The year 2014 is now officially just a memory, and as we embark on yet another bold new annual term we look back on that which recently was, ponder its significance, and move onward, likely destined to encounter many of the same mistakes and human foibles all over again. Such as it is with the passing of time and the continued turning of our world. And of course, my blog.
For me, 2014 was a fairly remarkable year. It was one of increasing readership, some significant recognitions, increased business and excellent speaking opportunities around the country. Unequivocally, however, for my blog 2014 was largely about Oregon insurer SAIF, and the unjust termination of its 3 month CEO, John Plotkin. While I will touch on all of the previously mentioned points, I will start with the latter, as it, more than anything, unexpectedly redefined my blog and reputation this year.
And there is a lesson to be learned from it.
I had no concept when I first wrote about the termination of Plotkin that it would become such an important story; not just for me but for many in our industry across this great nation. It is a topic broached at my every stop around the country, and a narrative that resonates with many. Fundamentally, at its core, the Plotkin-gate saga revolves around a recurring element. An element known to all, and offensive to most at its very foundation; there are people in this world who, left unchecked, are willing to do some very unethical things.
Many of us can probably recall that moment in our lives when we first realized that malevolent persons existed in our world. My very first realization of this came when I was just 5 or 6 years old, and it was tied to a wonderful couple, Dr. Ben and Estelle Goldman (not their real names). The Goldmans were very close friends of my parents. Ben Goldman was a gentle and brilliant man, a Language Professor at a state university in New Jersey, fluent in seventeen languages. His wife, Estelle, was an incredibly kind housewife and employee of a large paper manufacturer, who for years would proudly tell anyone who would listen that she changed my first diaper (Why that was such a source of pride I do not know, other than she was possibly the first person to realize just how full of crap I am). Both of the Goldman's came to the United States from Poland after World War II. It was the presence of this unassuming couple that unexpectedly introduced me to the concept of evil in this world.
I remember the day very clearly. The Goldman's were visiting, and I was in the kitchen with my mother when I asked what seemed to me a very simple question.
I asked my mother why Dr. Goldman had numbers tattooed on his arm.
In the best way she could when speaking to a small child, my mother proceeded to tell me about evil men who had, twenty some years before my birth, persecuted an entire group of people they saw as a threat, all simply based on their faith. She described both Russian and German atrocities against the Jewish people up to and during World War II. She told me Mrs. Goldman had numbers on her arm as well, but I was not to ask about them. She always wore 3/4 or full length sleeves to conceal them, and while her husband would openly talk about the numbers, she would not do so. Both Dr. and Mrs. Goldman were survivors of concentration camps and the holocaust. They had not known each other during those years, and both survived the experience while losing their entire families. For me this horrible story represented a little boys lesson about bad men demonstrating man’s inhumanity to man – at the most epic levels.
John Plotkin did not have to endure a holocaust, but was certainly persecuted by a common affinity for malfeasance. At SAIF, Plotkin was different. He represented an alternate way of thinking and thus was a threat to an entrenched, insecure and insular few. The campaign to oust him appears to have been Machiavellian to its core, in that the hollow and meaningless “investigation” against him was tantamount to a purge; an action designed to rid a threat against the status quo by any and all possible means, ethical or otherwise.
The lesson, of course, is when good people stand their ground; when impropriety is challenged and evil is strongly confronted, things have a way of working themselves out. In the 1970’s Mrs. Goldman was overjoyed to learn she had an aunt who, thanks to Allied forces, had also survived and was living in Miami. Almost all of the key players in Plotkin-gate are now gone from the hallways of SAIF; two board members and 4 executives have taken their leave of the operation. Employees tell me they are enthusiastic about their new Board of Directors, see encouraging improvements within their company, and seem optimistic about future possibilities there. The Plotkins, while still mired in a lawsuit over the termination, have moved to Arizona and are rebuilding their lives knowing the emotional support of thousands are behind them. All of this is possible because good people refused to accept the miscreant behavior of the perpetrators. Just as the world rose to oppose maniacal tyrants in World War II, the SAIF story is what it is because good people would not sit idly by and accept the misguided actions of a few.
John Plotkin refused to go quietly into the abyss. Instead he chose to stand and fight on well grounded principle, and his actions no doubt inspired the overwhelming and unprecedented response from employees of that company. Ironically, despite his incredibly short three month tenure, John Plotkin will probably have a greater and longer lasting impact on SAIF than any prior CEO. That would not be the case if he had taken an offer and quietly resigned as originally requested.
Plotkin-gate certainly had an impact here in my blog. In addition to surging read rates, I feel as though I’ve made a few hundred friends in Oregon (along with a few enemies). I find myself complimented by the notion that people with less than honorable intent specifically hope not to end up here. I was talking to someone last summer who told me, “All I know, is if I screw up I do not want to find myself on Bob’s Cluttered Desk”.
I like that comment. A lot.
Elsewhere in my blog and with my company, 2014 was a banner year. We ended the year up 20% in sales, despite my belligerently bombastic blogging bloviations. Our news center is now serving as many as 50,000 article views a day, with my collective blog articles representing about 6,000 of those daily reads. My most read article of the year was not surprisingly a SAIF story, “Shocking SAIF Board Comment and Rocklin Defense Refusal Only Generate More Questions” with 32,505 views. The most read non-SAIF story of the year was “The Looming $20 Billion MSA Train Wreck: Welcome Aboard” with 13,914 reads. To be fair, the article “My Home Depot Reminder of the Claims That Would Not Die” should get an honorable mention. It was published eight weeks ago in November, nine months after the MSA article, and is already at 12,825. Total Cluttered Desk blog reads to date passed 2.6 million at the end of 2014.
I had the opportunity in 2014 to spar with industry titan John Burton over the future of workers’ comp, in a Point Counterpoint article series for the IAIABC Journal. It was a tremendous opportunity to promote my concept of “Workers’ Recovery” to a wider (and regulatory) audience. LexisNexis selected this blog as one of the top workers’ comp blogs in the nation for the fourth year in a row, and the SEAK Workers’ Compensation and Occupational Medicine Conference named me as one of the “50 most influential people in workers’ compensation“. I was invited to join the contributors of InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, as well as Hank Stern’s Cavalcade of Risk. I presented at more than a dozen conferences in 2014, including 2 Keynote presentations.
I am as befuddled by all of this as you are. I frankly don’t know what these people are thinking. I mean, have you met me? I clearly have no clue what I am talking about.
And of course, one of the greatest gifts last year came from the people at SAIF, who came out on a miserably cold Oregon evening to present me with a plaque for my blogging efforts.
All in all, 2014 was a very good year for me. I appreciate the continued support, and look forward to opining further in the year ahead; as long, of course, as you seriously warped people will put up with me.
Happy New Year. Let us hope it is a safe, happy and productive one.