Ellen Kleinstuber was honored with the 2019 CCA Most Valuable Volunteer Award. She has been a constant volunteer for the CCA as well as for the rest of the profession. Ellen served on the CCA Board for 6 years including 4 years on the Executive Committee. Additionally, she has served as chair of the Joint Program Committee for the Enrolled Actuaries Meeting and the Professionalism Committee. She has also served on the Membership Committee, Webinar Committee, and as a speaker at many CCA events.
For those who don’t know you, could you tell us all about yourself and how you got in to the actuarial profession?
I don’t usually like talking about myself too much, so let’s start with the easier question about how I got in to the actuarial profession. I first heard about being an actuary in high school, when I attended a math/science career day at one of the local colleges. The head of the math department had taken the preliminary actuarial exams and earned his ASA credential, so he talked to us about careers in actuarial science. I found the combination of applied math, economics, finance, and computer science to be really appealing. I was good at math but did NOT want to be a teacher. (Those who know me now might find that ironic.) Something just clicked for me that day, and from that point on actuarial science was the only career on my radar. Of the various disciplines I could have pursued within the actuarial profession, I like to think it was fate that brought me to be a consulting actuary working with pension plan sponsors. I really lucked in to the right niche.
Now, for that “about me” business. I’m a recent transplant from Pennsylvania to northeast Ohio, which for someone who isn’t particularly comfortable with change was a really big move. Even though I’m a home body at heart, I love to travel and see new places. In the great debate of cats vs. dogs I’m in the “cat person” category (mother of three kitties) but I love dogs too. Music of most genres makes me happy and soothes my soul. And most importantly, I am blessed to have an amazing husband who stands by me and cheers me on as I continue to do the things I love, which includes my career as an actuary.
If you had not pursued a career as an actuary, what else might you have done?
Well, my parents used to love telling the story of how when I was about 6 years old I asked if you needed to go to college to be a waitress, so at some point that was on the table. My Girl Scout troop to a career assessment while I was in middle school, which revealed I would be ideally suited to be a mortician. That job is clearly not for me, but I supposed it could have been some level of foreshadowing of my career predicting when people will die. And at one time I thought it would be cool to be a professional sports statistician, coming up with the crazy obscure stats about the last time someone hit an inside-the-park homerun on their birthday and other “how’d they come up with that?” gems for the broadcasters to opine about. All joking aside, I really never thought about it until now. I suppose I’d probably do something in finance or accounting that still use my love of math in some practical application.
What’s your best ‘day in the life of an actuary’ story?
For me, it was the day I found my “why”. (If you don’t get the reference, check out Simon Sinek’s TED talk.) I was in my late 20s when a client asked me to get on a call with one of their plan participants who had just been diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. Our task was to explain the company’s death benefit coverages so this gentleman could figure out if his wife would be better off if he died while an active employee or a retiree. Talk about a sobering moment. Later that year, I received the census data update and during my reconciliation work noticed that he had indeed passed away as a retiree.
Fast forward about a year, and I was out on location at this same client’s various facilities explaining the choice employees were being given between staying in the pension plan and opting into the newly enhanced defined contribution plan. A gentleman lingered after one of my sessions, standing quietly by while others asked me questions. When all had left, he came up and asked if I was the young lady who talked to his brother and sister-in-law the year before. He told me of how much it meant to his brother and their whole family that I took the time to talk with him about his options. I was told that our call that day gave him the information he needed to die knowing his wife and kids would be OK financially. I managed to hold it together while he gave me a big hug and made it to the ladies’ room before I started to break down. It was in that moment that I understood the impact we have on people’s lives, even if we don’t realize it when we spend our days just “doing the job.”
If you could choose, what would you like for your legacy to be?
My alma mater’s motto (Elizabethtown College) is Educate for Service. This really resonated with me, and Elizabethtown did a fantastic job preparing me to go out in the world and make a difference. If I’m fortunate, my legacy will be to have served others to the best of my ability in their individual pursuit of success.
What does a Most Valuable Volunteer Award mean to you?
It’s always nice to be recognized for hard work and giving of your time and talents to support others. In this case, it offers validation that the hard work was also good work and benefits my fellow actuaries.
Why do you feel that volunteering is important?
Volunteers are the heart of our profession. While we rely on the paid staff of the CCA and other organizations to keep us on track and handle most of the logistics, it’s volunteers that make our profession run. Volunteering is my way of giving back to a profession that has served me so well.
