Central to the definition of “legend” is the notion that the fame achieved will be enduring—that these are people whose accomplishments will be remembered for a long, long time.
The figures selected as the industry’s Top 25 Living Legends easily meet that criteria—their contributions to P&C insurance have been epic, monumental—and are sure to be discussed and studied for decades to come. Each profiled visionary has fundamentally changed the way insurance is done, likely forever.
#25 Warren Buffett: Insurance Investor
While his business-world celebrity stems from his investing prowess, not his insurance expertise, it’s impossible to leave the Oracle of Omaha off our list of Living Legends.
Insurance companies are a key component of the Berkshire Hathaway empire, and if nothing else, Warren Buffett can take credit for making carriers an appealing class of stock to own, as people look to imitate his magic.
Year-end underwriting profit from Berkshire Hathaway’s primary insurance operations totaled $248 million in 2011.
Legend has it that Buffett’s interest in insurance began during the 1950s. One fateful day, Buffett, then a young man in his 20s, struck up a friendship with Benjamin Graham, a prominent shareholder and future chairman of GEICO, during the course of a lengthy discussion on insurance.
Berkshire Hathaway acquired GEICO, the third-largest private-passenger auto insurer in the United States, and its subsidiaries in 1996.
The acquisition of General Re, one of the largest reinsurers in the world based on net written and capital premiums, followed in 1998.
Berkshire Hathaway’s other subsidiaries underwriting P&C insurance, or the “Berkshire Hathaway Homestate Companies,” lists National Indemnity Co., Medical Protective Co., Applied Underwriters, U.S. Liability Insurance Co., Central States Indemnity Co., and Kansas Bankers Surety, among others.
“If the insurance industry should experience a $250 billion loss from some mega-catastrophe—a loss about triple anything it has ever faced—Berkshire as a whole would likely record a moderate profit for the year because of its many streams of earnings,” read a 2011 statement from the company. “Concurrently, all other major insurers and reinsurers would be far in the red, and some would face insolvency.”
#24 J. Robert Hunter: Gadfly-in-Chief
J. Robert Hunter doesn’t shy away from a fight. After serving both the private sector and the federal government, he now raises many issues—and eyebrows—as a consumer advocate as director of insurance for the Consumer Federation of America.
Former U.S. Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.) calls Hunter a “provocateur extraordinaire,” and this portrayal can be credited to Hunter’s willingness to raise tough questions to a tough crowd.
“Sometimes I’m in a big meeting with insurance executives, and they all groan…but I learned to think of that as applause,” Hunter tells PC360. “I ask a tough question they don’t like, so they must be afraid of it.”
The industry has denied most of his criticisms. The Insurance Information Institute and its president, Robert Hartwig, have disputed the methods Hunter and the Consumer Federation of America used to gather data in one report and have accused another report of “manufacturing a phantom problem.” The Heartland Institute has even declared one report as "dead wrong."
Hunter has held various positions in the industry, helping to lend some credence to his claims. Spanning 50 years, he has served Atlantic Mutual, Centennial, ISO and AIPSO. He has worked in regulation in the Federal Insurance Administration under Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. As part of these positions, he oversaw the National Flood Insurance Program. In 1993 he was named Texas Commissioner of Insurance.
His awareness of consumer issues occurred while serving as chief actuary for the Federal Insurance Administration in 1971. Depositing his first paycheck, he realized he was paid by American citizens and resolved to think about regulation from the citizens’ point of view. His resolve was strengthened after becoming a Christian in 1978.
“I thought about how the poor are impacted by a lot of things like not being able to afford auto insurance and how they are gypped on claims,” says Hunter. “I thought God had prepared me with my actuarial experience for what he was calling me into.”
Together with Ralph Nader, in the 1980s he formed the National Insurance Consumer Organization, where he served as president.
Hunter has chastised insurers and regulators on NFIP (“the rates are not adequate to cover the risks”); medical malpractice (“there is an explosion in premiums charged by mismanaged insurers”); transparency (“they try very hard to keep people confused”); and forced place insurance (“insurance companies and banks are in a deal”), among many other issues.
#23 Jay Fishman: Traveler Man
In a speech before the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C., in 2010, Jay Fishman became choked up as he told of how his maternal grandmother was sent to the United States from Russia because she knew how to sew and could get a job. Working as a seamstress, she sent money home so the family could emigrate to the U.S.
Years later, his newly emigrated father opened a small printing business that was able to pay the bills and put food on the table.
Speaking to PC360, he laments that these days, it’s doubtful someone could do the same for their family with the burden of government regulation weighing so heavily against success.
For the chairman and CEO of Travelers, bringing attention to the failure of government to resolve the most pressing issues of our time—the federal deficit—has turned into a crusade. “I feel a personal obligation to be engaged,” Fishman says.
But if Fishman continues to champion those who seek the American Dream of success through hard, honest work, his own accomplishments serve as a prime example of how one person can have a notable impact on his chosen field.
Over the course of his career, Fishman managed to perform two huge tasks: he rescued an ailing Minnesota-based insurance company, and combined two legendary brands into one major insurer.
Fishman became an executive at Primerica in 1989 and served with the company through its acquisition by Citigroup. There, he held several key positions from 1998 to 2001, including chairman, CEO and president of Travelers insurance (which Citigroup owned).
He left Citigroup--and a chance at succeeding his boss, Sandy Weill, as CEO--in 2001 to take over the troubled St. Paul Cos. There, he jettisoned unprofitable lines of business and put it on the path toward profitability.
By 2004, after commisserating with former colleague Robert Lipp (who had become Travelers' CEO), over a possible powerhouse merger, Fishman engineered the acquisition of Travelers to form a Top 5 insurance company.
Fishman is known for his frankness and transparency in seeking a profit. While setting his sights high, he deals in realistic expectations; he's gone before shareholders and warned them about profit results that, while perfectly respectable, weren't the type that resulted from reckless practices. And he refused any bailout from the government, thank you very much.
"We focus on the long term here," he told Forbes in 2011. "That is how we do things."
Fishman believes one of the major responsibilities of a company is developing the next generation of leaders, a mission he has said the company takes very seriously. When he knew he was being considered for the top job at Citi, Fishman acknowledged his own limitations, and opted to take on the challenge in St. Paul.
"I had next to no experience in sales and trading, limited experience in investment banking and no experience in commercial banking," he told Forbes. "I wouldn't have been an effective CEO."
Fishman has put the weight of Travelers behind the message that the magnitude of the federal deficit needs to be solved. The company’s Travelers Institute produced a documentary titled “Overdraft” where economic, political and business leaders discuss the issue, including Fishman.
“Time is not our ally," Fishman said during his 2010 speech in D.C. "The longer we wait, the more painful the resolution will be. If the question is asked, whose ox is going to be gored, the answer is everyone’s, because the problem is so comprehensive and so large that it is impossible for small groups to solve this problem.”
—Mark E. Ruquet
#22 Dr. William T. Hold: Accredit to the Industry
Chances are if your career is in insurance, you have some form of accreditation. The odds are also good that you have Dr. William T. Hold to thank for the initials after your name.
Hold has been on a four-decade crusade to raise professional standards across the insurance industry.
In 1969, the Certified Insurance Counselors (CIC) designation program was developed as the initial offering of The National Alliance for Insurance Education and Research, which Hold co-founded.
The educational landscape for the insurance industry was bleak in those days, Hold recalls. The National Alliance was formed to create a standard in education in every field and state.
Today, under Hold’s leadership continuing leadership as president, The Alliance offers more than 2,500 programs and attracts more than 146,000 participants each year across the nation including Puerto Rico and Mexico. In addition to the CIC Program, The National Alliance offers the Certified Insurance Service Representative (CISR), Certified Risk Manager (CRM) and Certified School Risk Manager (CSRM) designation programs, as well as a variety of specialty courses serving industry professionals at every level and in every job description.
“We’ve come a long way in 43 years and we’re the leading program in the country,” Hold tells PC360, noting that these accreditations are an educational standard that are relied upon throughout the industry. “It’s commonplace for companies or agencies to require you to become a CIC to move ahead,” he says.
“We’ve had people who have been certified for years and have put their faith in us and credit their success in their career to us. I think that’s the greatest accomplishment,” he adds.
In March of this year, Hold was inducted into the Florida State University College of Business 2012 Hall of Fame.
“Individuals who earn these professional designations take significant pride in their accomplishments,” colleague Bruce McCreadie, a 1977 College of Business graduate, said in his nomination letter. “The impact Bill Hold has had on the insurance industry over the past 40 years cannot be overstated.” McCreadie pointed to the “thousands of people who have had a richer and more successful career due in part to the educational and professional development opportunities that Bill and his organization provided.”
#21 Robert Hartwig: Omnipresent Guru
You might think Robert Hartwig is omnipresent. When he’s not on TV giving the insurance perspective on a wide range of issues or being quoted in various national publications, Hartwig is traveling across the globe giving presentations on the industry.
“I make about 100 presentations a year,” says the president of the Insurance Information Institute. “It’s very common for me to be in two or three different cities every week—and they’re not near each other.”
But despite always being in such high demand, Hartwig has developed a reputation for himself and the I.I.I. for being a credible source of information in the insurance world.
“If you were to ask me which of the countless websites available to keep in touch with our industry today, I’d say the best is I.I.I.,” says Hank Watkins, president of Lloyd’s America. “Bob is very good at what he does. He’s a true spokesperson for the industry.”
