by Brian D. Haney Nonactuarial Pursuits of Casualty Actuaries
Polish immigrants founded Elm City Cheese in 1896 (for you trivia buffs, the Elm City is New Haven, Connecticut). Elm City Cheese sold dairy products, including various types of cheeses. The business continued through several generations of the family, through the Depression, through two world wars, and operates to this day.
Over the years, Elm City's product line narrowed from various dairy products, to various types of cheeses, to just bakers and Italian cheeses. Today it exclusively manufactures grated Parmesan cheese. By focusing on a narrow product segment, this small company of 14 employees can produce a relatively large amount of a quality product. In fact, they produce over 1 million pounds a year!
Now some of you must think it odd that more than 1 million pounds of Parmesan cheese are consumed annually in the whole U.S. More shocking is that Elm City's 1 million pounds is only a small fraction of the total U.S. productionan astonishing 620 million pounds.* Most shocking of all is that the company is run by an FCAS.
This FCAS began her actuarial career in 1986 as an intern with Aetna. After graduating from Bucknell in 1988, she went to work full time with Aetna. After six years of the nonstop fun of being a professional actuary, the cheese business began to look more attractive to her.
Just kidding. Actually, a crisis at Elm City Cheese compelled her to leave her job, pick up knee-high boots and a neoprene apron, and become the fourth generation of cheesemakers at Elm City.
This busy FCAS has had to wear many hats, from working with contractors to repair machinery, to preparing monthly financial statements, and handling insurance, legal, and pension matters. She finds managing a small business to be less regimented than being an actuary. In addition to having a broader variety of tasks, her daily schedule is dictated more by what "fires" need to be put out than anything else.
For example, one of the larger crises that Elm City Cheese had to contend with in the 1980s was an odor control issue (no giggling please). You see, all cheese has an aromasome more aromatic than others. In fact, this FCAS's father's motto was, "if it doesn't smell, it doesn't sell," which applies equally to cheese and Madonna's music, apparently. Parmesan cheese has a particularly strong aroma, and 1 million pounds of it well, you get the idea. The neighbors were not amused when the odor was getting out of the production facility.
Eventually, the odor was contained (how it was contained will remain a trade secret) and life at Elm City went on. Crises have come and gone, but the company is still thriving, entering its 105th year as the family business. The FCAS has had a chance to reflect on what the future holds for Elm City. She'd like to add another product line eventually and maybe pass the business to a fifth generation so that Marjorie Weinstein-Kowal might someday have a less hectic schedule, and just take time to smell the oh well.
* Actually, the 620 million pounds are the annual U.S. production of all non-Mozzarella Italian cheese if you want to be precise.