St. Francis of Assisi said, “It is in giving that we receive.” The work I’ve done volunteering for the CCA has brought me many blessings, including lifelong friendships, career opportunities, and the chance to fulfill a potential I never knew I had when I was growing up.
What does it mean to you to be a member of the CCA?
The CCA has been my home for continuing education and growing my knowledge as a professional actuary and as a person for many years. That word “home” has a variety of meanings for me. It represents safety – somewhere I could test my wings with different responsibilities knowing someone would be there to catch me if I stumbled. It represents comfort – an organization that it just feels good to be part of. And it represents home – the people I’ve met through CCA have become friends who I have traveled with, laughed with, celebrating my wedding with, and grieved with through the loss of loved ones.
What is your favorite memory volunteering as a member of the CCA?
The #1 story on my list probably shouldn’t be shared publicly, so I’ll go with #2. Those who have been around the CCA for a while will remember Keith Stewart. Keith always managed to make me smile (and not infrequently roll my eyes) with what have become known as “Keith-isms”. My favorite to this day is “never eat fish in the desert”. I’m not sure why that one tickles me so much, but it’s sound advice. (Don’t tell him that I break this rule sometimes. I wouldn’t want to disappoint him.)
Do you have any words of wisdom for future generations of consulting actuaries?
We each have our own personal brand, the qualities and experiences that are uniquely our own. Be purposeful in building your brand and deciding what it is you want to be known for, how you want to be viewed. Seek out the people around you in your organization who will support you in building that brand and give them good reason to want to do so. And finally, keep an open mind about what opportunities may be available to you. Be willing to take a risk on something new, for you never know what great things may come from it.
Is there anyone specifically that you’d like to acknowledge as having been instrumental in your success?
There’s a long list of people that I should be thanking, but I will try to keep it to a reasonable length. First there’s Jonathan Waite and Bob Henderson, who offered me my first actuarial job. Thanks for seeing something in me and giving me a chance. My first foray into volunteer speaking outside my company was at the urging of Tonya Manning. Tonya has set a standard for volunteerism that many others aspire to achieve. I will forever be grateful for that opportunity, as it started me on my personal journey of volunteering. Don Segal has inspired many actuaries to get involved in the profession and seek out ways to share their talents. He did the same for me, and for years has been there to offer encouragement. John Lowell was my co-presenter at that first speaking gig, and he later gave me an inspiring pep talk over dinner. It was in that moment that I started to believe I had something valuable to give to our profession. Next is John Moore, who also served as a mentor and guide to me on my path to Chief Actuary and helped expand my scope of volunteering. My last individual thank you is to Matt Noncek, CCA’s Associated Executive Director of Continuing Education. He has been a friend, confidant, cheerleader, and on more than one occasion saved what was left of my sanity. There are so many other people who deserve recognition. To all of you who touched my career and offered guidance and encouragement, thank you!
What do you like to do for fun?
Pretty much anything that I’m doing with my husband, Steve. He finds fun in everything he does and has really helped me find that same mindset. I love golfing, even though I rarely get enough time to hit the course and keep the rust off my golf game. Other favorite activities include visiting the local wineries and craft breweries at home and when I travel, reading, and spending time with friends in our new neighborhood.
What is something that most people don’t know about you/might be surprised to learn about you?
I was a varsity cheerleader in high school.
What would the title of your autobiography be?
Trust the Process
If you could tell twenty-one-year-old you anything, what would it be?
Your life will unfold as it is supposed to. Don’t stress over what’s coming next or what the future will hold. It’s gonna work out just fine.
Do you have anything that you consider your greatest achievement/your all-time claim to fame?
I have been honored to receive outstanding volunteer awards from the SOA, the Academy, and now the CCA. Hitting the trifecta of volunteer recognition solidifies for me that I’ve managed to bring value to our profession in different ways, since each of these was awarded for a different type of volunteer work.
Is there a lesson you wish you had learned earlier?
Time management! I struggle with this every day. I’m a perfectionist by nature, so identifying when “good enough is good enough” is a constant struggle and ends up throwing my schedule into disarray too often as I try getting everything I do “just right.”
Is there anything you would like to add?
If you haven’t yet started off on your volunteer journey and don’t know where to begin, think about the following three things:
• What are you best at?
• What are you passionate about?
• What will generate success for the profession?
Find where these three things intersect, and that’s a good place to start. In return, you will learn leadership and communication skills, broaden your professional network, gain insights that increase your value as a consulting actuary, and contribute to the growth and sustainability of our profession.