It’s not retirement, says Joe Plumeri, the chief executive officer of Willis Group Holdings, but just another phase in his long career.
After 12 years of steering the insurance brokerage firm through turbulent waters Plumeri will leave his post on Jan. 7. He brought the firm through private ownership by the private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts to public ownership in 2001; through the attack on the World Trade Center; New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer’s prosecution over alleged kickbacks and steering of business in return for contingent commissions and the $2.1 billion acquisition of Hilb Rogal & Hobbs in 2008 as the great recession hit.
It’s a global company; I expected to trot the globe; I expected to learn more about the world than I knew before, that I expected. I expected to be on the airplane a lot; that was done.
But in terms of expectation of the company, I don’t think you think in terms of expectation as much as you think of broad visions where you paint these murals in your head and think I’m going to take this company and make it something that the world knows is there and makes an impact.
Q: You took a very active role criticizing contingent commissions. Are you disappointed with the way the issue turned out?
P: I was criticized for my position, and even received a letter from an agent’s association. But I never had a problem with contingents, I just felt that clients need to know who you represent. Do you represent insurance companies or do you represent them. My issue was accepting them from anyone but your client and simply telling people who you represent.
Willis] had 1,200 personal lines claims and 700 commercial lines claims and all our people were working the next day after Sandy from home or someplace, trying to take care of our clients. In our industry, you got to be open when someone else has a problem. I think we did that magnificently. And if you spoke to another insurance company or broker, I think they would have told you the same thing.
I think there is an education problem with the public about what the government does and what the insurance industry does. I think we comported ourselves quite well. I think at the end of the day we will have insured losses of $30 billion when everything is said and done. A lot of business interruption and contamination clean-up.
Q: How do you feel about the development of a catastrophe fund?
P: I think there has to be a private and a public partnership. If I were, hypothetically, the mayor of a city or the governor of a state, I would actually put together a commission that would analyze (and I think the president should do this) how in the future, if Sandy’s are going to continue to occur, how are you going to fund this stuff.