Last November, Willis Towers Watson appointed Michael Brown (pictured above) as head of its New Zealand business. The company stalwart had been with the broking giant for 15 years before he was tasked to lead national operations. Insurance Business spoke with Brown recently about what lies ahead in his new role, as well as the need for the industry to gain fresh talent.
Insurance Business: Can you tell us how you became part of the insurance industry?
Michael Brown: Like a lot of people, it came about just by chance. I had finished my university degree and was trying to work out if I should complete my master’s or join the real world. I gave myself a month or so to see if I could find a job. My first interview was with the State Insurance Commercial branch in Auckland and, as they say, the rest is history.
IB: What are you looking forward to as the newly appointed head of New Zealand? Any challenges?
MB: I really enjoy coming to work every day with such a brilliant group of people. We have always had a fantastic team at WTW, and we have been able to add to that recently – some very talented people both from within New Zealand and people wanting to return home. I’m excited about the combination of our people and the capabilities that WTW has to offer its clients. We are looking forward to bringing even more of the wider WTW capabilities through our global reach to our NZ clients.
IB: You’ve been with WTW for 15 years. What made you stay?
MB: Two things really stand out for me – the WTW client-first philosophy and working with great people that share similar values.
IB: During that time, you’ve held an assortment of broking roles. What was the most memorable?
MB: All of them have been memorable for different reasons, but the commonality across them is the willingness for colleagues to help one another, no matter what department or country they are in. This collaborative spirit is a big part of why I have been so happy to be part of this business for so long.
IB: What is your favourite line of business in insurance?
MB: It’s hard to choose just one. But having predominantly been a fire and general broker, material damage and business interruption are usually the biggest spend for most of the clients I have worked with over the years. Being able to give them sound advice, particularly around their BI cover, has been a major aspect of my role, given we mainly deal with accountants who have a completely different understanding of “gross profit” compared to how it’s defined for insurance purposes. Helping them to understand this is very rewarding.
IB: What’s the most pressing issue the insurance industry is facing today, and what can be done to address it?
MB: It would have to be the shortage of talent within the industry. We have restructured our business to create clearer career paths as our preference is to promote and develop our own people whenever we can. We’ve been able to give great and much-deserved opportunities to some of our up-and-coming colleagues this year. If there is a silver lining from COVID, it’s that a lot of incredible Kiwis want to return to NZ and we have been very lucky to be able to attract some outstanding talent back home. So, while the talent shortage is an industry-wide issue, I am very confident that WTW NZ is doing a great job of addressing it. We are building a very strong team and are looking forward to what we can achieve together in 2022.
IB: What are your passions and hobbies outside of insurance? Any interesting experiences you’d like to share?
MB: Football and golf have been my main hobbies over the years, but there’s a lot more golf than football nowadays. Never enough golf, although my wife might beg to differ on that count! My favourite place to play is Wairakei in Taupo, although I am very partial to an early Saturday morning tee time at my home course, Remuera, which gives me time to deliver a coffee to my wife and spend the rest of the weekend taxiing the kids around.
IB: If you weren’t in the insurance industry, what do you think would be your occupation?
MB: It would be something in the corporate world, I’m sure. I enjoy being part of a large organisation and the resources that you have at your disposal. I’ve never really had to give it much thought, as I think anyone who works in the insurance industry is very fortunate and I’ve never contemplated leaving.
IB: What’s your advice for insurance professionals that are just starting out?
MB: Take every opportunity you can and don’t be afraid to be proactive and try to make it happen. If you wait for someone to hand you what you want, you might never get there, so try to control your own destiny as much as possible.