From “just needing a job” to being an insurance CEO

From “just needing a job” to being an insurance CEO | Insurance Business

From “just needing a job” to being an insurance CEO
Before founding specialty insurance brokerage Risk Strategies Company in 1997 – which now has more than 25 offices across the US – Mike Christian worked for some major insurance names, including Aon, and what is now Jardine Lloyd Thompson (then Jardine Insurance). Christian began his career in insurance through, admittedly, “just needing a job at the time,” and ended up climbing the ranks to become CEO of his own firm.

Having worked for some large corporations and been on the end of a number of acquisitions as an employee, Christian decided to start his own firm, setting up Risk Strategies as a risk management consulting firm initially, not a brokerage. That set the tone for what the company has since become –  one that takes a “thoughtful, consultative, advisory” approach with its clients, according to its leader.

Insurance Business sat down with Christian to talk about Risk Strategies’ continued thirst for acquisitions, the challenges of leading an expanding company, and the changes he has seen in the industry during his career.

What was the driving force for you to start the company?

I think it was three main things. One was very practical – I was quite honestly just tired of being acquired, and of having to re-prove myself all the time. Another one is I didn’t really want to work for a giant organisation, I felt a little lost in a [huge company] and I didn’t feel like I could make a meaningful impact.

But really, it was more timely than anything. There was a lot of consolidation at that point in time, most of it was spurred by the top three brokers – Marsh, Aon and Willis – they were acquiring many of the top 20 brokerage firms in the world, and it felt like with that consolidation, clients had fewer choices. They acquired many, many good firms, and that all worked out well over time for the larger brokerages, but there was a lot of disruption in the market and it created opportunity. Clients were looking for service providers that could be focused on their needs and solve their problems, and it seemed opportunistic to be able to start a firm at that time.

What are some of the challenges you face in your role as CEO?

The biggest challenge is the cultural aspect, because we bring firms into the company [Risk Strategies is “heavily focused” on M&As and has made over 25 in the last three years], and certainly there’s a qualifier before that. We talk to them and we make sure that our focus and our intent are similar, that our integrity is similar – all the things that you would think to talk to somebody about before they join your organisation.

Quite frankly, these are smaller organisations joining a growing, larger, national company, so there are cultural differences. It’s bridging that gap, helping people get used to working in a different environment, where they’re not running their own shop anymore but there are many, many opportunities for them. Bridging those cultural differences and getting people to work together in one larger organisation is probably the biggest challenge, and that’s normal for any firm that’s out there making acquisitions and growing quickly.

What are some of the biggest changes that you’ve seen happen in the industry during your career?

Although our industry hasn’t been transformed by technology, it certainly has been impacted by it. Other industries have maybe been transformed in a more meaningful way, but certainly technology has made people more efficient. I think it’s streamlined the way we interact with insurance carriers and with clients, and that is much, much different than how it was when I started in the industry in the late 80s, early 90s.

Another change is the ability to get capital into the industry quickly. What that’s done is created a situation where we really don’t have those dramatic spikes of hard markets, where the premiums go up dramatically in reaction to losses or in reaction to economic conditions. It’s moderated the highs and lows of the insurance market – in other words premiums going up or down. And we’ve been in a very prolonged soft market on the P&C side of the business, and that’s because there’s just a lot of capacity, and that capacity and that capital can get into the industry very quickly now, as opposed to when I started.

Now, the biggest change that we’re all facing in our industry – and this would be true around the world for many industries – is the generational shift from the baby boomer generation, which has really dominated our insurance business, to a new generation of younger people coming into the business. That is going to have a far-reaching and dramatic impact on our industry in the future, and that is where I think technology will be truly transformative, because you have a generation coming in that really grew up with technology.

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