What does it take to be among the Top 100 in insurance?
Gary Hirst, president and CEO of CHES Special Risk, is a newly inducted member of the Insurance Business Global 100. Find out all about his career here, how difficult it has been to work independently and the challenges and highlights of his journey to date.
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Paul: [00:00:11] Hello everyone and welcome to the latest edition of Insurance Business TV and a very special one at that. You may be used to us interviewing elite women, rising stars, top brokers or top producers who make our various lists throughout the year. But perhaps there is no list more elite than our global 100. Yes, every year, insurance business leverages its position as the sector's true global publication to list the top 100 names across the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Asia Pacific. Based on their achievements throughout the previous year or one of our 2022 Global 100 class is joining us right now. That man is Gary Hirst, President and Chief Executive Officer at CHES Special Risk. Gary, welcome back to IBTV.
Gary: [00:01:02] Hi Paul. Thank you very much. Delighted to be here. Thank you.
Paul: [00:01:07] So Gary, congratulations, of course, on your Global 100 success. Give us a brief run through your career and and what led you to be in the position that you are, of course, in today?
Gary: [00:01:19] Thank you, Paul. It's always a bit of a tricky question because I'm now in my 38th year of working, although I still look as though I'm 22 years old. And it's it's come as a bit of a shock because I'm used to always having been the youngest person in the company and now I'm the oldest. My career started in the London market in 1984, trudging around after leaving school trying to get myself an interview. I was interviewed by a number of Lloyds broking houses and really lucky enough to start my career with the Fenchurch group and stayed at the Fenchurch group for just over ten years, helping them develop an international offering. They were predominantly North American broker and broker of Fortune 500 accounts. I was involved in the management buyout and the subsequent flotation on the London Stock Exchange of that particular company, which was a really fantastic experience. I was involved in a lot of cutting edge broking policy production, helping large companies secure finance by structuring insurance mechanisms. And it was a really fantastic experience. Marketplace at that time was completely different. You know, you had lots and lots of Lloyds syndicates, lots and lots of insurance companies that have now sort of gone by the wayside. So the choice of market was really quite incredible. And that in itself allows you to develop certain capabilities and ways of thinking about product structure. I left Fenchurch Group in 1995, joined a boutique broker, JK Buckingham, who were looking to again diversify their portfolio and get into international business, having been really focused on London market reinsurance, stayed there for five years, which was really a good entree into being an entrepreneur.
Gary: [00:04:20] It was quite remarkable coming from a large company and going into a smaller company. You know, you you think that you're a remarkable individual and and joining that smaller boutique firm really brought me down to earth, if you like, in that it it literally took me six months to land my first firm order. And my first firm order paid a premium of $5,000. And, you know, it was just mind blowing really how difficult it was. But it was in a period of time where Lloyds was going through reconstruction and. You know, there was an opportunity for myself and three other colleagues to leave the boutique firm after the end of our contract and actually start our own Lloyd's Broker. So that was in 1998. Chesterfield Chesterfield Group was the name of the company, and we started really with nothing again and had to develop relationships in the Lloyds market producing business, managing cashflow, managing policy, production, HR, etc., etc.. I moved out to Canada. It's now about ten years ago and still as a director of the Chesterfield Group to manage two of the businesses that we owned, which again was just a great experience of flying down to Texas to manage our MGA down in Dallas and also managing day to day our MGA here in Canada. And it was again, just a fantastic experience. I'd fly back to London every now and again to do my big London renewals and then fly back to Canada to operate the MGA and everything that that's that involves left that group in 2014, joined CHES in 2015, initially as a consultant to the owner, and he was looking to restructure his organization. But it finally led me to actually taking over ownership of CHES in 2016, again, really starting from scratch and no, no software. I'm in a way pleased to say that I'm now a hardened expert in I.T. and software implementation. Having done it now five times in my career. So it's quite, quite traumatic. But we built a great new software system for CHES, started to develop a flow, and was lucky enough to win insurance business. Canada's five star MGA Awards and in fact, Canadian MGA of the Year Awards in 2016. So that that was certainly a very proud moment of mine. And then, of course, just developing the company and the team moving forward, we've now got five offices across Canada. We're also a fully accredited Lloyd's broker, allowing us to access certain syndicates in Lloyd's direct great team of people. As I alluded to before, I'm now probably the oldest person in CHES, but the average age in our company is 27 years old, which is important because we need to build succession and a career opportunity. So, you know, it's still very much evolving and still very, very exciting meeting lots of great people, seeing how the market operates and the complications that we're challenged with every day.
Paul: [00:09:29] It's been a remarkable career and you've obviously had so many achievements along the way. Incredible how much you've done at the grand old age of 22. But throughout that time, of course, Gary, you've you've been working independently. So tell us a little bit about how difficult that has been. And I'm assuming there were risks involved.
Gary: [00:09:48] Yes. Well, it's tough to actually identify any difficulties, because when you are independent and I've worked independently, I suppose ever since I started work back in 84, Fenchurch group was an independent entity with no offices around the world. And it just teaches you, I think, to be agile and and fleet of foot. You have to think strategically in terms of engaging with markets. You have to have a really unique offering to be able to convince brokers to do business with you or insureds to trust you with their insurance policies. But what it does, I think, teach you more than anything is you don't you can't sit still. You've got to keep looking for opportunity. You have to be aware of developments that are going on in the marketplace, either by insurers or by, you know, software. Software is now becoming more and more important to us because data is so key in what we do. Meeting people. I interview a large amount of the team members that join CHES, and that's always great fun meeting people, talking to them, seeing what their points of view are and whether that fits in with the overall overall philosophy of the company.
