From the ground up

From the ground up | Insurance Business

From the ground up

Despite his 20-plus years of experience as a property underwriter, Mark Bernacki has only two companies listed on his résumé. Bernacki kicked off his insurance career in 1993 as a property special risk underwriter for Wausau Insurance; in 2005, after eight months of pursuit by a headhunter, he joined Beazley, where he’s been ever since. In that time, Bernacki has racked up a variety of experiences that have given him the expertise and skill set needed for his current role as head of Beazley’s property team.

“One could actually argue that either I’m an extremely dedicated employee or just a horrible interviewer who only got it right two times,” he jokes.

Bernacki’s initial push to enter the world of insurance came from his father, who oversaw commercial lines for Sentry Insurance in Wisconsin. Bernacki had a degree in finance and management, but the thought of spending all day working on spreadsheets in a cubicle wasn’t exactly enticing. “[Insurance] was a great way to balance both analytical skills and engaging with people,” he says.

Bernacki got a handle on the property underwriting business while working for Wausau in Los Angeles, and then moved across the country to become the regional manager for the mid-Atlantic region of Wausau’s property operation. His roles and responsibilities expanded as he helped drive business production in New York and Philadelphia. Finally, after crisscrossing the US for years, Bernacki relocated to London, becoming Wausau’s only inter­national employee.

“I was managing director of a company called Wausau UK Limited, which was a wholly owned subsidiary of Wausau,” he says. “In that role, I was essentially responsible for writing our US clients that were moving offshore and garnering their policies in the EU, and also writing all of their cover outside the US through fronting arrangements and through affiliate companies that I had aligned and created.”

Planting the seeds
In London, Bernacki was also exposed for the first time to Lloyd’s, which he credits with giving him a better understanding of the global insurance market.

“The turning point in my career that unleashed greater opportunities was that first stint in London in 1999,” he says. “I think the fact that it gave me an under­standing of different ways that insurance worked within and outside the US, and it gave me additional international experience and Lloyd’s experience – that was probably the pivotal turning point that opened up new and future opportunities for me.”

The call from Beazley came when the company was in the midst of expanding its Lloyd’s presence in the US. “After eight months of solicitation,” Bernacki says, “I finally said yes to Beazley because I saw an opportunity to put my own fingerprints on an operation, rather than just driving a ship that somebody else had built for me.”

When Bernacki moved over to Beazley, the company’s US outpost had less than 25 people and a blank book of business.

“We had a dream and a vision for what our US operation could become,” he says. “I spent the first four years at Beazley here in Chicago helping to build and develop our US property operations both from an admitted and a non-admitted perspective, and also from a commercial lines and a personal lines perspective.”

A move back to London in 2010 led Bernacki to his current position. Today, he runs global property and sits on Beazley’s UK managing agency board, executive committee and all of Beazley’s legal entity boards in the US. He also had the oppor­tunity to lead Beazley’s Asia Pacific strategic initiative. Accordingly, his advice for up-and-coming insurance professionals looking for new opportunities is to mirror his own experiences working around the world.

“Every day, the insurance space becomes smaller as the globe becomes smaller,” he says. “Most of the large insurance entities are all global in nature. When you look at insur­ance in developed markets, the only way that you can win is to steal business from others. When you look at insurance outside of North America and western Europe – when you look at insurance in Southeast Asia or Africa or Latin America – there’s just much greater developmental opportunity that everybody can win because the size of the pie is growing, and insurance saturation in some of those areas is so insignificant compared to what we have here in North America.”

Only the beginning
Despite being at Beazley for 13 years now, Bernacki insists he’s just getting started.

“That’s not [to say] that we haven’t accomplished a lot,” he says. “We’re a fast-growing and developing specialist insurer, and there’s always something to do. I’ve been quite lucky at Beazley that I keep getting new opportunities and new roles.”

The progress the company has made in expanding its global footprint stands out to Bernacki, who jumped on the Beazley band­wagon during a critical moment in its history.

“As I sit here today and I look at my team now, we operate out of five specialist hubs,” he says. “We can access business all around the globe and truly have a multinational specialist insurance business.”

And, he adds, Beazley’s worldwide reach has benefits for all of its partners, no matter what side of the globe – or the transaction – they’re on.

“I’m a big believer that ultimately every client or broker takes the path of least resist­ance to get to the same means,” he says, “and I believe that if we’ve got more access points and more specialist insurance hubs, we’re easier to do business with.”