Chuck Chamness, president and CEO of the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies, agrees. “Everyone in the industry knows when it comes to perspective on an issue, statistics on the industry or a quote on a development in insurance, Bob’s the go-to guy,” says Chamness.
Hartwig is also a regular source of wisdom for PC360: A quick search for his name returns 44 articles.
#20 Therese (Terri) Vaughan: States’ Rights
At a time of much talk about increasing federal oversight of the insurance industry, the state regulatory bodies have been fortunate to have a strong voice arguing that the 50 states—backed by nationally endorsed best practices—are doing the job just fine on their own.
That unifying voice belongs to Terri Vaughan, chief executive officer of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, standard-setting and regulatory support organization created and governed by the chief insurance regulators from the 50 states, the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories.
Vaughan, who assumed the leadership role in 2009, is the NAIC’s chief spokesperson before Congress, regulators and lobbyists—and her credentials for this key role are impeccable.
She holds the record as the longest-serving insurance commissioner in Iowa, a post she held from 1999-2004, under both Republican and Democratic governors. She also served as the president of the NAIC in 2002.
Her career began in academia as the Robb B. Kelley Distinguished Professor of Insurance and Actuarial Science at Drake University; she earned a Ph.D. in risk and insurance at the University of Pennsylvania.
Vaughan strongly supports limiting federal regulation of the state’s regulatory authority. When addressing the implementation of the Gramm-Leach Bliley Act of 1999, she wrote on behalf of the NAIC that “insurance markets have developed from state to state reflecting the differences in population, geography, weather patterns and delivery systems. State regulation has addressed that marketplace efficiently and effectively.”
Vaughan expressed to PC360 that her stance has only become more entrenched since then. “Over many years I have come to the strong belief that although the state regulatory system is not perfect, its strength and flexibility are advantages that outweigh the disadvantages,” she says. “I saw the offer to be the chief executive officer of the NAIC as an opportunity to continue to build on those strengths.”
“The NAIC’s standard-insurance accreditation structure, locally implemented peer-review processes, incentives to do a good job and flexibility at the state level are the recipe for an effective system,” she says, noting that states also have the advantage of being able to communicate with consumers on a more grassroots level than Washing regulators ever could.
Vaughn also chairs the NAIC terrorism risk-implementation working group, where she helped Congress and the Treasury pass and implement the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA). She explained its importance to the casualty insurance market:
“After the huge losses resulting from the collapse of the World Trade Center, reinsurance companies began to state that they couldn’t reinsure terrorism risks as they were historically defined,” she said. “In fall 2001, policies started renewing with no terrorism coverage, and in consequence, people felt uncomfortable investing in real estate or construction projects.
“The Treasury and the NAIC worked together with Congress to get a federal law passed that would stop the insurance industry losses because in case of another event, there would be an opportunity to get funding from the federal government,” she explains.
Vaughan’s expertise has gone international as chair of the Joint Forum (previously known as The Joint Forum on Financial Conglomerates), which focuses on cross-sector (and cross-border) supervisory issues related to the banking, securities and insurance sectors.
She says the forum’s greatest forward-looking goals are working out principals for the supervision of financial conglomerates, monitoring how risks arising from increased human longevity are being shifted to financial markets, point-of-sale disclosure on mutual funds, cross-sector comparison between preconditions for effective supervisory laws, and the supervision of mortgage insurance.
#19 Ajit Jain: Reinsurance Royalty
Invoking the phrase “one of a kind” to describe someone in the reinsurance business may seem like hyperbole, but when you consider the career of Ajit Jain, the head of Berkshire Hathaway’s reinsurance division, the term doesn’t sound nearly as outrageous. In fact, at least one top executive in the reinsurance business feels it is wholly appropriate.
“Matching an underwriter’s best instincts, a strong analytical mind, and paired with robust capital, Ajit Jain may be unique—and uniquely successful—in the annals of insurance,” says Franklin Nutter, president of the Reinsurance Association of America.
Through Jain’s work at Berkshire Hathaway the reinsurance division has earned the company billions, according to no less an authority than Chairman Warren Buffett. Jain is so important to the company that he is considered one of the top candidates to take its helm, should the 81-year-old Buffett ever retire.
In fact, Buffett once told investors if he and Jain were both in a sinking boat, the investors should save Jain not him. (And no less an authority than the Wall Street Journal has dubbed him a “rock star”.)
Jain, 60, remains accessible to those with whom he does business, but is not so to the media. Through a representative, he declined to speak for this story, per his MO.
Born and raised in India, Jain and came to the U.S. to work for IBM before earning his graduate degree from Harvard. He joined Berkshire Hathaway in 1986 and took what was a small reinsurance group and cultivated it into a key piece of the Berkshire Hathaway empire.
Andrew Barile, a reinsurance consultant, remembers Jain’s early days in the industry.
“When Jain first started , he would go to the NAII conventions (now the PCI) and he’d be up at 6 in the morning to wander around the lobby talking to people, shaking hands and asking, ‘Do you have any opportunities?”’ says Barile.
Jain’s transparency, says Barile, was refreshing for an insurance executive: “His style was fantastic because people in the industry weren’t accustomed to the top people getting into the details of a deal.
“You can pick up the phone and talk directly to Ajit about a business deal,” Barile continues. “He has a great ability to remember a particular [transaction]. He wouldn’t forget that you had given him an opportunity, and it didn’t work out, but he never let on that he was upset about a deal.”
Most reinsurance companies start with certain amounts of capital and as they grow the business they add to the surplus, adds Barile—but Berkshire Hathaway’s style was totally different. “The other companies didn’t have someone like Jain who was open to looking at every opportunity,” he says.
—Robert Regis Hyle
#18 Alan Jay Kaufman: Growing Family
Many sons and daughters assume the mantle of the family business when a parent retires—but few reinvent the business as aggressively as Alan Jay Kaufman.
As chairman, president and CEO of H.W. Kaufman Financial Group, headquartered in Farmington Hills, Mich., Kaufman oversees a third-generation insurance brokerage founded in 1969 by his late father, Herbert W. Kaufman.
That business today includes Burns & Wilcox, the firm’s biggest subsidiary, which generates nearly $900 million in annual premium, making it the largest independent wholesale broker and underwriting manager in the country.
As someone who grew up in his father’s insurance brokerage, Kaufman knows insurance inside and out. But he credits his legal education (he counts his graduation from the University of Notre Dame Law School and subsequent legal practice among his most satisfying career achievements) as the grounding necessary to reinvent the business for the 21st century.
“My father left his mark and did a great job of expanding the company,” Kaufman says. “I recognized that I could further expand the company even more, and I did,” he says, noting that strategic acquisitions have expanded the firm’s specialties and geographic reach. The firm now has 38 offices in 24 states and in Europe and Canada
After successfully practicing law and launching his own law firm, Kaufman joined the family business in 1996. One of his first tasks was to bring publicly held Burns & Wilcox back into private ownership, bankrolling the effort with his own capital and becoming the firm’s sole owner. “It was a gutsy move on my part from a business perspective,” he said. “I bet the ranch. I was committed over 100 percent to the company.”
Kaufman also expanded his late father’s philanthropic legacy. In 2001, he founded the Kaufman Family Foundation and the Herbert W. Kaufman Memorial Scholarship through the National Assn. of Professional Surplus Lines Offices (NAPSLO).
Former NAPSLO Executive Director Richard Bouhan praises Kaufman’s “keen understanding of the legislative process” and his assistance in leading the NAPSLO legislative committee in shaping policy positions and presentations to Congress and state legislatures.
Asked about the industry’s biggest challenges, Kaufman points to a talent shortage. “Our profession is not to the level it should be,” he says. “We have to hire the very best in our business; we shouldn’t be hiring average. It’s a challenge to change that mentality.”
Kaufman sees opportunity in international growth. “We have to be able to place risk on an international basis,” he says. “Today, even medium-sized companies have multinational risks, whether it’s Property, Professional Liability, Manufacturing or Shipping.
—Laura M. Toops
#17 Joseph Plumeri: Will(is) to Lead
An apt metaphor for the towering ambitions—and sky-high talents—of Joseph J. Plumeri is that the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, formerly known as the Sears Tower, now bears the name of the company of which he is chairman and CEO: Willis, the world’s third-largest brokerage, with 17,000 employees in 120 countries.
Plumeri, raised in a blue-collar neighborhood of Trenton, took charge of Willis in 2000, walking into a staid, blue-blooded British institution that was nearly 200 years old—and had just lost more than $100 million the year prior.
He immediately set about shaking up the corporate culture, and the changes he has brought about have been both enormous and enormously successful.
He took the company public in 2001, and he saw the company’s net worth double over his first eight years. In 2008, the firm acquired one of the top ten insurance brokerage firms Hilb, Rogal & Hobbs in a $2.1 billion deal, firmly establishing its presence in the United States.
Plumeri recalls for PC360 what his first days were like when he arrived at Willis, walking into a firm crying for leadership.
“From day one when I got here I think there was thirst for a vision that did not exist,” says Plumeri, who described the staff as “beaten down and told it wasn’t very good.” He gave the staff motivation.
“That’s what I did; I simply told them something that they wanted to feel,” says Plumeri.
