25 Insurance Legends

Last week’s issue of National Underwriter profiled the industry’s “Living Legends: 10 Visionaries Who Fundamentally Changed Insurance Forever — For Better or Worse.” Their online supplement took it even furthering, offering a list of “The Top 25 Living Legends of Insurance.”

From household names like investment oracle Warren Buffett and financial sector watchdog Barney Frank to industry leaders like Travelers CEO Jay Fishman and Willis CEO/Chairman Joe Plumeri, the list summarizes the contributions of so many insurance titans.

However, by far my favorite description has to go to Insurance Information Institute (III) head honcho Robert Hartwig, who National Underwriter calls an “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.”

Hartwig really is the best in the biz.

Joe Plumeri Tells College Grads to “Go Play in Traffic” — Something Risk Managers Should Tell Their Bosses

Willis chief Joe Plumeri unveils ClientsBeforeContingents.com at RIMS 2010 in Boston.

Between his giant, presumably quadruple Windsor knots, his impeccable suits and his combed-back, salt-and-pepper hair style with nary a single strand out of place, it’s tough to mistake Joe Plumeri for any other insurance executive. This is doubly true when he is on a stage talking in his signature New Jersey accent. Few in this line of work — or any profession, really — speak better publicly.

So it’s no surprise that Plumeri reportedly gave a rousing commencement speech to graduates at the College of William & Mary, his alma mater, this past weekend in Virginia.

He kicked off his talk just as you might expect.

You’re 20, 25, 30 minutes — maybe an hour  from the zenith of your years of effort. Only an insurance guy stands between you and your degree.  How in God’s name did it come to this?

The “insurance guy” standing before you was once a rare Italian American on campus.  On my first day, my English professor read the roll and called out “Pulmonary.”

No one answered.

I realized he meant me. I spoke up.  And this is virtually the first thing I ever said on this campus: “Professor, I am not an artery.”

Classic Joe.

He continued beyond the jokes with some wise, risk-relevant advice for the soon-to-be-unemployed young adults of America.

In your time here, you’ve been taught not to rely on tradition but to question the status quo.

We revere our Founding Fathers, many of whom passed through this campus.  But when they propelled us toward revolution, there was no tradition to guide them. All they did was question, with good reason, decades of dictatorial British rule.

In 1989, in Tiananmen Square, a lone protestor known as Tank Man did the same thing standing before a column of Chinese tanks.

A few months ago, in 2011, a young Google executive in Cairo named Wael Ghonim helped engineer a revolution overthrowing a corrupt regime.

From Williamsburg to Beijing to Cairo, what united them all, separated by centuries, was a collective courage to defy tradition and play in traffic.

Let’s agree that throwing yourself in front of a Chinese tank takes playing in traffic to the extreme.  What I mean by playing in traffic is that, each of you in your own way, need to take risks, mix it up and make something happen.

I share this not just cause it’s so odd to hear an “insurance guy” be riveting in front of a crowd. (Although, no offense to most of you, that is the case). No, I share it because it highlights a common misconception about the perspective of risk managers.

Joe isn’t a risk manager in title. He is a chairman and CEO of Willis — which means he has access to the types of budgets, chartered flights and ties of which few risk managers could even dream. But he is a “risk manager” in the sense that he thinks about risk constantly, weighs his options in relation to those thoughts and then makes a decision.

That’s all risk management is really.

It’s not about being risk adverse as so many presume — and too many practice. It’s not about being the wet blanket who always tells the CEO and board why something can’t or shouldn’t be done. It’s about looking at all the potential downfalls of a course of action in an articulate, comprehensive way and then saying “here’s what could go wrong” — and then figuring out how to do it anyway.

That’s what Joe is telling these William & Mary grads to do. Be smart but never be afraid. Don’t be reckless but don’t be gutless either. There are opportunities out there; go take them before someone else does.

That’s what risk managers need to be telling their superiors: go play in traffic.

Just make sure that, before they do, you tell them about the speed limit on the street, the number of lanes in each direction, the typical models and makes of cars that drive by, the projected weather conditions, the location of potholes, the time the sun will go down, which street lights need replacement bulbs …

(Here are some excerpts from Plumeri’s address to William & Mary.)

Initial Estimates of Claims from Japan Quake

Though it is far too early to pin down an exact number for the amount of money the Japan quake will cost insurers, initial estimates have started to surface for some of the hardest hit insurers and reinsurers.