Paul: [00:11:44] And when we've talked there and reflected on your career, perhaps one thing that we haven't touched on so much is the fact that you were the first president of CAMGA as well. I mean, tell us about how proud you are of what that association has achieved. And also give us a little bit of an insight into how you were able to juggle your responsibilities there with your role at CHES as well.
Gary: [00:12:05] Thank you, Paul. Well, CAMGA, I have to say, Canadian NGO Association is really something that I'm most proud of and probably prouder now that I am no longer the president. It dawned on me that looking around the various territories that I've done business in over the years, that Canada didn't really have an association or a body that represented the sugar industry and could promote the sugar industry. And this is something that I've I've thought about long and hard for a number of years. I engage with a number of quite senior people in the Canadian marketplace Lloyd's Canada, Larry Shumka, who was a previous owner of SCM Group and a number of other leading MGAs here in Canada. And I discussed with them the potential for regulation to be imposed on us as MGAs, whether those regulators would actually engage with us and discuss regulation. I wanted to discuss education and the education that was available in Canada for people working in the industry. I was very much focused on being a broker or working for an insurance company. The last point was advocacy and advocating for the MGA industry, either again with regulators, with insurers, but more importantly with insurance professionals, and trying to encourage them to consider the MGA industry for a career.Previously you just sort of fell in. Most people fall into insurance, but then you trip over again and fall into the MGA market. So I was I was lucky enough to convince six people to join the first board. We developed a constitution that required both the President and the chairman to change every two years so that it gave life and soul to the association. So I stood down from being president last year and that really was a proud moment, being able to stand down in the knowledge that actually the association was standing on its own two feet. We'd managed to encourage, I think, over 50 other MGAs and insurers to join the association. We'd already got a very robust subcommittees in place to talk about various matters arising, and I was really proud of the fact that I, I did stand away. We had engaged a new managing director who has taken the association to new heights. And, you know, I think now it's got a it's got a life of its own. And, you know, it's really quite exciting to see what is now available to insurers, MGAs and people interested in the industry. It's an exciting moment.
Paul: [00:15:59] Well, I'm going to put you on the spot now, Gary, as well, if you don't mind, because we've obviously we've covered a lot of ground there. But when you look back at your career, what would you say was the biggest challenge that you faced along the way?
Gary: [00:16:12] Well, a number of milestones, I think, rather than challenges. So I started my career in in the middle of the eighties, which was a hard market. And we're still we're now in the hard market and been in that now for a couple of years as part of the cycle. You know, the hard market certainly teaches you not to be complacent and I think improves professionalism. The soft market bought a lot of challenges because all of a sudden now, you know, prices start dropping away from you. And again, as I said earlier, you know, you've got to be fleet of foot aware of what's going on in in the marketplace, globalization and markets. There's certainly been a movement of capacity away from the London market, which was always the center of capacity being distributed. And there's now very strong markets in all of these territories around the globe. So, again, you've got to evolve and come up with another unique selling point. Moving to a new country and driving on the wrong side of the road and learning all the spelling mistakes that you have to learn using a Z instead of an S, I guess was a challenge. But I, you know, it's great to just keep the excitement going and, you know, looking for the next opportunity and looking for, you know, the next person to go and talk to and, you know, looking at other ways of developing. I still find it, you know, really quite exciting at the young age of 22.
Paul: [00:18:34] I'm not shying away from controversy, though, with that wrong side of the road comment as well, Gary.
Gary: [00:18:39] Why not?
Paul: [00:18:41] So what would you say as well? I mean, we've touched on the challenges there. But final question for you. When you look back, what's been the biggest highlight?
Gary: [00:18:50] Working at Lloyds, I must say, has been really, truly fantastic. You meet a great deal of people. You're exposed to a great deal of international opportunity that has given me the opportunity to travel around the world. And literally the number of countries that I've been to is really quite exceptional. I've seen all sorts of great things. I've been allowed into steel mills and power plants to see how all this thing works. And again, you know, you'd never contemplate that going into the insurance industry being accepted, or at least I hope I'm accepted into the Canadian marketplaces, really been quite fantastic. A great deal of support from retail brokers and insurers in the Canadian marketplace has been has been great. You know, it insurance has really been a fantastic career for me one one that I really didn't know or didn't expect to attain back in the 1980s. You know, I really do recommend insurance to anyone that is looking for an opportunity. And if you're prepared to be open minded, you've got to work hard. Certainly being independent, you know, there's been a lot of late nights there because you haven't got, you know, lots of branch offices feeding you with business. But if you're prepared to work hard and, you know, give an honest appearance to the brokers and the insurers, you know, it comes back to you. And, you know, that's a bit of a long winded answer, but there's just so many highlights in the in the career that, you know, there isn't really one that stands out most of all.
Paul: [00:21:17] Yeah, it's great that you've got so many highlights. It's an inspiring story. Gary, and great to have you with us. Huge congratulations again on making Global 100. And at 22 it's clear you're going to be a contender for many years to come for everybody watching. Well, you know where to find the biggest names across the insurance industry. Keep it right here at Insurance Business TV.