“The first thing you learn about leadership is that it is not about you,” adds Plumeri, who is famous for his open-door policy (going so far as to remove the door from his own office).
“Leadership is just the opposite of what people believe,” he adds. “If you are a real leader, you appreciate the fact that the people you have the good fortune to inspire and the people you have the good fortune to motivate are the people who give you the opportunity to work with them, and it’s these same people who make the success of the company, not you.”
Plumeri is also renowned for his direct and frank pronouncements. Sometimes these are funny: At the renaming ceremony for the Willis Tower, Plumeri reportedly said “"You can call it anything you want... you can call it the 'Big Willie' for all I care. As a matter of fact, I wish you would."
But on a more serious note, he also has earned the ire of some in the industry by calling for contract certainty and criticizing contingent commissions—even before former New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer entered the picture.
Although earlier this year, Willis announced it would accept contingent commissions (on employee-benefits business only), causing some to use the “h” word—hypocrite.
Plumeri says contingents remain because clients don’t care about them.
While regulators demand contract certainty within 30 days in London, it does not in the United States.
On the general issue of brokerage-industry transparency, “we did move the ball a little bit,” he says.
—Mark E. Ruquet
#16 Robert Rusbuldt: Our Man in Washington
For more than 20 years, Robert Rusbuldt, president and CEO of the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America (IIABA or the “Big I”), has represented the interests of insurance agents on Capitol Hill, helping lawmakers understand the industry, especially the vital role played by independent agents and brokers.
He has been recognized by The Washington Post, The Hill and Roll Call as one of the top lobbyists in Washington, and he appears regularly on CNN, CNBC, Fox News, Bloomberg, offering his analysis on political, legislative, policy and business issues.
“The IIABA, through Bob’s leadership, has become the most highly regarded and influential voice of the insurance industry in Washington,” says Gregory E. Murphy, chairman, president and CEO of Selective Insurance Co. of America.
Rusbuldt’s visibility, knowledge and involvement have enhanced both the reputation and influence of insurance agents—in Congress and with the NAIC, NCOIL and other state-based organizations. He’s most proud of “watershed” legislation in which he and the IIABA helped promote the interests of agencies, most recently the Dodd-Frank law, which included many protections for independent agencies (and excluded agents from many of its provisions).
“Early in Bob’s tenure as head of the Big I, the independent agent was under fierce attack as being irrelevant in the marketplace,” says Tom Van Berkel, chairman and CEO of The Main Street America Group. “As a result of Bob’s incredible advocacy efforts and leadership over the past 11 years, the independent agency system has flourished.”
Under his steerage, IIABA launched several key initiatives, among them: the Consumer Agency Portal; InsurBanc; the Trusted Choice brand; the Big I Reinsurance Co. (BIRC); Virtual University; and the Agents Council for Technology. He also grew Big I’s InsurPac to a $1 million per year political action committee.
One of the biggest challenges facing the industry today, Rusbuldt says, is the need to meet consumer demands for a more seamless, automated insurance experience. “The insurance industry has lagged behind other industries in deploying technology internally for more efficiency and externally for an enhanced consumer experience,” he says. “Insurance consumers are demanding quicker, more efficient and more effective ways of doing business. This is creating challenges for both insurance carriers and agents/brokers to accommodate."
Rusbuldt also hopes the industry can improve how it attracts and retains talent through IIABA’s Project InVEST and the Diversity Task Force. “As our carrier and distribution force ages, it is vital that the next generation of leaders step up and take our industry to the next level of success,” he says. “I am very optimistic that working with other industry stakeholders, these programs will make meaningful progress in meeting our challenges.”
In terms of relationships between agents and insurance companies, Rusbuldt says: “I have always been committed to working with independent-agency [carriers] as true partners,” he says. “Companies acting alone cannot make the fundamental investments or address the essential needs of the independent agency system. Together we can help move the [independent-agency] channel to new and incredible heights of success that benefits both Big I members and carriers.”
—Laura M. Toops
#15 Thomas J. Wilson: Allstate Athlete
In its 81 years of existence The Allstate Corp. has a storied history for innovation—and controversy—since its founding by Sears, Roebuck & Co. in 1931.
It was in 1995, the year the insurer spun off from Sears, that Thomas J. Wilson joined Allstate as its chief financial officer, moving from Sears, where he had been vice president of strategy and analysis.
In 1999, Allstate, which was known for selling insurance through its direct agents, acquired CNA Personal Insurance, renaming it Encompass, opening its independent agent channel.
At that time, Wilson was chairman and president of Allstate Financial, its life, retirement and investment products division.
Wilson was named president and CEO of Allstate in 2007 and succeeded Edward Liddy as chairman in 2008.
With touch points already established through direct agent and independent agent channels, Wilson sought in 2011 to complete the avenues of sales opportunity with the acquisition of the direct-to-consumer, online insurer Esurance, and its sister company, the insurance agency Answer Financial. Purchased from White Mountains Insurance Group, Allstate paid the insurer $1 billion.
When asked about his leadership philosophy, Wilson says in an e-mail to PC360 that “People are the key to all success. Everyone at Allstate is a leader and embraces leadership to advance our goals.”
He went on to say that during his five years as head of the company, he is “proud of the progress we have made in making our organization more flexible and innovative and improving the quality of our leadership.”
To accomplish this, he says Allstate has changed its organizational structure and improved the quality of its leadership, including recruiting from outside of the company.
“If we were able to jump into a time machine and go back five years, I am not sure we would recognize ourselves. The change has been significant,” he says.
The company has had its up-and-downs of late. A number of Allstate’s direct agents became upset when the company announced it was changing its compensation structure last year.
The plan calls for base compensation to agents to remain unchanged in 2012 at 10 percent on new and renewal business. In 2013, that changes. Base commission changes from 10 percent to 9 percent. The agency bonus and a new variable compensation component, based on improvements in the agency’s business, will give an agency the opportunity to increase its earnings even more. The maximum opportunity will rise from a total of 14 percent to 15 percent in 2013. (The original announcement called for the base compensation to be dropped to 8 percent.)
A sign of acceptance of that change: Wilson says 43 percent of its Allstate sales force attended its recent National Forum. In a post event survey, 82 percent say they felt appreciated and respected as a business owner and 88 percent felt “engaged and positive about Allstate and their role in its future.”
As for declines in its share of the auto insurance market business, Wilson called it part of an “intentional strategy to reposition our homeowners business due to the recent increase in severe weather and catastrophes.” He adds that where there were no challenges, the auto business grew.
As for the future, he says, “The Internet and social media have made it easier for Americans to be well-informed consumers, more quickly adopt new products and services, and demand greater responsiveness from the businesses they patronize. As a result, customer satisfaction is increasingly important in the insurance industry. Insurers will continue to significantly invest in new products and services and in improving customer satisfaction levels.”
—Mark E. Ruquet
(This story has been corrected to reflect that the correct earnout is 15 percent, not 25 percent)
#14 Peter Levene: Lloyd’s Lord
No mention of insurance legends would be complete without a discussion of Lloyd’s of London, the oldest and most storied name in insurance.
And its public face during a crucial and difficult decade was Peter Levene, Baron Levene of Portsoken.
As chairman of Lloyd’s from 2002 to 2011, Levene helped the syndicate reinvigorate its public image following a debacle in the early 1990s of losses by wealthy investors; and he navigated it through equally huge losses stemming from Sept. 11.
“Lloyd’s is the oldest, largest, and, some say the only real insurance market in the world,” Levene tells PC360. “When I joined in 2002, it was recovering from the shock of the terrible attacks of 9/11—and it had suffered major setbacks to its worldwide reputation and history.”
Before he came on board, Levene says, “there were many who had worked in the market for many years, but felt somehow tainted by the association with Lloyd’s, largely because of the damage to many of the [illustrious] names who had suffered in very recent years.”
When Levene arrived, he recalls, Lloyd’s had two priorities. One: “To recognize that this was now, going forward, a market with two sources of capital—private and corporate.” And two: “To cease the foolishness of trying to dissociate itself from an unparalleled 300-year-plus history that was world famous.
“Such a history and brand needed to be nurtured and repaired,” he continues. “This is what I believe we had to do on a worldwide basis, and I think we succeeded.”
Relying on a strategy of using private and corporate capital to back its market “has proven itself in that even in the extremely costly year of 2011, Lloyd’s was able to pay its claims and hold its head up high with its reputation restored,” he says. “I am delighted that the present management of Lloyd’s is working hard to ensure that its reputation can stand proud as one of the giants of the industry.”
Charles Landgraf, Lloyd’s chief U.S. lawyer at Dewey & LeBoeuf and now at Arnold & Porter in Washington, D.C., observes that during Levene’s tenure at Lloyd’s, he “was an energetic and enthusiastic proponent for Lloyd’s around the world, within the global business community, world governments and market regulators.”
Landgraf says one major overlooked accomplishment of Lord Levene was his help in getting a rule from the British government that helped preserve the ancient “names” system that Lloyd’s uses to provide equity for its business.
This system involves giving private individuals the right to take on the liabilities associated with insurance risk in return for any profits made from premiums. Many of those backers lost millions in the early 1990s when they were forced to cover heavy losses incurred on asbestos-related claims.
To preserve the system and protect its future, Lloyd’s proposed that these backers create an “individual corporate status,” a sort of limited-liability entity that would protect them going forward in case of giant losses.
