Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I started my first career in the Army, in both the Parachute Regiment and in a number of staff jobs in various headquarters. I must admit the original plan was to do a few years, see a bit of the world and then move into the commercial sector. Like many careers, as you become more experienced and senior, you are exposed to more demanding and autonomous roles which is great fun, and also coincided with a period when the Army was increasingly committed to operations abroad.
Whilst seemingly a very different background to a commercial one, there are many similarities. Working in a large headquarters is much more like working in a large firm than people might imagine. Likewise, leadership and management are fundamentally the same. The way you plan and execute operations is done in a very collaborative manner. It’s all about making sure there are clear objectives, involving subject matter experts and then, most importantly, letting capable people get on and deliver those objectives with the right support.
Since then I have worked principally for three Insurance Brokers. Firstly at BGL Group, in a number of different Director roles, which was a great experience and fantastic learning ground. I then performed a couple of Managing Director stints at Capita, one for a specialist insurance broker and one for a portfolio of medical businesses. More recently I spent 5 years at A-Plan Insurance, initially as the COO and then MD, which again was very enjoyable and at a really interesting and active point in its growth journey across personal lines and commercial insurance.
Why the Clear Group?
The experience of working at BGL and A-Plan in particular formed very clear criteria in my mind of the type of business I wanted to join. Both were successful businesses and although they had different models, both understood what aspects of their model and culture made them successful. To that end I was very keen to join a business where insurance broking was its core focus; had the right ethos, culture and people; an independent, medium sized business and, most importantly, had something unique about its brand, service and position in the market.
For CLEAR, I was very fortunate to be put in touch with the right people at the right time; when the business started to look out into the market. What followed was a very thorough selection process which I took as a very positive sign the business wanted to get it right.
What change are we likely to expect?
I don’t think this is about fundamental change. It’s about continuing to do what the business has been doing, but recognising it is now getting bigger and as a result more complex. It’s about increasing the management bandwidth, refining and tuning how the various parts of the business interact, and making sure it has the people, processes and systems in place to continue to grow at the strong rate it has. Importantly, do that whilst retaining its ethos, culture and the belief in ownership within the various specialist departments and businesses.
CLEAR has a really unique place in the market when you look at its size, proposition and its management culture. There are still lots of small brokers and a few large consolidators. CLEAR sits uniquely in the middle and is well positioned to attract the right sort of acquisitions. We want to retain that unique market position and management style to continue to attract quality brokers to join us on the journey.
So, the driver behind this isn’t about change, it’s to exploit that growth opportunity whilst also managing what is an increasingly complex and diverse business.
Where do Howard (transitioning CLEAR Group CEO) and Gary (continuing CLEAR Group Deputy CEO) fit in?
I’m in the very fortunate position to join as CEO when the founders are staying in the business. That allows us as a team to make the best use of their considerable knowledge and experience, whilst hopefully I can bring in some of my own knowledge, experience and style into the business as well.
Initially I will be focusing on how we can work as effectively and smoothly as possible, as the group continues to scale and grow, to make sure we can make the most of the opportunities available. Howard, as Exec Chair, and Gary will then have more time to focus on wider growth and M&A opportunities in particular.
What is your focus for the first few months?
I’ll be getting to know the business, and in particular the people — which clearly is key — plus the processes it uses, both within businesses and between businesses, and how well it is using its data and technology.
Generally speaking that means reviewing how efficiently the business operates so that we can continue to grow at the same rate, while importantly retaining the character, ethos and style for which it is well known. So that means where things are working well – leave them alone or reinforce them – and concentrate on those areas where we can fine tune to work better, smarter or just make life that little bit easier.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Joining a business remotely wasn’t exactly on my bucket list of ‘things to do’, but compared to what some people are going through that’s got to be considered a minor inconvenience. The business is running remarkably smoothly and the reception I’ve received has been very open, welcoming, and incredibly supportive. I think this just reflects the culture that the leadership team have created over the years – which I’m sure has a lot to do with the level of experience, seniority, and technical expertise in all our specialist teams. As people are very confident and proficient in their specialist fields, it results in a very grown up yet relaxed atmosphere, with a focus on ‘doing the right thing’ and supporting other colleagues across the business. It’s an obvious sense of professionalism and pride in delivering first rate solutions to some quite complex risks at times – which is really refreshing and impressive to see.
I’m just really looking forward to meeting everyone at CLEAR and our Insurer partners in person, which hopefully(!) will be in the not too distant future. I never thought I’d say I’m excited at the thought of dusting off my work trousers and shoes again! Until we can all saviour that bit of freedom I hope everyone stays safe and well.