Cover Story

Forged By Fire

Peter Eastwood and three trusted colleagues set out to build Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance.
By: | December 1, 2013 • 9 min read

To understand the professional bonds and temperaments of the team that leads Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance, go back to 2008.

Peter Eastwood, president of BHSI since its April 29 launch, then worked at Lexington Insurance, AIG’s excess and surplus division. David Bresnahan, David Fields and Sanjay Godhwani, the three other players in the leadership quartet that left AIG for BHSI in April, were also AIG employees at the time. All of them had worked together on major projects and trusted one another. Then came September of 2008 and the earth shook in financial services.

We all know the story. AIG’s liquidity problems brought it to its knees. For many of its employees, the question became, should I stay or should I go?

These four stayed.

David Bresnahan, now an executive vice president, casualty, healthcare professional liability, executive and professional lines with BHSI, recalled that AIG’s property/casualty operation was financially sound at the time but was losing talent.

“Because of the parent company challenges and the possibility that people would start leaving the organization, there was the threat of a vicious spiral where people would leave and then customers would leave and lose confidence in the property/casualty businesses’ ability to move forward. And if the customers had left, that is the beginning of that downward spiral,” Bresnahan said.

David Bresnahan, executive vice president, casualty, healthcare professional liability, executive and professional lines, Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance

“Those years that we spent together — between December of 2008 through 2011 — were when I learned some of the most important life lessons with respect to leadership and teamwork.”
— David Bresnahan, executive vice president, casualty, healthcare, professional liability, executive & professional lines, Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance

Kevin Kelley, who had stood at the helm of Lexington for years, left the company in December of 2008 to take his present job as CEO of Ironshore.

Eastwood was then promoted to president and CEO of Lexington. It was, to that point in his career, the chance of a lifetime.

“It was an enormous opportunity for me and I recognized it for what it was. As a result of that event I have received more opportunity than I ever would have been given,” Eastwood said.


But he and his colleagues who stayed at Lexington and AIG had to battle to save the company and its reputation. Looking back, Eastwood now sees that as his proudest moment at AIG.

“I think the thing that stands out the most is how my former colleagues and I came together at the height of the financial crisis to move together as a team to move the organization forward. Essentially to run to the fight, to stay with the organization,” Eastwood said.

“I stayed, and I think my colleagues stayed, out of a sense of loyalty to one another and to the organization, as well as based on a commitment we felt we had made to customers and other business partners. Many of us had worked for AIG for many, many years,” he said.

One can’t gauge an individual in just one meeting. But when Risk & Insurance® interviewed Eastwood in New York in early November, he came off as someone with a great deal of self-control, who chooses his words very carefully. One executive who watched Eastwood at work in the stressful days of late 2008 recalled him as one who kept his cool.

“Despite everything going on around him,” said James Drinkwater, president of the brokerage division for the AmWINS Group Inc., “he was always very calm and very thoughtful in his approach.

“He obviously took over at a very difficult time in Lexington’s history. He retained many of the key staff and I think he just demonstrated great leadership at that time,” he said.

Eastwood also marks late 2008 and beyond as a time that strengthened his bonds with Bresnahan, Fields and Godhwani.

The Team

As he looks at the team he is assembling now, that proven success in sticking together to help salvage AIG is in his hip pocket.

“I have said repeatedly to people that they are individuals who are just great professionals and equally good, if not better, human beings,” Eastwood said.

In Eastwood, Bresnahan and Fields said, they have a leader who leads by example, someone who holds himself to high standards and expects the same from teammates.

“He is one of the hardest working individuals you will meet. No matter how high he has climbed in particular organizations, I find that he really sweats the details and really gets into the weeds of the business,” said Bresnahan.

Bresnahan said that he too feels the time the four spent at AIG when it was reeling not only strengthened their bonds with one another but helped them grow as individuals.


David Fields, executive vice president, underwriting, actuarial, finance and reinsurance at Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance

“I agree with Peter,” Bresnahan said, “Those years that we spent together — between December of 2008 through 2011 — were when I learned some of the most important life lessons with respect to leadership and teamwork.

“And I share Peter’s view that it was one of the more rewarding times. It really revolved around teamwork, collaboration and being highly communicative to employees, customers and brokers. Those were some of the keys that got us through that very difficult time,” he said.

That experience and the way it strengthened existing bonds, instead of weakening them, is perhaps why this team at BHSI has as much faith as it does.

“It comes from having worked together in a variety of different situations and feeling that we had each other’s backs. We really feel comfortable with each other,” said Fields, now executive vice president, underwriting, actuarial, finance and reinsurance at BHSI.