“One of the key things he did was seek and secure this tax law change,” says Landgraf. “His familiarity with government process in the UK was very valuable; he was very comfortable in dealing with government.”
Currently, Lord Levene is chairman of NBNK Investments in London. Besides serving as Lord Mayor of London and in a key role in the Defense Department of the British government, he also was a top official at Deutsche Bank, the former Bankers Trust International, and both Morgan Stanley and Wasserstein Perella & Co.
—Arthur D. Postal
#13 Ernesta Procope: Triumphant Trailblazer
In an industry dominated by white men, Ernesta Procope navigated her storefront agency through the Civil Rights era to Wall Street. The brokerage, E.G. Bowman, still operates with Procope at the helm as chairman, and provides insurance to more than 2,000 clients, including Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, non-profits, financial companies and religious institutions as the nation’s largest minority and woman-owned brokerage.
In 1953 Procope opened the agency in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. At the time, few insurers provided coverage to the black residents, but Procope described the early days as easy and credits her perseverance for the agency’s success.
“I never operated with a complex—as a woman, as a black woman, as a black. But instead as a person in business,” Procope said. “We knew there were problems, but I could not let that be a deterrent to me.”
The company continued its moderate, but significant, success until the mid-60s. Race riots threated the neighborhood and one insurer canceled 90 of the agency’s property policies.
These cancelations were delivered on the day Procope was at the office of N.Y. Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller. She described the redlining problem and their discussions paved the way for the FAIR Plan, which made homeowners’ insurance available to all state residents.
The shock of mass cancellations triggered a change in the agency’s focus and direction.
After studying the problems facing the urban poor, N.Y. Senator Robert F. Kennedy implemented the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corp. to develop economic, cultural, and educational improvements. E.G. Bowman won the account and became involved in commercial insurance. Shortly thereafter the agency acquired its first Fortune 500 client: PepsiCo.
In 1979 E.G. Bowman moved to Wall Street, becoming the first major black-owned business to establish there and earning Procope the moniker “The First Lady of Wall Street.”
Although she downplays the era’s challenges, Ronald L. Allen, immediate past chairman for the National African American Insurance Assn., calls her a trailblazer. “Ernesta entered the insurance industry in the 1950s when two great challenges seemed almost insurmountable: gender and race,” he said. “Her pioneering efforts and phenomenal success forged a business model for inclusion within our industry.”
#12 Greg Maciag: Delivering ACORD
If the Association for Cooperative Operations Research and Development (ACORD) had simply remained “the forms company,” as it started out, it still would have had a secure place in the history of the insurance industry.
But stopping there would not have satisfied Greg Maciag, who has been a part of ACORD for 35 years and has been its industry face for almost two decades as its president and CEO. Under his leadership, ACORD has evolved into the leading standards organization for the insurance industry.
“Greg has brought continents together, and ACORD is now recognized as the standards leader around the world," says John Leonard, president and CEO of Maine Employers’ Mutual Insurance Co. and chairman of the ACORD board of directors.
Speaking with PC360, Maciag cites three key moments in his years with the organization:
- The merger of ACORD into the Insurance Institute for Research (IIR), a move that placed ACORD in the technology camp with its electronic data interchange (EDI) standards;
- Transitioning from EDI to the XML markup language;
- The merger of ACORD with WISe, a European-based standards organization, which brought ACORD recognition by the London Market and Lloyd’s.
“The world got a whole lot smaller over the past 40 years, and pulling together this industry across lines of business and across the globe has been my life’s work,” Maciag says.
The merger with WISe “was perhaps one of the most personally rewarding moments in my career,” Maciag notes. “It wasn’t long before I was in Beijing, Berlin, Munich, Paris, Sydney and Zurich. Now you can add Bermuda, Cape Town, Delhi, Johannesburg and Mumbai.”
“Greg is a visionary who continually demonstrates that uncanny ability to see a little further down the road than most of the experts in our fine industry,” says Leonard, who has known Maciag for more than two decades. “He has an engaging style that provides access to the C-suites and he has helped build a platform that enables our industry to move and share data in a manner that underscores the productivity gains that are essential to our future.”
ACORD, says Maciag, “is an incredible organization, and I knew it the first moment I walked into the office 35 years ago. That was a thrilling day for me. I arrived early and didn’t have a key to get into the office so I sat in the hallway waiting.
“I still get in early,” he adds, “but now I have a key.”
—Robert Regis Hyle
#11 William R. Berkley: Consistent Champion
While many of the most recognizable names in insurance earn their reputations for how fast they manage to grow a company, or for the size they manage to grow a company to, there is something to be said for an executive who has built his considerable reputation on consistency—and an insistence that achieving the best risk-adjusted return is more important than growing the fastest or being the biggest.
It’s not that William R. Berkley’s self-started company, W.R. Berkley Corp., hasn’t grown. To the contrary, the executive points out that 40 years ago the company did around $130 million worth of business, whereas this year it is going to do probably around $5.5 to $6 billion worth of business.
But as markets soften and some competitors become obsessed with growth, W.R. Berkley instills a philosophy in its underwriters that it is better to lose business to competitors than it is to lose money by writing bad risks.
“We’ve had our longstanding excess and surplus lines companies’ volumes decline by 25, 30, 40 percent,” Berkley says, “and not a single person got laid off. We haven’t fired anybody, and we went out and told them what a great job they’re doing.”
Some large companies, he notes, set volume goals at headquarters and tell underwriters how much business they need to write.
“Well, you can always write business in this world in property and casualty insurance,” Berkley says. “If you tell me you want to write X dollars, I can always write X dollars. It doesn’t even take any smarts to write that money.”
When the directive changes to writing profitable business, he notes, then the volume of business comes into play.
But while Berkley is not willing to write risks at any price, he is willing to write virtually any risk at the right price.
“Hard market or soft market, we are always prepared to quote business,” he says of his company’s philosophy. “No matter how hard the market, no matter how tight the market, we will always quote on business that we think offers us an opportunity to make a dollar. And that means virtually anything.”
Instilling such a culture throughout the organization, especially in one like W.R. Berkley that involves small operating units that are each granted a lot of flexibility, requires the right people, and Berkley credits much of the success of his company to the people within it. In fact, he believes his greatest accomplishment in the insurance industry is finding great people.
“The people who work here come to work here because they love the culture,” says Berkley. “They love the idea that being the best is really important here. And being the best isn’t always who grows the fastest, who’s the biggest—it’s the best risk-adjusted return. It’s the best management team. It’s the guy who understands the business best. It’s the people who find the niche in the marketplace that gives them the opportunity to stay there and compete effectively and do a great job for their customers.”
And those within the company are buying into that culture. Berkley says that, other than to retirement, the company has only lost one senior officer in the past 20 years. “We just don’t lose people,” he says, “And that’s because they buy in.”
Berkley believes his mark on the insurance industry will be his uniquely structured company: a group of small operating units that have the financial strength of a larger enterprise. “It’s a structure that has a lot of capacity to compete in the long run with a lot of flexibility,” he says.
#10 Dick Bouhan: Today's Specialty
If pure performance is the primary criteria by which a business executive’s stature should be judged, then Dick Bouhan is truly a legend.
As a top official at the National Association of Professional Surplus Lines Offices (NAPSLO) since 1981, Bouhan spearheaded a remarkable transformation of the Excess & Surplus (or specialty) market.
Thirty years ago, E&S was poorly understood; most of the players were small, family-owned operations; and it comprised a miniscule portion—about 5 percent—of the commercial P&C universe.
Today, E&S’ share of the market is in the midteens, with premium volume increasing from $2.34 billion dollars in 1981 to well over $30 billion today. And the market is now dominated by large, national wholesalers.
Regarding the sharp growth, Bouhan jokes, “I like to take credit for all of that.”
What’s more, thanks in large part to ceaseless educational efforts by NAPSLO and expert counseling of federal and state officials by Bouhan himself, “regulators see the role of the marketplace much more clearly today,” he tells NU.
Bouhan joined NAPSLO as government relations director. At that time, the organization had 566 member firms that registered an additional 222 branch offices for a total of 788 member locations. Today, NAPSLO has 722 member firms with 792 branch offices for a total of 1,514 member offices.
In 1987 Bouhan was named executive director. He retired last September—which was appropriate, given that the Nonadmitted and Reinsurance Reform Act (legislation he helped craft over eight years) went into effect in July, marking the end of a journey he began in 2003.
“The fact that the surplus-lines [industry] has been recognized in federal law, with some general basic rules as to how it should be regulated and taxed, is a positive [development] for the industry,” Bouhan says.
“The British refer to someone who can be entrusted, someone who stays the course and doesn't get rattled, as a ‘steady hand.’ Dick Bouhan has been a steady hand for the specialty-insurance industry and that will be one of the attributes of his legacy,” says Marshall Kath, NAPSLO’s 2011 president and CEO of Colemont Insurance Brokers until last year.
Looking back on his career, Bouhan is pleased to note the surplus-lines industry has changed dramatically. In addition to the dramatic premium growth, he takes pride in the shift in perception he helped engineer.
“Thirty years ago, the surplus market was inaccurately seen as consisting of mostly foreign or non-U.S.-based companies coming from ‘exotic’ island locations and as a market whose solvency was generally problematic,” he says.
