It’s no secret that Nick Kepler’s former employer and biggest client, TTG Insurance, is loosely based on the former employer I discreetly call BigHugeCo. But just how closely is it based? One former coworker told me there was no way someone could make up all those characters without basing them on real people.
I had to explain that basing a character on a real person becomes limiting because you start trying to force fit the real person into the imaginary character. Counterintuitively, the character becomes less believable. But the company?
TTG is a property/casualty insurance company, the people who insure your car, your house, your business. Like BigHugeCo, they have a life insurance division. Because BigHugeCo was large enough at the time to have the most common lines of business in insurance, it allowed me to pattern TTG’s structure after theirs. They had a personal lines (Home and auto), competing commercial and specialty insurance (Trust me. I worked there 11 years and that one still confuses me.), and, of course, life insurance, which is a whole ‘nother animal.
But what was the working environment like? Physically, very similar. BigHugeCo’s campus, before a major move last year, was scattered over several buildings in downtown Cincinnati. Likewise, I picked several buildings to house TTG’s various and sundry division and corporate units. The building where Nick works really does house the regional office of another insurance company. I altered the street address slightly to avoid implying that Nick worked for Chicago Title & Insurance, but still imply that TTG actually occupied the building.
As for the people there…
Well… No. My coworkers at BigHugeCo were pretty normal folks. The closest we ever came to a Ken Giamatti (the Commercial Lines exec who gives Nick a hard time in Northcoast Shakedown) was a middle manager who had some… um… interesting photos on his hard drive. Stupid, but not earth-shattering or even enough to put him on unemployment. Some of the more unpleasant characters in the book would not have lasted very long at BigHugeCo. Screaming was not considered a viable management technique. When it is, even in this economy, one generally updates their resume when it is.
But the resemblance also ends when you go back to what I said about basing characters on real people. I really dislike roman a clefs since inevitably, the story gets stilted trying to make fictional characters bend to the author’s perception of their real world counterparts. It’s one thing to write historical fiction and speculate on how real people behaved and acted. It’s entirely different when you write a novel that is, by definition, supposed to be fiction. I used BigHugeCo’s structure to design a fictional company, but every company has its own personality. I had to let TTG’s corporate personality evolve on its own.