Raji Bhagavatula

Q: You’ve described yourself as “someone who likes adventure.” How does that sense of adventure figure into your career at Milliman?

When you get into the consulting field, you've already signed on to some amount of adventure since you need to be on the cutting edge of the issues that impact your clients. Companies generally approach you for help in solving difficult problems, so you really have to venture into new areas and think outside the box. If it’s in your nature to try new and different things, then consulting is a good place to be. Outside of consulting, the work can be more routine. You have a job description and the work you do follows that description pretty closely. In consulting, on the other hand, you generally get approached by clients when they have a problem. You need to become an expert on that problem because if it's something simple, they're not going to come to you in the first place

Q: How would you define Milliman's core values?

There's really no consulting firm like Milliman. We're unique in that we have a decentralized organization, yet we are a family whose members are bound by core values of excellence, innovation, client service, independence, mutual respect, and pride.

Q: Did those values come down directly from the earlier generation of Milliman leadership, people like Stuart Robertson and Dan McCarthy?

Definitely. I think both of them put in place strong principles that promote those core values. For example, Stuart Robertson was the architect of our profit center model, in which principals owned their business in a profit center structure. That structure is unique to Milliman. And Stuart Robertson also fostered a culture of excellence and client focus. Dan McCarthy carried those ideas to the next generation. Both of them were quite selfless and they really put Milliman's interests ahead of their own self-interest, which allowed Milliman to attract talented, independent people and fostered the growth of the company as a whole.

Q: You’ve spent your entire consulting career—almost 20 years—at this firm. Why did you choose to make Milliman your home?

When I decided to get into consulting, I interviewed at several consulting firms in addition to Milliman. I thought Milliman suited me the best because they did not define a specific job or a specific role for me. I had the sense that their philosophy was: as long as they got a bright person who was flexible, it would work out OK. Also, I got the sense that the fact that I was educated in India and brought a different background and experience to the table was viewed as a positive. I felt that they were not looking to fit me into a mold. From the moment I sat down in that interview, I got the feeling that as long as I did good work—something I viewed as totally within my control—I would be very successful at Milliman. And that’s proved to be the case.

Q: Milliman's grown a lot in the last 20 years. It's become a much more global company. How will globalization affect the work that actuaries do and the work that you personally do at Milliman?

A significant portion of my work involves assisting global companies and working on global issues. Almost 50% of my work is done outside the United States. I think that actuaries have to be nimble and they have to expand their horizons to understand the products as well as the legal, social, regulatory, and economic environments in other countries. Their employers are going to be growing outside the U.S., so if actuaries hope to grow their own business, much of the growth is going to come from abroad. I think the best way for actuaries to function in this environment is to transfer the lessons learned in the U.S. to other countries.

Q: Do you think that Milliman is well positioned to take on more international business?

Milliman is very well positioned, due to the quality of the actuaries we employ. Generally, the people who are attracted to Milliman are independent thinkers and they're very flexible people. We thus have a great talent pool of nimble and adaptive consultants. Milliman has already established many offices outside the United States, so we’re well positioned in that sense as well.

Q: I’ve heard that your favorite movie is To Kill a Mockingbird. Do you identify more with Scout or with Atticus?

Well, I’m not presumptuous enough to say that I identify with either one of them, because they're both great characters. I do love Scout for her big heart and unconditional acceptance of people, and her courage at such a young age. Of course, Atticus Finch is a great moral hero.

I also love Woody Allen movies. I just saw Vicky Cristina Barcelona, which is great. I also liked Match Point. I love his movies. They're so funny.

Q: What’s your favorite Woody Allen movie?

I don't think I should admit this, but… Mighty Aphrodite. It's a great movie.

Q: You're known among your colleagues as a great business developer. To what do you attribute this success… how do you do it?

Well, from the very beginning, when I first started working at Milliman, I was always willing to do unusual stuff, to seek out the path not taken. I was willing to dive into new fields, from asbestos litigation and pollution to working on a foreign acquisition in Turkey, for example, or an acquisition in Czechoslovakia where I had to deal with foreign legal environments. When you deal with such high-impact issues, you get a lot of exposure to upper-level management because they want to understand the consequences. I’ve always felt that an actuarial education enables you to solve problems of any kind. As a result, I built a reputation in the marketplace as someone clients can rely on when they're faced with serious challenges. Generally, I can now count on companies to call me when they're faced with a difficult situation. They know I will work hard for them and that I will always do my best to come up with a solution.

Q: Do you think that you tend to be willing to venture outside your comfort zone in a way that other consultants might not be?

Yes. I think that's what it is. I think you have to not be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and say, "OK, you know what? I can solve this problem. I need to think it through. I need to work harder at this. In the end, I can pull this together."