“The fact is that back then, as is true today, the vast majority of surplus-lines business was written by U.S.-based companies and the dominant foreign insurer in the surplus-lines market was Lloyd’s of London,” he continues. “And that fact is now generally understood.”
In addition, “the misperception that the solvency track record of the surplus-lines market is poor has been replaced by the recognition that the surplus-lines market is as solvent and financially solid, if not more so, than the admitted market,” he adds.
—Arthur D. Postal
#9 Ted Kelly: Extending Liberty
Edmund “Ted” Kelly says he never dreamed of being a CEO, but he ended up becoming one of the most successful—and outspoken—leaders ever of an insurance company.
Kelly’s reinvention of Liberty Mutual is nothing short of remarkable: He transformed a super-regional player into a highly diversified and global powerhouse—the third-largest insurer by net premiums written on NU’s Top 100 list last year, behind only State Farm and Allstate.
Kelly’s personal story starts on a farm in Ireland as the fifth of 10 children born to a “very, very poor family,” he recently told a group of students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he graduated with a doctorate in mathematics.
His professional life ends amid a cloud of controversy and negative newsprint in Liberty Mutual’s hometown of Boston over Kelly’s annual $50 million compensation during his last four years with the company. (He retired a year ago as the insurer’s CEO but remains the chairman.)
Beyond an argument about ethical pay, Kelly’s accomplishments since he signed on with Liberty Mutual in 1992 as its president and chief operating officer are undeniable.
Liberty Mutual was not in good shape at the time. Kelly said then-CEO Gary Countryman told him during the job interview: “We are in deep trouble. If we don’t do something, the last man out is going to have to turn out the lights.”
Costs, driven by medical inflation, were far-exceeding estimations in Liberty Mutual’s core line of business, Workers’ Compensation.
But Kelly, (who, after several teaching opportunities, started his insurance career in the mid-1970s as an actuary with Aetna), said he liked Countryman and “liked the challenge of turning a company around.”
Among his first observations: Liberty Mutual was “too committed to the U.S.”
And only about a year into his time with the carrier, the company went international—and in an aggressive way. Liberty Mutual now operates in countries across the planet, including China, Japan, India, Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Australia, Vietnam, Poland and Turkey.
Domestic acquisitions during Kelly’s tenure also diversified the company. Liberty Mutual bought OneBeacon, Prudential’s P&C operations and Ohio Casualty.
And then its $6.2 billion buy of Safeco Corp. in 2008 gave Liberty Mutual a strong presence on the West Coast—an emphatic exclamation point on the company’s growth into a carrier with a true cross-country footprint.
“These weren’t moves for the sake of making moves,” observes Chuck Chamness, CEO of the National Association of Mutual Insurance Cos. “[Kelly] brought in a unique skill set and put together a great team—and they prudently grew the company, organically and through acquisitions.”
When Kelly was appointed CEO in 1998, total assets at Liberty Mutual were $26.25 billion. At the end of 2010, total assets stood at $63.14 billion. Net premiums written more than tripled to $21.48 billion during the same time and policyholder surplus grew from about $7 billion to about $16 billion.
Kelly’s “famously blunt approach,” says Chamness, along with his distinct Irish brogue, added to his appeal.
“No one ever walked away from a meeting wondering what he thought,” Chamness says.
Among Kelly’s most quotable moments: He has predicted North American-only insurers will eventually be “totally irrelevant.” He has called Workers’ Compensation a “time bomb on the balance sheet of the industry” and has attached the phrase “patent nonsense” to describe commercial-insurance pricing.
When Liberty Mutual Agency Corp. in late 2010 backed off plans to raise about $1.2 billion through an initial public offering, Kelly said, memorably, “insurance stocks stink.”
#8 Jack Byrne: Buffett's 'Babe'
When Warren Buffett speaks, people listen. So who better to quote than the super investor when it comes to the impressive insurance career of Jack Byrne.
Buffett has dubbed Byrne the “Babe Ruth of insurance.”
Speaking with NU, Byrne returns the favor by describing Buffett as “the finest business mind I’ve seen come down the road.”
The two men’s names are linked together by one of the most recognizable companies in the personal-insurance business: GEICO.
Under the current ownership of Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway holding company, GEICO has become one of the country’s most widely recognized consumer brands and a huge force in the Personal Auto space.
But it wasn’t always so: The insurer was on the brink of bankruptcy until Byrne stepped in as leader and saved it from insolvency.
At the time of GEICO’s near-collapse, Byrne was working at Travelers, where he had risen through the ranks to become an executive vice president. But when it came time to pick a new president, the board of directors passed him over.
Byrne says regulators and members of the industry then began to put pressure on him to take on the task of running GEICO to prevent the insurer from going under.
“Why in the world did I accept? I don’t know, other than I had just been severely disappointed” by being passed over for president at Travelers.
But his choice paid off quickly. He came into the position at GEICO in 1976, and the company was in the red for the second, third and fourth quarters that year.
But by the first quarter of 1977, it was back in the black. The company’s stock soared, return on capital was good, and profits were huge, Byrne says of the company after its fast turnaround.
Byrne modestly credits good fortune for the quick fix. “It was just a miracle,” he notes. “A lot of very lucky things had to break for me.”
But others credit the comeback to the strategy executed by Byrne, which involved raising $75 million, obtaining reinsurance to cover a portion of the company’s risks, and re-underwriting and re-pricing GEICO’s book of business, to the extent regulators would allow.
Byrne gained a lot personally at GEICO as well. “One policy I’ve always followed in my business career: I wanted to take a big personal stake in whatever you ask me to do,” he says. If he takes on a failing company, he explains, he won’t ask for salary, but will ask for a big stake in the company if he is successful.
“They gave me a very large piece of GEICO,” Byrne says.
Of course, it was a risky job to take on. “I look back on it and say, ‘What a screwball I was to take that job.’ Why would a sound man with a heavy mortgage and two kids in school take that job?”
Looking back now, Byrne says he might have been happy finishing his career at GEICO.
But having achieved enormous success, “I kept looking for new challenges,” he says. “I did not know how to be happy. Do you know a lot of 40-year olds who know how to be happy?”
So when a new opportunity presented itself, Byrne jumped.
American Express owned insurer Fireman’s Fund, and it had been a good moneymaker in the past. “But suddenly it was an embarrassment to them.”
An investment banker for American Express suggested taking Fireman’s Fund public, but Byrne says they first needed to “put a pretty face on the cover.”
Byrne was offered 10 percent of the company’s profits if he could “make magic things happen like at GEICO.”
He says Buffett was also involved in the deal to sell Fireman’s Fund off to the public. “They wanted another pretty face,” he recalls. “Mine wasn’t pretty enough.”
The company went public in 1985 and Byrne ran Fireman’s Fund until 1991 when it was sold to Allianz Group.
Like he did at GEICO, Bryne executed a remarkable turnaround at Fireman’s: “We did indeed make a much better company out of it.”
When Fireman’s Fund was sold to Allianz, Byrne was left with the holding company, “which did not have much—except a lot of money,” Byrne says, recalling that he had one small operating company and $3.5 billion from Allianz due to the sale of Fireman’s Fund.
“I took that money and went around to see what I could do,” Byrne says.
The end result is what is today White Mountains Insurance Group, a Top 40 carrier based on net premiums written.
This means Byrne has bragging rights to that rarest of business accomplishments, a hat trick: three major insurers have him to thank for their current healthy state.
And who knows; if Byrne comes out of retirement, maybe he’ll take care of a fourth carrier, doing something his namesake Babe Ruth never did—hitting for the cycle.
#7 'Dickie' Scruggs: Plaintiffs' Pontiff
When you’re the most prominent and powerful plaintiffs’ attorney in the land, winning hundreds of billions of dollars for your clients, you definitely qualify as a legend—or rather, a bogeyman who undoubtedly has haunted the dreams of many a carrier executive.
Richard “Dickie” Scruggs may now be serving time at a federal prison camp in Alabama for his role in bribing two Mississippi district court judges, but prior to his fall from grace he dominated courtrooms for decades, playing a significant role in not one, not two but three of the most important and costly civil disputes of all time: those revolving around assigning liabilities for tobacco, asbestos and Hurricane Katrina.
Indeed, following Katrina, Scruggs became a symbol of an affirmation of policy language—specifically a certain tongue-tying clause in homeowners’ policies used by plaintiffs’ attorneys to fuel misinterpretations and villainize insurers. Through his crusade against insurance companies, Scruggs ironically ended up cementing the very policy language he attempted to use as a weapon against insurers.
Scruggs attacked the insurance industry with hundreds of lawsuits following the hurricane, alleging insurers underpaid and used the “anti-concurrent causation clause” to inappropriately deny payments to policyholders for wind damage.
No company was targeted more than State Farm. Flanked by former independent claims adjusters Kerri and Cori Rigsby, Scruggs asserted he had proof within thousands of documents that State Farm had altered claims reports.
These “whistleblowers,” he said, stole State Farm documents that allegedly proved the insurer fraudulently reduced wind losses by claiming damage was from flooding—a peril not covered by a standard homeowners’ policy—and fraudulently shifted losses to the National Flood Insurance Program.
Scruggs, himself a victim of Katrina, launched a “populist, political fight—not a legal fight”—against insurers, says Alan Lange, who covered the lawsuits on his blog Y’all Politics and penned the book “Kings of Tort” about Scruggs’ subsequent downfall.
