Q&A with William (Bill) Rabel: Reflections on his career

Dr. Bill Rabel is a dedicated professor of Risk Management, Insurance & Financial Services and Actuarial Science (RMIAS) at the Culverhouse College of Business.  During his period of service on the faculty, Bill has been recognized with the following awards: Alabama Finance Association Outstanding Faculty Award, John S. Bickley CBA Creativity and Innovation Award, National Alumni Association Outstanding Commitment to Teaching Award, Culverhouse College of Business Board of Visitors Teaching Achievement Award, and the American Risk & Insurance Association Excellence in Teaching Award.

Dr. Rabel is active in many professional, civic, and humanitarian organizations.  He is a trustee of the S. S. Huebner Foundation for Insurance Education and he has twice been elected as a director of ARIA, where he received the President’s Award. In addition, Bill served as president for the Asia Pacific Risk and Insurance Association (APRIA), and received the APRIA-Kyobo Life Contribution Award. Active as a strategic planning consultant and facilitator, Dr. Rabel has served as chairman or a member of the strategic planning committee of several organizations, including the American Society of CLU, ARIA, the Association Internationale de Droit des Assurances, U. S. Chapter, and the International Insurance Society.

You will be 80 years old this year when you retire as the John & Mary Louise Bickley Endowed Teaching Chairholder in Insurance & Financial Services. How long have you been a member of ARIA and why did you join?

I was a Huebner Fellow 1963-1966 and they always sent their third-year fellows to the ARIA meeting to help them find a job. I’ve been a member of ARIA since and have missed only three annual meetings—two of which were when I was living in Geneva.  It’s a great organization and I always enjoy the interaction with new and old friends.  Even after I retire, I intend to stay involved at some level.

How has ARIA’s mission changed over the years and what should it be?

ARIA’s mission has always been to encourage quality research in RMI and I think that should continue as the primary thrust. However, I also think that ARIA has an important role to play in improving pedagogy and things like the Les B. Strickler Award have helped.  I was very pleased when Marty Grace made the founding of the Risk & Insurance Teaching Society (RITS) a cornerstone of his presidency and am confident that it will make a difference in the years ahead.  Part of the RITS mission is also to help schools build their programs—recruiting students, industry involvement, financial support, etc.  Unfortunately, RMI has for some sixty years been under pressure in business schools (wrongly so, I might add, as risk management is a key business function).  Consequently, every program needs one or more faculty members who are entrepreneurial and can build the program.  RITS will help provide the tools to make that happen.

Are there other things that ARIA should consider doing?

I believe that collegiate RMI education is highly important and ARIA is the organization best positioned to speak for the discipline. If risk management is to enjoy the prestige and stature that it once had, ARIA needs to build a strategy for making that happen.

What do you like best about being the Bickley Chairholder at the University of Alabama?

This truly is an ideal spot for anyone, whether their interest is in research, teaching, service to industry, or program building. We have three endowed chairs and two faculty fellowships, in addition to other faculty who teach courses for our minors.  The students are very bright and the campus is one of the most beautiful anywhere.  We have a good division of labor in the RMI area.  The Samford Chairholder, formerly held by Harris Schlesinger and now George Zanjani, focuses on research and teaching.  The Bickley Chairholder has a broad portfolio that covers teaching, service, and program building.  I love virtually every aspect of it, whether it involves working with students inside or outside of class, interacting with the industry, or engaging in service/fundraising such as our annual Alabama Insurance Day.  I’m always pleased with the I-Day program and to my knowledge, in 2020 we were the first university-based I-Day to go virtual.  (Those who want a free look can see the program at: https://web.cvent.com/event/40a12e0d-fccd-49fa-afd2-a2d84e0f1db0/websitePage:ad130343-84b0-4f2d-a9e5-54a796cb7437

What are your favorite memories of ARIA?

To tell the truth, there literally are hundreds of great memories. I remember my first meeting as a faculty member.  It was held in Chicago at the Sheraton Blackstone and the older “guys” (they were all men in those days, except for Linda Pickthorn Fletcher) really made me feel like one of the gang.  George Rejda, who recently honored me with an invitation to co-author his principles book, was especially generous, as was Chuck Hall and many others.  Of course, all was not perfect over the years.  I attended a meeting in San Francisco when members of ARIA’s leadership severely undermined our relationship with the insurance community by calling ARIA Members “whores to the industry.”  Prior to that we had a lot of industry involvement but afterward it started to taper off rapidly. However, incidents like these were very few and they pale in comparison with the highlights.  I feel like I’m in a Goodbye Mr. Chips movie as I recall the many faces and events that endeared ARIA to me.

What advice do you have for new faculty?

Advice is very situational—it depends on the school, culture, resources, etc. The main thing is to find a spot where the job consists of things you enjoy doing.  If teaching has always been your first love, as it is for me, try to find a position that emphasizes teaching.  Or, try to find funds to endow a teaching chair.  Once you lay the groundwork, make sure that you teach well, get strong industry support, and keep your fences mended on campus.  I developed a Manual for Managing an RMI Program that contains best practices from highly successful programs.  I would be glad to share it with anyone who is interested.

Is there a body of work you are most proud of?

I’ve done a lot of things in my life. I started as an RMI teacher at Syracuse University, headed the CLU program at the American College, was the first American to work at the United Nations Conference on Trade & Development (UNCTAD, Geneva), and headed LOMA’s education division, where we did business in some sixty countries and published some 200 books, study guides, etc.  I enjoyed every job, but teaching has been my greatest joy.  I consider my students my greatest “body of work” and like every teacher, I thrive on seeing them go out and live successful lives.