Swiss Re, the world’s second-biggest reinsurer, has estimated it will face claims of about $1.2 billion from the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

The figure is low because Japan’s government insures residential properties covered by non-life companies against earthquake and tsunami damage and this protection is not reinsured internationally, the Zurich-based company said in an e-mailed statement today. The preliminary claims figure is net of retrocession and before tax, Swiss Re said.

Eqecat, a catastrophe modeling firm, has stated that insurers and reinsurers will likely have losses of $12 billion to $25 billion. However, AIR Wolrdwide has estimated losses of up to $35 billion from the quake alone.

AIG has recently reported that it will record $1 billion in claims for the first quarter, most of which can be attributed to the Japan earthquake and tsunami.

Zurich-based ACE Ltd., a major player in the insurance and reinsurance market, said its initial loss estimates are $200 million to $250 million.

Though Lloyd’s of London has not officially released an estimate, an anonymous market source has said “$3 billion in losses for the Lloyd’s market as a whole sounds plausible.”

QBE Insurance Group Ltd. of Australia has said it estimates $125 million in claims from the quake and tsunami.

Below is a video of the always-entertaining Joe Plumeri speaking on the topic of Japan’s insured losses.

You’re watching Willis’s Plumeri Says Japan Insured Losses Still Unknown. See the Web’s top videos on AOL Video

Willis to Sponsor Brooklyn Nets Arena; Joe Plumeri Looking Forward to Working with Jay-Z

Just days after Aon officially unveiled its new, marque sports sponsorship, rival insurance broker Willis has announced one of its own. OK, it hasn’t aligned with the most popular soccer team in the world like Aon. But Willis has partnered with the arena that will soon be home to the worst team in the NBA …

… so there’s that.

All kidding aside, though, partnering with the the Nets future home, the Barclays Center, should be a good move for Willis.

Sure, the New Jersey Nets finished with the worst record of any professional basketball team last season, but they are on the rise and will soon be moving to Brooklyn (likely by 2012). For a company that has been reinventing itself and quickly expanding its reach over the past few years — first with a game-changing acquisition of HRH in 2008 and then in buying the world-renowned Sears Tower in 2009 — this is just another targeted get-the-name-out-there move.

New York is the world financial capital and, now, Willis will have a presence alongside what is sure to be a major headline-grabbing organization for years to come. When it comes to the big three professional sports leagues in the United States (the NFL, MLB and NBA), there hasn’t been a new franchise in the city since the New York Mets were founded in 1962. And Brooklyn hasn’t had its own team since the Dodgers left for California in 1958. Although there is some major opposition to arena that Willis will be putting its name within (mostly due to a corporate, revenue-seeking stadium being put square in the heart of the borough and displacing many long-time residents), there is little doubt that the NBA team that plays there will also be embraced by many others. Within its first few weeks there — even if the team is not great — the Brooklyn Nets will become one of the toughest tickets to get in all of New York. There will be buzz aplenty about the Barclays Center.

So it’s no wonder that Joe Plumeri is excited to team up with the Barclays Center, the future home of the Nets.

“Brooklyn is a great global brand that’s reaching new heights with the Barclays Center. The borough has earned a storied place in sports mythology, from the heroics at Ebbets Field to being the birthplace of legends such as Vince Lombardi, Joe Torre and Joe Paterno,” said Joe Plumeri, Chairman and CEO of Willis. “Willis helps manage the world’s most complex risks, and we look forward to both helping the Barclays Center through its multi-faceted construction process and, when the arena is opened, to working with Mikhail Prokhorov, Bruce Ratner, Brett Yormark, Jay-Z and their team to carry Jackie Robinson’s legacy forward and bring a new generation of champions to Brooklyn and New York.”

Yes, that’s right.

Plumeri is looking forward to working with rap mogul Jay-Z, who is a minority owner of the team. It seems fitting, then, that just a few years after we published an article about Jay-Z’s enormous endorsement power, Joe is now signing on to sponsor a team Jay (sorta) owns. Maybe he can get Mr. Z to rhyme a few songs about insurance broking?

Crazier things have happened.

Jay-Z-Prokhorov-BluePrint

Along with minority owner/rap legend Jay-Z and real owner/Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, Willis is joining the Nets Brooklyn blueprint for greatness by partnering with the Barclays Center that will become the team’s home.