“It was a professionally run public-relations effort,” says Lange of Scruggs’ tactics—and he had powerful allies. His brother-in-law is Trent Lott, then a U.S. senator. And Mississippi’s state attorney general was threatening the criminal prosecution of insurance executives.
“I don’t think he ever meant to see the inside of the courtroom,” Lange says of Scruggs. “He just expected [insurers] to throw up their hands and say, ‘Make it stop.’”
Insurers were losing battles in lower courts on whether storm surge was part of the flood exclusion and/or the anti-concurrent causation clause in homeowners’ policies. Judges called policy language ambiguous and unenforceable.
Outcomes were fueled by misinterpretation, jury pools of storm victims and the difficult task of assessing damages to “slab cases”—homes that were battered so hard by Mother Nature that only a concrete slab remained.
There were some cases in which insurers deemed it a better option to settle than fight a prolonged legal battle; Scruggs made millions from those cases, although that payoff was likely not as big as he’d hoped, says attorney David Rossmiller of Dunn Carney Allen Higgins & Tongue LLP in Portland, Ore.
Rossmiller says Scruggs made a few key miscalculations regarding the willingness of certain insurers—especially State Farm—to fight to defend the language in their policies.
“Insurers were very vested in upholding the language and conquering misconceptions because it affected their profitability,” says Rossmiller, whose papers published on the anti-concurrent causation clause were often cited by judges as insurers took their fight to higher courts.
Making a long, convoluted story of litigious motions and appeals short, in the end insurers came out on top in the question of wind vs. water.
“It came down to the words on paper,” says Rossmiller. Regardless of the policy language, the clause, he adds, “can only be manipulated so far.”
When the media, political and public-relations storms against insurers dissipated, he adds, policies still contained language driven by court precedent and created for judges, not amateur readers of litigation.
“Just because it may sound confusing—or the language is put together poorly in some cases—doesn’t make it ambiguous,” says Rossmiller. “It’s still all right there.”
Courts determined Katrina did not involve concurrent or sequential damage. Each force acted separately and caused separate damage. Insurers are responsible for wind damage; they are not liable to pay for water damage.
Scruggs, who began his legal career defending insurance companies, is scheduled to be released, stripped of his law license, in 2015—about the time that some observers predict nanotechnology will become “the next asbestos.”
#6 Karen Clark: Model Citizen
Karen Clark was sitting in front of a computer in the mid-1980s, mulling over problems the actuaries weren’t working on.
Commercial Union Assurance, her employer at the time, wanted to find a way to manage hurricane risk. Clark was told to figure out a way to determine the insurer’s probable maximum losses (PMLs), and she immersed herself in research.
“I got hooked on it,” Clark says. “I knew I wanted to build a computer model. I fell in love with the whole concept.”
Her research led to “A Formal Approach to Catastrophe Risk Assessment and Management,” a paper Clark wrote in 1986 for the Casualty Actuarial Society, in which she argued for a move toward probabilistic models rather than the subjective rules of thumb then used in underwriting.
Michael Wacek, at the time an actuary with E.W. Blanch, says he “immediately had that ‘Ah-ha! feeling’” upon reading the paper and told his senior executives to hire Clark.
“I knew this was exactly the way to go forward,” says Wacek, now an executive vice president at Odyssey Re.
“I told them no,” Clark says. “I wanted to start my own company.”
And Clark, having conceived the insurance industry’s first probabilistic catastrophe model, did just that, founding the first modeling firm, Applied Insurance Research, later AIR Worldwide. E.W. Blanch, the reinsurance predecessor to Aon Benfield, became her first client.
“She helped change the landscape of the P&C business,” says John Tierney, who worked with Clark at Commercial Union and is now chief actuary at Quincy Mutual. “The entire industry uses models for pricing and risk management.”
Clark says AIR had 30 clients, all reinsurers, when a bit of ironic serendipity proved to be a big boon to AIR—and eventually spawned an industry of competitors.
Hurricane Andrew slammed Florida in 1992—and it revealed that property insurers had “stopped tracking their exposures,” Clark says. “They didn’t know their accumulations.”
Regulators and ratings agencies realized it, too. And reinsurers, already accustomed to model usage, began requiring more specific exposure data.
“It took off—it snowballed,” Clark says of AIR’s model use. “It was something insurers could use to better estimate their loss potential and provide information to regulators and rating agencies.”
“The model gave reinsurers a guide for pricing their product and allowed property insurers to determine how much premiums to collect on the front end, in a much more sophisticated way,” adds Wacek.
Clark declined many offers in the years following Andrew but decided in 2002 to sell AIR to Insurance Services Office (ISO).
But within a few years, Clark says she came to realize that the use of the models was straying from the original purpose she had for them.
That epiphany came with the model-bashing following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“I was shocked,” Clark says of the aftermath. “I began meeting with [insurers and reinsurers], and I was horrified to learn that at the board level there was not a complete understanding of the wide uncertainty inherent in the models.”
Enhanced computing power was giving model users a false sense of their precision, perpetrating an “illusion of accuracy,” she adds.
In other words, the insurance industry was leaning on model outputs much more than Clark had ever intended.
“They are meant to give an estimate—a ballpark,” Clark says. “Companies were getting value from the tools but were relying on them too heavily, in particular on point-estimates such as PMLs.”
In response, she launched Karen Clark & Co. in 2007.
“I was energized,” Clark says. “Again I was driven by the fact that I knew there must be a better way. We could provide additional information and tools to help companies manage risk.”
Clark now strives to be an “independent, unbiased” provider of consulting services and tools that complement the models and allow companies to more efficiently develop proprietary views of their risk.
“It has been very exciting and gratifying,” Clark says. “It is continuously motivating to work with insurers and reinsurers to develop new ways to better understand and manage catastrophe risk.”
#5 Barney Frank: Federal Enforcer
Until the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010, regulation of the insurance industry at the federal level had been deemed entirely off-limits.
But Dodd-Frank—one of whose primary aims is to avoid another hundred-billion-dollar Washington bailout, such as the one insurer AIG received—sticks the proverbial camel’s nose under the tent of an industry that had been totally state-regulated since the country’s founding.
Under the terms of Dodd-Frank, a Federal Office of Insurance (FIO) has been created. A key role of this office is to serve as a negotiator for international insurance treaties.
FIO is also meant to bring insurance-industry expertise to the federal government—the absence of which was made painfully obvious when the Federal Reserve Board and the Treasury Department were forced to help AIG and found that they had few people with any insurance knowledge to turn to.
Dodd-Frank also has created a new committee, the Financial Stability Oversight Council, which has been given the power to impose federal oversight on an insurer deemed to pose a systemic risk to the economy—i.e. “too big to fail.”
And Dodd-Frank has given birth to an Office of Financial Research empowered to provide the Treasury Department with data on insurance-related activities.
The Nonadmitted and Reinsurance Reform Act (NRRA) is also a part of Dodd-Frank. NRRA provides that the placement of nonadmitted insurance will be subject solely to the regulatory requirements of an insured's home state, and that no state, other than an insured's home state, may require a surplus lines broker to be licensed to sell, solicit, or negotiate nonadmitted insurance with respect to the insured.
NRRA also provides that no state, other than an insured's home state, may require any premium tax payment for nonadmitted insurance.
So the key drafters of this legislation that carves out an influential role for the federal government in insurance for the first time certainly qualify as industry legends.
Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., for whom the landmark legislation is partly named, and who played a key role in crafting the final compromise language regarding insurance in the bill, makes it clear that the act bearing his name does not interfere with the state regulation of insurance.
However, what it does do, he says, is try to ensure that ancillary activities conducted by insurers are monitored so that they don’t pose a threat to the U.S. and world economy.
“The key goal of the legislation as to insurance is to impose regulation on new forms of financial activity so that those losses would not impact the rest of the country,” Frank tells NU. “We sought to contain certain types of players who get so indebted they have the potential to hurt everyone.
“We’re going to regulate your activity if the activity poses a threat to the financial system,” Frank continues. “But as to the core business of insurance, we are not going to interfere with state regulation of that,” Frank adds. “This bill does not interfere whatsoever with state regulation of insurance. The states are doing a fine job.
“Nothing in the bill increases the oversight of the primary business of insurance. But it does provide us the opportunity to gain some expertise [at the federal level] in how insurance is regulated. That was non-existent before the DFA.”
Frank notes that he envisions no need for future regulation of insurance that has to be addressed at the federal level. “No legislation is needed at the federal level to address property and casualty issues,” he says.
“Any legislation that is needed should address only an insurance company of a size that could cause a national or international [financial] crisis,” Frank said. “But as for the business of insurance, regulation of that is unlikely to happen.”
While Frank is not anticipating any legislation to increase federal oversight of core insurance practices, he did only recently introduce a bill that could affect the amount of D&O business written,
The Executive Compensation Clawback Full Enforcement Act of 2012 (H.R. 5860), introduced by Frank in May, would bar financial firm officials who are found liable for actions harming their companies from using insurance to cover the cost of the penalties imposed.
Former Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., a co-sponsor of Dodd-Frank, who is now settling in to his new role as chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America, declined to respond to requests for comment on his role in formulating the law.
—Arthur D. Postal
#4 Pat Ryan: Giant Builder
After decades working in the business on which he has left such a monumental mark, Pat Ryan still loves what he does—and excels at it because he is ever mindful of the impact his efforts, in insurance or otherwise, will have on others.