Chance of a Lifetime

Being able to launch BHSI, backed as it is by the Berkshire Hathaway name and balance sheet, presents unique advantages.

“From my perspective, I smile every morning. I feel like I need to be able to pinch myself about is this all real,” said Fields.

“We are fortunate to be able to have the capital support and name recognition of the Berkshire organization; the freedom within the organization to focus on the things that are important and to be able to accomplish them quickly; and then the ability to work with people that we know and feel comfortable with.


“We are creating an environment here that is completely different, in my opinion, than other places in the industry … it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said.

Bresnahan said the response from customers so far has been glowing.

“When you meet with customers,
a lot of validation comes out of those meetings. There is genuine joy that people have seeing what we are doing and recognizing that we have a really special opportunity,” Bresnahan said.

“They have approached the marketplace in a very responsible fashion,” said AmWINS’ Drinkwater, “and I think that they have got a terrific team that is going to be incredibly successful in building a new company.”

On the one hand, BHSI has capital strength and a strong brand so it is not viewed as a new entrant, but on the other, it has the unique opportunity to build a team and systems from the ground up that are highly efficient and service-oriented.

R12-13p24-26_01Eastwood12-2.indd“The opportunity in and of itself is exciting. But the ability to build a company with people you respect, trust and have a very strong working relationship with is unique.”
— Sanjay Godhwani, executive vice president, property and programs, Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance

“The opportunity in and of itself is exciting,” said Sanjay Godhwani, executive vice president, property and programs for BHSI. “But the ability to build a company with people you respect, trust and have a very strong working relationship with is unique.”

Since its launch, Eastwood said, BHSI has grown quickly and has been received enthusiastically by brokers and insureds. The possibilities are obviously enormous, but for Eastwood — who left a position as CEO and president of AIG property/casualty in the Americas for this unique opening — so too is the gravity with which it must be treated.

“It comes with a lot of opportunity and a lot of responsibility. The former of which I am thankful for, the latter of which I take very seriously. While the opportunity is significant for me, it is important for me to recognize the team and their contributions and the significance of this opportunity to them as well,” Eastwood said.

The Business So Far

BHSI was launched in April with Eastwood, Bresnahan, Fields and Godhwani. As of early November, the company had 73 employees and five business units, those being a property group, a casualty group, an executive professional lines group, a health care professional liability group and a program business group.

Coming out of the gate, Eastwood described BHSI as “disproportionately focused on the E&S market right now” for a number of reasons, “but evolving quickly.”

The reasons for the initial focus on E&S is that there is a good growth trajectory in E&S. It offers freedom of rate and form, and that makes it attractive for a firm looking to stand up businesses quickly, Eastwood said.


Getting to work in admitted markets takes a little longer to set up, but Eastwood said BHSI is in the process of doing that. The directors’ and officers’ market, in particular, and the larger professional lines space is more of an admitted market.

“We have just completed a primary D&O policy form and we are now underway getting that policy form filed and the rates filed with it,” Eastwood said.

BHSI is, at this point, also a predominantly U.S.-focused business. The United States is by far the largest market in the world and it is where the Berkshire Hathaway infrastructure is “largely focused and built,” Eastwood said.

But BHSI does have an interest, he said, in moving the business outside of the United States and is exploring opportunities. That said, the company is writing U.S.-domiciled risk with foreign exposures.

In terms of distribution, Eastwood said his team is “interested in seeing as much of the marketplace as we can and as a result we are interested in seeing as much business from as many brokers as we can see it, because it is, again, the only way to see the totality of the market.”

Eastwood said the network will be both retail and wholesale-focused.

“I value the wholesale broker channel as a very effective distribution channel for us, reaching brokers that we couldn’t get to on our own or getting to geographic territories that we wouldn’t get to on our own,” he said.

As this venture unfolds, the excitement on the part of the BHSI executives is palpable and the possibilities before them look to be historic in their uniqueness.

Eastwood described this chance to build a business within Berkshire Hathaway as an opportunity to work within a company that has “industry leading characteristics.”

One, he said, Berkshire Hathaway is a company that knows and values the insurance industry. Its personal lines business Geico and its reinsurance arm Gen Re being just two examples.

Two, it has great financial strength.

“In a business where companies are transferring risk and we are assuming risk — it’s a competitive advantage,” Eastwood said.

The third is the brand of Berkshire Hathaway, standing as it does in Eastwood’s words, for “integrity and doing things the right way.”

And the fourth is group empowerment.

