NU Online News Service, June 15, 3:07 p.m. EST
When David H. Long first sat down at his desk at Liberty Mutual to work as a financial analyst, he thought it was a good job to keep him busy for a few years before heading to graduate school.
More than 25 years later, Long has been named the company’s chief executive officer, succeeding the retiring Edmund “Ted” Kelly.
“It wasn’t that I was that ambitious,” he modestly tells NU Online News Service of his career accomplishments at Liberty Mutual. “The company kept presenting me with challenge after challenge—opportunity after opportunity.”
Long also jokes that to get ahead at Liberty Mutual, one need to have an accent. Out goes the Irish accent of Kelly, and in comes the English accent of Long, originally from Liverpool.
Now as Liberty Mutual Group’s CEO and president, a role he took about a year ago, there isn’t a part of the company Long doesn’t have experience in. Long has been president of commercial markets and Liberty International, and he was one of the founders of Liberty Mutual Agency Corp. (As an aside, Long did earn a master’s degree in finance from Boston College four years after starting at Liberty Mutual in 1985.)
To anyone who may think that Liberty Mutual will sit on its hands once Long takes over, the new top executive says, “That isn’t going to happen.”
He adds, “I like the path we’re on.”
Long calls mergers and acquisitions a “core competency around here” and the company’s ever-present desire to seek out the next opportunity in the United States and abroad “isn’t going to stop.”
Liberty Mutual’s plan to tap the middle class in emerging markets isn’t going to stop either, he adds.
“If you can afford to buy a car, we want to be there to insure it,” Long says.
Internationally, Liberty Mutual is looking at Russia, Indonesia and is “nibbling” at Africa for growth opportunities, Long says. The company is also looking at the effect new solvency rules have on companies overseas. It may be that the new rules overburden some companies, allowing Liberty Mutual to step in and help with capitalization, as it recently did in Ireland.
With business moves, the company’s status as a mutual allows it to be “slightly more patient, compared to the competition,” Long says. Therefore, it can acquire distressed companies in Ireland or Venezuela, or get into markets as it has in places like China, Vietnam and Poland.
Liberty Mutual may not currently be turning a profit on all of these ventures, but the company believes it is “building value,” Long says.
The acquisition of Safeco—one of Kelly’s biggest accomplishments—is now showing growth. The move was a “home run,” Long says. “Their book of business is more profitable than we thought.”
The company last year looked to enter the equity markets with a stock offering of Liberty Mutual Agency Corp. but backed off because, as Long puts it, “the market doesn’t like insurance stocks right now.” Long says LMAC is like a convertible in a garage.
“If the sun shines, we can come out and drive it around,” he says.
The soon-to-be top executive at Liberty Mutual seems to look at recent catastrophes as an opportunity, a way for the company to “demonstrate why we’re here.”
And it certainly does not look as if catastrophes in the U.S. or overseas will curb Liberty Mutual’s appetite. Long says he wouldn’t expect anything to happen anywhere in the world that Liberty Mutual “doesn’t have a piece of at this point.”
If that were the case, “We want to know why,” Long adds.