“The insurance industry is very dynamic; the business is changing all the time,” Ryan tells NU. “It’s so fragmented, so global, so multidimensional that it allows for people to develop creative solutions to current and anticipated problems that allow [your company] to be differentiated.”
Exercising that ability for identifying and solving insurance needs was one of the keys to Ryan’s success in engineering the growth of Aon from a start-up in Chicago to one of the world’s largest insurance and reinsurance brokerages—a multinational powerhouse that operates in 120 countries, has 61,000 employees and registered $11.3 billion in revenue in 2011.
In 1964, when he founded what was then known as Pat Ryan & Associates, “our mindset was to build a national sales-distribution system that started as a managing general underwriter for what is now CNA; and the thought was to build that role as an MGU and take it geographically from Chicago into the southwest over a five-year period, effectively nationalizing it,” he recalls.
In 1971, Ryan took his firm public in order to finance his goal of diversifying the company’s offerings. He expanded by acquiring Globe Life and four insurance-brokerage businesses in 1976 and the James S. Kemper insurance agencies in 1981.
But the following year came the watershed deal, when Ryan Insurance Group merged with Combined Insurance Co. of America and he took over as CEO from W. Clement Stone. Five years later, the new entity became known to Wall Street—and the rest of the financial world—as Aon (Gaelic for “oneness”).
Over the next two decades (Ryan served as CEO from 1982-2005), Aon acquired some well-known names in the insurance and consulting industries, among them the Benfield Group and Alexander & Alexander, in addition to such international players as Hudig-Langeveldt and Frank B. Hall.
The globalization of Aon, which Ryan notes “took place over a relatively short time,” is one of the professional achievements of which he’s most proud. He adds that he takes equal pride in the quality of Aon’s people.
Ryan’s other points of pride throughout his years at Aon’s helm are “the way we came through on some crises.”
One of the darkest days of his career—and the nation—occurred on Sept. 11, 2001 when 176 Aon employees were killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center. It wasn’t long after that Ryan decided medical benefits were to be extended to the immediate families of those employees whose lives were taken, and that their children’s tuition would be paid.
Another test of Aon’s fortitude came in 2004-2005 when Aon, along with other brokers including Willis and Marsh, found themselves under the microscope of then-N.Y. Attorney General Eliot Spitzer as well as attorneys general in Connecticut and Illinois over the practice of insurers’ contingent commissions to brokers.
In March 2005, Aon agreed to a $190 million settlement to be paid over 30 months to policyholders allegedly damaged by the company's actions.
Admitting no wrongdoing, Ryan said at that time in a statement that the company “now has these investigations behind us” and noted that “we do not agree with a number of allegations in the complaints.”
Ryan retired as chairman in 2008—but he couldn’t stay away from insurance for long. In 2010 he formed Ryan Specialty Group (RSG), a global organization designed to deliver specialty services to insurance agents, brokers and carriers alike.
After all he’s accomplished, how does an individual like Ryan want to be regarded? He pauses thoughtfully for several beats before answering the question.
“I’d like them to remember me as someone who if people needed help, that I’d be able to help them, whether personally related or professionally. That’s the bottom line for me.”
#3 Brian Duperreault: Insurance Ace
Many would say Bermuda would not be the insurance market it has become without Brian Duperreault’s vision to realize its potential and spearhead its transformation into one of the world’s leading insurance centers.
And they’d be right, even if Duperreault himself is characteristically humble when that assertion is made to him.
“I’m just one in a number of people who recognized the unique value the Bermuda insurance market had, and I did my part to move it along,” he says.
But his Insurance Hall of Fame Laureate profile (he was inducted in 2011) underscores his true contribution to the island’s status: “During his 10 years as CEO of Ace, [Duperreault was] instrumental in transforming Bermuda from an island nation with a small, reinsurance-focused market into a global insurance center.”
Duperreault “re-entered” the Bermuda market in 1994—just at the time when Bermuda was seeing a huge influx of reinsurance capital following Hurricane Andrew—when he became chairman, president and CEO of Ace Insurance.
Why re-entered? Duperreault was born in Bermuda, a fact he says he deliberately kept to himself at first while being considered for Ace’s top executive position.
After more than 20 years at American International Group (AIG), where he held numerous positions before being named executive vice president of AIG Foreign General Insurance and chairman/CEO of AIG’s American International Underwriters (AIU), he wanted to earn the Ace position on his own merits.
“I didn’t want the board to know I was a native; I didn’t want to get the job based on that,” he reveals. “I told them I was ‘born to do the job,’ and they asked me, ‘What does that mean?’ and [eventually] I told them.”
The task was to transform Ace, which at that time was a Bermuda specialty carrier, into a global insurance organization.
That goal was achieved as Ace expanded aggressively under Duperreault’s watch, acquiring Bermuda-based property-catastrophe reinsurance companies Tempest Re in 1996 and CAT Limited in 1998.
But the most notable deal Duperreault executed was taking control of Cigna P&C in 1999, a game-changing move that he says “changed the company forever.”
The Cigna acquisition played a pivotal role in growing Ace from an operation of about 50 employees (“I was 55th,” Duperreault recalls) into a Top 20 underwriter with more than 16,000 people working in 53 countries today.
In addition to changing the company, the Cigna deal “was transformative for me personally; I learned so much during that process,” he says.
“One thing I learned was the power of communication, the power of being forthright, being straight. As soon as we closed the deal, we went around the country to the cities Cigna was in and said, ‘We’re going to have to downsize.’ I told them what I liked and didn’t like about the company—that not everything’s perfect, things have to change. What surprised me was the [positive] reception I received.
“That was a big eye-opener for me,” he says. “People just want to know the truth. A lot of the people working [in an organization] see the problems; they see it clearer than management does. They just want someone to fix it.
“There’s an old cliché that anything is possible, and before [the Cigna deal] I would have been skeptical of that,” he adds. “But I learned that if you have the motivation and support, don’t set your sights low. Set them as high as you possibly can.”
Duperreault’s role in growing Ace into a major international player, and the credit he can take for establishing Bermuda as a key cog in the global insurance machine, would have been enough to earn him legendary status.
But in 2008, Duperreault was asked to come out of his brief retirement (he had served as Ace’s CEO until 2004 and remained on as chairman until 2007) to head up global brokerage giant Marsh & McClennan Cos. (#231 on the Fortune 500) as its president and CEO, a position he still holds—and one he describes as “a calling” to which he couldn’t say no.
In 2008, Marsh was still dealing with morale and reputational issues following the investigation into contingent commissions led by then-N.Y. Attorney General Eliot Spitzer—and the massive fines and leadership shake-up that resulted. To right the ship, the firm wanted at the helm someone with both extraordinary industry experience and unquestioned integrity.
Duperreault was the perfect choice.
“I was happily retired—I really was,” he recalls. “I wasn’t looking for work, frankly. I’d obviously known [Marsh] as long as I’d been in the business, and I’d always had enormous respect for it and its people. It was a company I wanted to help get back to where it belonged in the first place, so it was an easy decision.”
“The versatility of Brian’s strengths as an executive are hard to overstate,” says Cliff Gallant, managing director at Keefe, Bruyette and Woods, who referred to Duperreault as “a great pick” and “highly respected” when Marsh announced the appointment.
“At Ace, he had fantastic vision and was able to take a startup Bermudian, something which is quite commonplace, and through some daring and boldness he created what is now one of the world’s most respected insurance franchises,” Gallant adds. “Then, he was able to take the lead of a very different type of business, a broker and consultant, and revitalize MMC from a dark period of desperation to again be the world’s blue-chip risk-management leader.”
Insurance remains “a fascinating business,” says Duperreault. “You wouldn’t have an economy without an insurance business. It’s nice to go to work and do something important.
“It requires what they used to call Renaissance Men—people who know a variety of subjects,” he says. “You have to be quantitative. You have to be curious. You have to be aware how information is used, from retrieval to modeling. You have to be able to take a risk, say yes and live with it for a long time. You have to have a love for dealing with people—and be able to know who’s telling the truth and who isn’t.”
#2 Peter Lewis: Progressive Thinker
No other company is as aptly named as Progressive Insurance, which for the last 50 years under the leadership of Peter Lewis has been remarkably ahead of the insurance-industry curve in implementing game-changing business practices.
Perhaps the most important innovation for which Lewis can be credited will come as something of a shock to anyone who has been in the industry less than 25 years: customer service.
“Peter Lewis has done more than anyone else to change the relationship insurance companies have with their clients from an antagonistic one to one focused on service,” says Cliff Gallant, an analyst and managing director at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods who has been following Progressive for nearly 20 years.
Prior to the late 1980s, policyholders in need were at best ignored by carriers, which relied on their agents to handle customer interactions; at worst, claimants were treated more as latent criminals than premium-paying clients.
“Customers detested our industry, including Progressive,” Lewis tells NU. This hatred culminated in 1988 in the punishing Proposition 103 in California, which required insurers to cut rates by 20 percent across the board.
This financially devastating mandate—and fears of similar legislation spreading across the land—lit the proverbial light bulb over Lewis’ head: providing quality service could give Progressive a huge competitive edge. From that moment on, Lewis became “committed to the customer at an increasingly psychopathic level—and boy, has that approach paid off,” he says.
