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Where culture is king

Where culture is king

Where culture is king After 15 years leading the Burke Ford Group of companies, which he co-founded, Dominic Burke wanted to explore other opportunities.

“I got to the point where I was perhaps not challenged, and some of my minority shareholders probably wanted to cash out, and I wanted to go forward,” he says. 

So he knocked on the door of JLT. “I was always greatly taken by the JLT culture,” he says. “I sought to join them in 2000, and they kindly agreed to buy my business.”

Today, Burke is the group chief executive of JLT, a role he took on five years after joining the multinational insurance broker. Asked to single out the greatest challenge he’s faced in his 11 years at the head of JLT, Burke mentions the need he identified several years ago to provide the organisation with clarity.

“I suppose it’d be fair to say that, back in 2005 and 2006, there was some confusion around what JLT was, where it was going and what its strategy was,” he says. “I think that was clearly a significant challenge – to shape the direction of the organisation. 

JLT always had a reputation of being fantastically smart transactional brokers and having good knowledge in one or two specialities, in particular marine and energy,” he continues. “At the same time, we’d had some profit warnings under the previous leadership of JLT, and that meant that there was uncertainty around the long-term prospect of an independent JLT. In those first few years, probably the most difficult challenge I had was to articulate the strategy of the company, convince our people and all other stakeholders in JLT that we could and would be able to build a business that can and does – every day now – challenge the major global brokers in the speciality segments in which we play.”

He attributes his success in addressing those challenges to “the great people” at JLT.

“We rallied together and articulated what the strategy was to be, and we’ve very successfully executed on that,” he says. “JLT is perhaps unrecognisable from back in those days of 2005, save that the culture of the organisation is still the core of the organisation. That culture of being great transactional brokers and putting your client first and doing the right thing and really being tenacious and fierce client advocates was, at its core, what the old JLT was and, at its core today, is absolutely what it is.”

Addressing cyber
As is the case industry-wide, cyber risk has presented a pretty significant learning curve for JLT. “Everybody is still learning at a huge rate of knots, I suppose,” Burke says, “as to the types of exposures and where those exposures can come from, and also looking at how behavioural changes and risk mitigation can create a better outcome and reduce the exposures to corporates around the world. 

The insurance market is seeking to be innovative around cyber, but of course, from a capital provider’s perspective, it’s very difficult to truly measure the expense and the level
of exposures and where those exposures may materialise. It is about an education to better processes, better technology, better behaviours by employees and corporates themselves in physical risk mitigation and then, obviously, the degree of risk transfer.”

For its part, JLT is taking some proactive measures to foster stronger client awareness around cyber. 

“What we’re doing,” Burke says, “is spending a lot of time educating both our own people and our clients; seeking to innovate and push the boundaries of what’s currently
available in the insurance market; looking at pricing models using our analytics capability, which is very strong in this space; and helping map out the type of exposures and the way that we can help our insureds consider the degree of risk transfer they need to undertake.”

Burke adds that in today’s world it’s vital for insurance businesses to partner with technology companies in their endeavours to address cyber risk.

“We’re now clearer as to where the exposures are,” he says, “but trying to grapple with them, trying to find the right level of indemnification and protection is primarily through insurance, but it is also very much technology-driven. If anybody thinks they can provide a solution without that, I think they’d potentially be fooling themselves or they’re not going to be able to provide the right consulting and advisory processes or ultimately the outcomes that I believe clients clearly need.”

Growth in the US
Burke is overwhelmingly positive about JLT’s progress in expanding its US operations.  

“I’ve just spent two weeks doing a tour of most of our US operations, seeing a great number of clients and prospective clients, visiting our people in our offices,” he says.“I’ve  come back from the US really excited – surprised, on the upside, how far we’ve progressed in terms of brand recognition and the momentum around revenue and winning clients. We are having a profound impact, I think, and the momentum is building and building, and we now have over 200 people in our speciality business.

“We do intend to build a business of scale, relevance and impact in our speciality sectors, and the story is still early in chapter one. There’s a long way to go, but we’re
ahead of the plan; we’re ahead of where we could have imagined or expected to be in terms of the number of talented people that have joined JLT, and that is critical. You cannot build a business without real talent. So we’re in great shape. I’m absolutely delighted and excited by how much progress we’ve made and are making on a daily basis.”

Overall, Burke is confident about the direction in which the global broker is heading.

“I’m convinced – as is my board, our people and clearly our clients – that we’re on the right track. And we will continue to stay on track and continue to invest and continue to build, whether that’s in Australia, Asia, Latin America, Europe or in North America.