When they talk about someone being a life saver, the first thoughts that usually come to mind are those of a First Responder or someone in the medical community.

But an Assistant Vice President at Nationwide Financial’s Retirement Plans Operations…and my boss…is not normally the type of person that one would picture!

But it happened…

Late one morning, my boss, Andy Haws…one of the smartest & most talented individuals I have ever met in my entire life AND one of the absolutely-nicest people on Earth!!!…invited me & 2 of my peers/buddies, Jeff Karl & Wil Montoya, downstairs to lunch in our cafeteria.

It was still pretty early for lunch, around 11, so there weren’t many people around.

We got our stuff & sat by a table near the exit. No, we weren’t planning on a quick getaway!

So we’re just sitting there, munching down on our meals & having a normal everyday conversation.

Jeff, Wil & I were still rather new to Nationwide, probably there no more than a year or so, and each one of us was hired by Andy.

And we shared the same skeptical view of the Retirement Plans business at Nationwide Financial

…how the hell could they continue to lose millions & millions every year, drop at least 10% of their assets annually, and still be alive to talk about it???

In fact, I believe we had recently came from an annual business review session with Anne Arvia, the RPS/Retirement Plans Services President where they actually highlighted the fact that we “only” lost 10.9% of our assets the previous year as compared to 11.4% the year before that!

? ! ? ! ? ! ? !

We acknowledged that our former employers (Citi, PNC Bank, Cardinal Health) would’ve totally cleaned house after more than one year of similar business results.

Let alone 3+ years.


They patted themselves on the back for “not being as bad as we used to be”! Yeah, there are certainly good things to be said for positive, upward trending, but seriously now…

All I would EVER hear is how “simply wonderful” is was that we were a “mutual” company (just like about every insurance company in the country), with NO stockholders so we “didn’t have the constant pressure of monitoring our stock price & having to answer to these stockholders”!

= complacency.

In my 2 1/2 years at the firm, I NEVER ONCE saw, nor sensed, a true sense of urgency.

Not one iota.

I’m not saying “desperation” or anything along that line, but Jeeez freakin’ Louise, enough of the complacency shit!

Do something radical as there’s something drastically wrong with your business model, your assumptions/projections &/or your execution.

In the Public retirement sector (“457 plans” for state, county, city employees & certain unions, like police & firefighters), competitors were eating our lunch! We just lost our largest customer, the State of California, for whom we served as administrator for several years.

And we received absolutely horrible grades on our participant website!

So, of course, we “scrambled as fast as we could” to improve the site.

That took 2 1/2 years!!! It was already outdated & behind the times from Day 1 of its oft-delayed release!

And, believe it or not, in the Private sector (“401K plans” for small-to-medium sized business employees), we were doing even worse! In a recent independent survey, examining 10 different aspects…pricing, automated tools, problem resolution, product offerings, overall service, etc…for the 10 largest providers, we came in DEAD LAST in EVERY SINGLE category!

We conducted an annual customer satisfaction survey & results were just as bad as in all previous years.

I compiled a spreadsheet of EVERY single  customer (the business owners) who either asked to be called back or provided comments in the free-form section of the survey.

The file contained all the necessary information, including name, direct contact phone # & their comments. It was sent to all the appropriate managers, Directors & AVPs in the first week of December.

Despite several reminders, by early February, NOT 1 CUSTOMER was called!!!

Not one.

Yet, the place was slow as molasses after 2:00PM every day, so I placed very little credence that “we were too busy”.

Would calling impact Piña Colada Hour? Disrupt nap time?

Your business was ranked worst in all 10 categories against your top 9 competitors! Nothing – – other than the actual building burning down – – should’ve taken precedence over this effort!

Man, did I digress!

*gets back on course…me, Andy, Jeff, Wil at lunch…chomp, chomp, chomp!*

Anyway, we’re just having a normal lunch when I look across the table at Wil & could see that he was “struggling”.


I immediately scream “He’s choking!” (duh) & jump out of my chair, trying to get to Wil.

Andy, who was not only a brilliant mind but an exceptional athlete as well, beat me to it as he was sitting right next to Wil.

Before you knew it, he grabbed Wil from behind & applied the Heimlich maneuver…completely lifting Wil off the ground!

Thank God that Andy was probably 6’2” & solid as a rock with long arms as Wil was not a small man by any means!

He tugged a few times & Wil choked up a small piece of food. Then one final gigantic squeeze & up came this sizable piece of bread.

Apparently, Wil had swallowed the very end of a hard roll & was struggling, trying to drink something to dislodge it.

Thank God for Andy’s quick thinking & immediate action or I’m not sure what would have happened!

And it was all so surreal as there were no other people around us in the cafeteria at the time.

Choke. Yikes. Lift, pull, squeeze.

Zip, zip & everything’s back to normal.

We cleaned up & returned to work as if nothing happened!

Being the humble person that he was, Andy didn’t say a word.


Not me.

About 15 mins later, after contemplating how Andy & Wil would feel about it, I said to myself, “Screw that!” & I sent out a general e-mail across the site, briefing recapping that Andy had just saved Wil’s life & praised him for his quick thinking & responsiveness.

I know most people are familiar with the expression of “save a head” when referring to a business’s budget, but this time, it was an entirely different matter!


I wonder if he learned that getting his Master’s degree at Harvard…


Thank you very so much for listening!

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