee that was made public apparently was “Speak English, not actuary”. Plotkin said that comment was taken out of context. Frankly, I hope the board has something more significant than that. That isn’t even a comment that requires context in my mind. I understand it completely; but that is likely because I do not speak Actuary. I cannot possibly fathom how that can be offensive, particularly to a degree that results in immediate termination. 

Running a public entity like a state fund can be a tricky endeavor, as our friend Sandy Blunt learned when he was shanghaied at WSI in the Peoples Republic of North Dakota. We learned in that situation that you don’t have to actually be guilty of anything wrong or illegal to still be persecuted and run the Hell out of Dodge. Is it possible that Plotkin’s style, and not his words are what got him in trouble? 

We do not know, and in the absence of detailed information coming from the board we likely never will.  And it leads us to ask the obvious question, what exactly is it that we do not know? Plotkin himself said in a statement to the press that SAIF has policies and procedures in place to address problems and allegations, but none of those were followed in his case. He says that he has never been given a list of the alleged statements in writing, nor did he have an “opportunity to respond to, or if appropriate, take corrective action for the alleged statements”. 

If accurate I find that disturbing.  

One thing that is certain is that the next person assuming the CEO mantle at SAIF will have their work cut out for them. Currently that is John Gilkey, senior vice president of policyholder services and programs, who was appointed interim CEO. 

Gilkey and his successor may need to take care around just not what they say, but how they say it. This event will also make prospective candidates more trepidatious about making the move to SAIF, until they can be assured that leadership there is indeed safe from potential politics in the system, and that policies and protections in place will be followed.


For a list of Bob’s other SAIF/Plotkin articles (as well as a couple old AASCIF articles that get picked up in the search), Click here.

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