Legendary insurance CEO John Bogardus died June 28 at the age of 92, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
Bogardus became CEO of insurance broker Alexander & Alexander Services (A&A) in 1978 and, by the time he retired in 1987, had helped establish it as the world’s second-largest insurance broker.
Bogardus was born in New York City in 1927 and grew up in Scarsdale, NY. His father, who started as a clerk at Atlantic Mutual Insurance Co., later became the company’s president and chairman, WSJ reported.
Bogardus joined the Navy after graduating from high school in 1945, during the closing months of the Second World War. He was stationed in California. While off duty, he hitchhiked to Los Angeles and met his future wife, Ice Capades performer Lela Wood. After completing his Navy service in 1946, Bogardus enrolled at Princeton University and majored in economics.
Bogardus and Wood married in 1950 and moved to New York City. He joined A&A as a trainee, making $200 per month, WSJ reported. His wife modeled in New York’s garment district and worked as an ice skater at the Hotel New Yorker.
Bogardus was called back to the Navy during the Korean War and sent for officer training. During that stint, he served on ships mostly in the Mediterranean and Caribbean, WSJ reported. Returning to A&A in 1955, he was assigned to find new accounts. In 1958, he caught the notice of upper management when he won a major piece of business at Mobil Oil. By 1963, he was one of A&A’s 13 directors. He was unexpectedly promoted to CEO in 1978 when his predecessor died of a heart attack, WSJ reported.
As part of an industry-wide rush to create global networks, A&A acquired British insurance broker Alexander Howden Group. After the acquisition, it was revealed that senior Howden executives had been embezzling company funds to treat themselves to lavish lifestyles – including a villa on the French Riviera, according to WSJ. The scandal cost A&A more than $300 million in write-offs and legal fees.
“We couldn’t imagine that anything of this nature might occur with a company we’d been doing business with,” Bogardus wrote later. “Nevertheless, as CEO the blame was mine.”
Despite the setback, Bogardus guided A&A through the scandal. The company was purchased by Aon in 1992 for about $1.2 billion, according to WSJ.
In 2003, Bogardus wrote Spreading the Risks, a history of commercial insurance in the US.
Bogardus is survived by his wife of 70 years, Lela Bogardus, four children, seven grandchildren and two great grandchildren.