“If we can get the people and culture bit right, then everything else is relatively straightforward.”
Those were the words of Andrew Horton (pictured at QBE Insurance Group’s new Sydney headquarters) when the industry stalwart recently sat down with Insurance Business to talk about his major move from UK-listed specialist insurer Beazley Plc – where he was CEO for 13 years until March – all the way to the southern hemisphere to lead QBE.
Horton came onboard in September, starting out in London where he was based, prior to spending a couple of weeks in the US offices and finally heading Down Under earlier this month. The new group chief executive, who obviously is no stranger to being at the helm of an international business, believes his toughest challenge would be bringing the global organisation together.
He said: “I think that’s going to be the biggest challenge, because it sounds really easy, but getting 11,500 people to think in terms of the enterprise and think about what the organisation can do in total and how they can support everybody else and how they can be supported [is tough].
“It sounds very easy, but if it’s not natural to everybody, it’s going to be quite hard. That’s why I need to start with the executive group, being supportive of each other and thinking towards the enterprise, and then cascade that down to the organisation. I think that will be the challenge.”
For Horton, the focus on the people element is one of the lessons he brings from Beazley to QBE.
“I joined Beazley in 2003,” recalled the former banker, “and I’d been going 17 years at that point in time. I’d been in large banks, and I joined this company with 120 people and realised how important the people agenda was and how important the relationships were, and that insurance is a long-term game. So, it’s important to have those relationships.
“You take the premium in now and you often pay the claim out five, 10 years down the track. So, this is a long-term game, and you need to try and maintain that relationship over that period of time. It opened my eyes to that. Some insurance companies act as though it’s not a long-term game and they’re chopping and changing and do things in the short term, and that generally doesn’t work well for the medium to long term. I learned all that in my 18 years working at Beazley.”
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“I’m really focussed on bringing the people together,” added the new group chief executive, who took over from interim boss Richard Pryce. “We’ve had a turnover of senior leadership, and I would like to try and stabilise [the company].”
Pryce previously served as QBE’s international CEO before having to delay his retirement to step up last year as group chief executive in an interim capacity. He held the fort while the insurance group looked for Pat Regan’s replacement at the top, following the latter’s shock exit as a result of an internal complaint on workplace communications.
QBE has since made other leadership changes, with the latest arrivals including that of Sue Houghton. The insurer’s new Australia Pacific CEO joined the business in August.
Horton, who is looking forward to a “nice and warm” New Year’s Day as opposed to the wintery one he’s used to, told Insurance Business: “If we can get the people and culture bit right, then everything else is relatively straightforward. If you get that bit right, the brokers and clients like dealing with you. If you get that bit right, your business grows and shareholders are generally happy. So, I think doing that is going to be possibly the biggest challenge, as well as getting things consistent.
“We’re an unusual company because we’ve got great footprint across the world in different time zones, and that’s a challenge in itself. We have our strength in Australia and New Zealand, our strength in the UK, our strength in North America, but we’re not as strong in the other countries we’re in. So, how do we build on that? In my view, the key is recruiting good people, being very focussed on product, delivering a good service, and you can build.”
Also, said the QBE chief, being consistent across all aspects of the business is crucial.
“I’d like to put consistency into the organisation so we’re consistent in the lines of business we are in and do them very well,” stressed the new boss. “And I’d like people to ensure that we look at the organisation in terms of the enterprise in total, rather than the individual parts of it.
“Consistency is really important to me – and that’s consistency in how we treat our people, consistency in the service, consistency in product offering, consistency in claims payment, consistency in how we deal with regulators, consistency with capital management. It’s across the board and across the whole organisation.”
Horton added: “It’s really important because, generally, insurance is not a consistent industry. Companies go into a line of business, then they pull out; they treat people well, and then they fire half of them. We’re very inconsistent as an industry, so I like consistency [at QBE].”