Among the many customer-focused firsts: a customer-service phone line staffed 24/7; “concierge” claims service, which handles every detail of a client’s car repair from start to finish; and emergency-response vehicles that travel to accident sites.
“We promised an immediate response—by which we meant immediate: within hours or even minutes,” Lewis says. “We recognized that accidents are a harrowing time for claimants, and we added to our set of responsibilities not only paying properly and in a timely manner but making the process as easy and speedy as possible—reducing the trauma.”
The industry-bucking investment in service transformed the company: “Deciding to make the promise was hard enough; delivering on it was really hard,” Lewis remembers with a laugh. Barely cracking the Top 100 list of P&C companies in 1979, by 1992 Progressive was the country’s largest writer of auto insurance through independent agents.
“The industry was marching in lockstep in a straight-line direction. We began a process of forking off the road, and no one followed,” says Lewis. “As we did this, we began to grow faster and more profitably than any other company. After seven to eight years, everyone began to catch up, and now everyone has their version of this approach to customer service.”
“Concierge claims service is just one example of a very groundbreaking move started by Progressive that has become common industry practice now,” Gallant agrees.
In addition to reshaping the customer-service landscape, Lewis can take credit for initiating another seismic industry shift: selling policies directly online.
In quick succession, Progressive became the first auto-insurance group to launch a website (1995), to offer rate comparisons online (1996) and then the big breakthrough: In 1997, Progressive laid claim to being the first insurer to give consumers the ability to buy an auto-insurance policy in real time online (motorcycles and boats followed in 1999).
While independent agents always were—and still remain—vital to Progressive’s distribution strategy, the direct-online purchasing model marked the start of a severe cut in the amount of Personal Auto insurance written by independents, as other insurers—and buyers—followed Progressive online.
The disintermediation of the independent agent is a fate Lewis says he saw coming a long time ago.
“In the first big industry speech I gave—45 years ago—I predicted the end of the independent-agent business and all the reasons why it was going to happen,” he relates. “I was right; the only problem is my time horizon. It won’t happen in my lifetime. The independent agent today has something to offer and still produces over half our business. They are more efficient in certain circumstances than a direct writer can be, and there is something about auto insurance that makes people like having an agent in between them and [their carrier]. But it’s irrational to think they can survive forever; shopping online is just so much easier. I wouldn’t invest in an independent agency.”
Lewis’ early embrace of the Web is far from his only technological innovation. Given the critical role that data analysis plays today at insurers, it’s hard to imagine that wasn’t always the case. But Lewis, a self-described “data freak,” was instrumental in introducing the use of predictive modeling to better select and price risks.
In 1991, for example, Progressive became the first auto-insurance group to use consumers’ credit histories, in select states, to develop more accurate policy premiums. And then in 2004, Progressive took the lead in telematics, unveiling its TripSense usage-based program.
“When we realized the power of data, we reorganized all our systems to make all that information manageable and available to a lot of very smart people,” Lewis says. “We are driven by numbers; we measure everything. If there’s a problem we can’t measure [at first], we figure it out fast.”
While Lewis takes credit for “conceiving and driving” many of these “adventuresome advances in technology,” he also notes “there are lots of heroes in the history of our company.”
And indeed, another way in which Lewis has profoundly influenced the industry is his approach to hiring. “I was recruiting early on at the business schools of Harvard, Northwestern, Dartmouth and Stanford—and there were no other P&C or life companies around. We were the only insurance company to hire from these schools—and the only one to pay them what seemed an outrageous amount to our competitors. Our management culture has always been more like an investment bank than an insurance company,” says Lewis, who notes with a great deal of pride that, by his count, 25-30 Progressive alumni have gone on to become CEOs of other carriers.
But of all his personnel moves, Lewis singles out the selection of his replacement. “I thought about this for a long time before our interview, and the greatest thing I did for Progressive: I orchestrated a brilliant succession. I was good as a CEO; [current CEO] Glenn Renwick is better.”
Gallant concurs with Lewis’ assessment. “Given the length of Lewis’ tenure, it was a remarkably smooth transition—really a case study for how to get it right.”
Summing up the indelible mark Lewis has left on insurance, Gallant says: “He changed what had long been a staid industry to one where innovations are both common and necessary.”
Asked to predict the future for P&C insurance, Lewis gives a poignant answer: “We’ll see the gradual end of auto accidents. This is starting to happen now. Progressive’s mission statement is to reduce the human trauma and economic cost of auto accidents, and if the ultimate outcome is they don’t happen anymore, we will have succeeded.”
#1 Maurice 'Hank' Greenberg: Profit Prophet
In 1967, “AIG was very tiny when I became CEO. When I left in 2005, it was the largest insurance company in history.”
With those two succinct sentences—delivered at the start of NU’s on-camera interview with him—Maurice “Hank” Greenberg powerfully sums up why he has an undisputed claim to be atop our list of Living Legends.
It’s hard to overstate the impact Greenberg has had on commercial insurance; to a certain extent, we’re all living in the world he created.
Greenberg “belongs in the upper pantheon of American business figures—he’s on the same level as Steve Jobs or Henry Ford or Sam Walton. The only reason he doesn’t get that universal recognition is because his accomplishments were in the realm of insurance,” Ron Shelp, author of “Fallen Giant: The Amazing Story of Hank Greenberg and the History of AIG,” tells NU.
When Greenberg took the helm of AIG (he joined the company, founded in 1919 by C.V. Starr in Shanghai, in 1960), “there virtually were no companies in the U.S. writing tough, commercial risks,” he recounts. “Lloyd’s was the biggest underwriter of commercial P&C and special risks in the U.S.”
That soon changed as Greenberg ordered AIG to reinsure all its personal-lines agency business so the company could focus on the commercial-brokerage side of the industry, where the risks were much more difficult to assess but the potential upside was far greater. “We sought high-risk areas because in high-risk areas is where you made the most money,” he says.
AIG soon became known—and remained long-renowned—for its ability to identify emerging risks ahead of the competition and for its willingness to cover them before others dared.
One example of the dozens of coverages the firm essentially invented: Kidnap & Ransom policies, the need for which became apparent in the wake of a number of high-profile abductions of businesspeople in Latin America in the 1970s and ‘80s.
“I remember a colleague, worried this was an unwise decision, saying to [Greenberg], ‘But think of all those Americans being kidnapped!’ And he turned, smiled and said to him: ‘Ah, but think of all those not being kidnapped,’” relates Shelp, who worked for AIG for many years as a communications executive.
AIG also took the lead in writing Directors & Officers coverage, which today is a standard part of almost every sizable company’s insurance purchase. How AIG’s embrace of D&O came about illustrates Greenberg’s openness to good, new ideas from any source, “even the elevator operator—I didn’t care,” he says.
The idea for D&O “didn’t come through any brainchild we had in AIG,” Greenberg reveals. “The then-head of Marsh & McLennan came to see me and said he thought D&O was going to be a product necessary in the U.S. There was a syndicate in Lloyd’s doing a little bit of it. I went over to London and met with the head of the syndicate. We came back, did a lot of research on our own and said yes, we’re going into this. We started slowly; we didn’t have many competitors. It blossomed. We did very well in D&O. When everybody jumped in and started cutting rates, we developed something different.
“We were very innovative; that was part of who we were,” Greenberg continues. “Always restless, looking for new opportunities and new products or new countries to do business in. We had the courage and we had the financial stability to do that. We were not afraid to do something because there might be a loss. We went to something because we thought there might be a profit.”
As Greenberg mentions, expanding into new countries was a key part of AIG’s growth from a minor insurance player to a $230-billion behemoth. “We were first in many countries,” he notes. “We opened China. I first went to China in 1975 [when] most insurance companies probably couldn’t locate it on a map.”
Under Greenberg, AIG also bucked industry convention on captives. When corporations started self-insuring, most carriers saw the trend as a threat. But “we looked at it as opportunities,” Greenberg says. “There are many facets to our business. We wanted to have the lowest expense ratio that you possibly could have, and fee income [for managing captives] helps that. We were not stuck on you can only make money in the industry by one or two ways: either investment income or underwriting profit. If we were going to write somebody’s captive and handle it, there’s a fee income for doing that. There’s also reinsurance of the captive—so we looked at [getting] every bit of skin out of the game.”
Greenberg can also take credit for introducing the principles of enterprise risk management to insurance companies. “Clearly, when you’re going into tough classes of business, you have to do more than think you have the right rate or think the risk is going to be a decent risk. You have to tear the risk apart, know more about what that risk really is, and how do you control that risk, and how much of it do you want to write, and how much exposure do you want in any particular class. We had an enterprise-risk-management system at AIG that was a combination of credit risk and market risk; we had meetings every week that analyzed the accumulated risk we would have in every area around the world. We knew at any time what that was.”
The implications of Greenberg’s emphasis on AIG’s approach to risk management under his reign were clear: He has stated numerous times that the company would not have needed the infamous $185 billion bailout in 2008 had he still been in charge.
Shelp—who saw his own retirement savings devastated by AIG’s collapse—agrees. “There would have been problems, but I don’t think AIG would have gone under for four reasons: One, the man himself was always on top of everything, constantly; second, he ran a company based on risk but that was risk-averse; third, AIG multiplied by three the number of credit-default sways [it insured] after he left; finally, he had that weekly risk meeting—and when [Martin] Sullivan succeeded him as CEO, he abolished it.”