A true entrepreneur

A true entrepreneur | Insurance Business

A true entrepreneur

LONDON  IS  a  beacon  for  entrepreneurs  like Gary Hirst. It’s the beating heart of busi-ness  and  finance  in  the  UK,  and  it’s  home  to  the  world’s  oldest  insurance  market-place,  Lloyd’s  of  London.  It  was  the  hustle  and  bustle  of  the  city  that  attracted  Hirst  fresh  out  of  school  and  gave  him  the  drive  to  walk  the  streets  of  London,  knocking  on  door  after  door  in  an  attempt  to  follow  his  father’s  advice:  “Go  and  find  a  job  working  at Lloyd’s.” 

Hirst’s  persistence  paid  off  when  he  landed  a  job  in  1984  at  Fenchurch  Group,  which was the largest independent wholesale broker  in  the  London  market  at  the  time.  He started at the bottom, tasked with filing, photocopying and making the occasional run to  the  sandwich  shop,  before  he  was  given  the  opportunity  to  shadow  a  senior  broker  and  learn  the  craft  of  broking  to  under-writers  and  Lloyd’s  syndicates.  He  started  in  the  North  American  department  and  later  joined  the  international  department,  where  his  experience  spanned  international  property,    construction,    multinational    programs,  general  liability  and  personal  accident placements.

By  the  age  of  26,  Hirst  had  become  the  youngest  director  at  Fenchurch  Group,  taking a leadership role in the international division. Reflecting  on  his  early  successes,  Hirst  says,  “I  think  the  exposure,  trust  and  responsibility  I  gained  during  that  early  start  has  helped  me  to  give  direction  and  opportunity  to  the  people  I’ve  worked  with  throughout my career.”

Coming to Canada 

In  1993,  Hirst  left  Fenchurch  Group  for  JK  Buckenham,  where  he  spent  five  years  building  a  book  of  facultative  business  for the  Lloyd’s  broker.  After  that,  he  became  a  founding  director  and  shareholder  in  Ches-terfield Group, which was made up of Ches-terfield  Canada,  Van  Wagoner  Companies  (based in Dallas, Texas) and a fully accredited Lloyd’s  broker known  as  Chesterfield  Insur-ance Brokers.

“Previously, not a lot of people really understood Canada or thought of it as a very fertile place to come and invest – but our thriving MGA market says differently”

From the founding of Chesterfield Group in  November  1998  to  its  eventual  sale  to  Kaufman  Financial  Group  in  January  2012,  Hirst  and  his  fellow  core  shareholders  grew its  gross  written  premium  from  $0  to  more  than  US$120  million,  expanding  from  one  small office in London to three offices across two continents and three time zones.

“The  Canadian  market  turned  out  to  be  a  real  jewel  in  the  crown,”  says  Hirst,  who  moved  from  the  UK  to  Toronto  in  January  2012 to become head of Chesterfield Canada. “It was full of great people, and there was so much growth potential.”

Hirst  departed  Chesterfield  two  years  later  and,  after  a  short  stint  as  a  Lloyd’s  market  consultant,  purchased  the  Canadian  MGA  CHES  Special  Risk,  where  he remains  to this day as president and CEO.

“I  was  attracted  to  CHES  because  they  were in the MGA space, which I have always found  extremely  exciting,”  he  says,  adding  that  his  experience  with  the  London  market  enabled  him  to  set  an  effective  strategy  for  the  business,  built  around  strong  partnerships  at  Lloyd’s  and  with  domestic  carriers  and retail brokers.   

“In  the  early  years,  we  spent  an  awful  lot  of time and energy trying to find a good soft-ware system that would enable us to capture the best data. That’s key to being a successful MGA,” he says. “We also focused on building out our team. We have a mantra at CHES of employing the best person for the job, regard-less of their educational background or their life  experience.  What  we’re  attempting  to  do  is  build  an  organization  that  attracts  top  talent, while also attracting business partners that feel we can deliver quality distribution of their products.

“Retail brokers are making [the MGA] segment of the market innovate because they’re desperate for new ideas and new capacity”

“If there are insurance companies and/or Lloyd's syndicates that are interested in a particular class of business, we will go out and hire a team that will make that particular class of business successful for them. We've found that the combination of collecting data and having the best possible team to deliver the distribution has actually attracted a lot of support from Lloyd's syndicates and domestic carriers in the Canadian marketplace.”  CHES thrives on what Hirst describes as “out-of-the-box thinking.” Often, new ideas come straight from the MGA’s retail broker partners, and the CHES team is always happy to explore them.  

“They give us the business,” Hirst explains. “It's important for retail brokers to know they're dealing with someone that understands their local market issues and can provide unique solutions.”  

The MGA advantage 

In  addition  to  running  CHES  Special  Risk,  Hirst  is  the  founder,  president  and  CEO  of Hirst & Partners, a fully accredited Canadian-based  Lloyd’s  broker,  and  he  also  serves  as  president  of  the  Canadian  Association  of  Managing  General  Agents  (CAMGA),  a  non-profit  organization  that  advocates  for  the  MGA  industry  both  in  Canada  and  worldwide.

“I  think  the  MGA  industry  in  Canada  at  this  moment  in  time  is  hugely  exciting  because  of  the  hard  market,”  Hirst  says.  “We’re   in   a   market   that   drives   innova-tion.  We’re  seeing  a  lot  of  carriers,  both  domestic  and  within  Lloyd’s,  reviewing  their  books  of  business.  A  lot  of  that  remedi-ation  has  already  taken  place,  so  we’re  now in  a  very  stable  but  hard  market.  We  know  what  domestic  partners  and  Lloyd’s  syndi-cates  want  and  what  they  don’t  want.  That  allows  the  MGA  industry  to  develop  new  product  offerings  and  bring  new  capacity  to  the market. 

“We’re  seeing  a  lot  of  new  startups  in  the  MGA  industry,  as  well  as  new  investors  and  a  lot  of  mergers  and  acquisitions.  Inter-national  players  are  now  looking  at  the  Canadian marketplace and buying an existing distribution,  which  allows  them  to  come  to  market  far  quicker.  The  MGA  industry  –  not  only  in  Canada,  but  elsewhere  in  the  world  –  is  very  exciting.  Retail  brokers  are  making  this  segment  of  the  market  innovate  because  they’re  desperate  for  new  ideas  and new capacity.

“I  always  say  that  Canada  is  one  of  the  best-kept secrets in the world. Previously, not a  lot  of  people  really  understood  Canada  or  thought  of  it  as  a  very  fertile  place  to  come and invest  –  but  our  thriving  MGA  market  says differently.”