Eastwood said he has the right team to act with that freedom and deliver.

It’s fair to say that the rest of the industry is watching closely.

Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Employment Practices


Sexual harassment is a growing concern for corporate America. Risk managers can pave the way to top-down culture change.
By: | March 5, 2018 • 12 min read

The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements opened up Pandora’s Box, launching countless public scandals and accusations. The stories that continue to emerge paint an unflattering picture of corporate America and the culture of sexual harassment that has permeated it for decades.


“The clock has run out on sexual assault, harassment and inequality in the workplace. It’s time to do something about it,” reads the official tagline of Time’s Up, one of the most vocal groups demanding change.

The GoFundMe campaign that supports the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund raised more than $16.7 million in less than a month, making it the most successful GoFundMe initiative on record.

Funds will be used to help victims of sexual harassment and assault bring legal action against harassers, as well as provide public relations consultation to manage any media attention such suits might attract.

The problem was never really a secret.

In surveys conducted since 1980 by the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, 40 percent of women and 15 percent of men consistently reported being sexually harassed at work.

In a sweeping meta-analysis of 25 years’ worth of research data, published in “Personnel Psychology,” an average of 25 percent of women reported experiencing sexual harassment at work. When respondents were given clear definitions of harassing behavior, that figure shot up to 60 percent.

The current climate is just now pushing awareness to the forefront. It was reported last November that law firms in the nation’s capital are seeing a spike in inquiries about sexual harassment cases.

Laura Coppola, regional head of commercial management liability in North America, Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty

In addition, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) website is seeing visits to its harassment web page double.

There’s no question the costs to businesses can be staggering. Twenty-First Century Fox reportedly incurred $50 million in costs tied to the settlement of sexual harassment and discrimination allegations in its Fox News division, as well as a $90 million settlement of shareholder claims arising from sexual harassment scandals.

In June, the company disclosed in a regulatory filing that it had $224 million in costs during the fiscal year related to “management and employee transitions and restructuring” at business units, including the group that houses Fox News.

If time is indeed up, it won’t just impact Hollywood, Silicon Valley or Capitol Hill. It will impact every workplace, in every industry.

“It affects everybody,” said Marie-France Gelot, senior vice president and insurance & claims counsel for Lockton’s Northeast Claims Advisory Group.

“I think anybody in corporate America — at some point — has seen it or been aware of it or been around it.”

“This particular phenomenon is certainly at a much wider scope than we’ve seen in the last decade or so,” said Laura Coppola, regional head of commercial management liability in North America, Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty.

“This is going to touch many industries, many segments, and many people.”

Employers are beginning to wonder if their workplace could be next.

“I think if you’d been asking [insureds] a year ago, ‘Are you interested in hearing about sexual harassment prevention?’ I think the answer would have been, ‘No, we’re good, we’ve got it,’ ” said Bob Graham, vice president, HUB International Limited.

“But I think now everyone’s saying ‘Sure, yes, we’d like to hear something.’ ”

Leading the Conversation

As American workplaces come under increasing scrutiny, the time is ripe for a large-scale pivot in the way employers manage risks related to sexual harassment.

The co-chairs of the EEOC’s select task force on the study of harassment in the workplace expressed it aptly in 2016:

“With legal liability long ago established, with reputational harm from harassment well known, with an entire cottage industry of workplace compliance and training adopted and encouraged for 30 years, why does so much harassment persist and take place in so many of our workplaces? And, most important of all, what can be done to prevent it? After 30 years — is there something we’ve been missing?”

Experts in the management liability field unanimously told Risk & Insurance® these issues should be elevated to the board level and the C-suite.

“Just as cyber liability shifted rapidly from an IT discussion to a board level discussion, so too will the harassment and discrimination discussion go beyond HR and be elevated to the highest levels,” said Coppola. It will become a corporate-wide, enterprise-wide conversation.

“It’s going to take some time to get to that board level, but it’s going to have to happen,” said Paul King, national practice leader, management and professional services, USI Insurance Services.

“Risk management and HR cannot go down parallel paths, not understanding one another. Not anymore. There’s too much at stake.” — Paul King, national practice leader, management and professional services, USI Insurance Services

Risk managers, said Kelly Thoerig, U.S. employment practices liability coverage leader, Marsh, are well suited to lead this conversation, which means actively partnering with human resources, the legal department, the general counsel’s office and outside counsel.


“Just like the quarterback depends on the offensive line, on receivers, on the running backs, it’s not a one-man show,” said King. “This can’t be the risk manager operating in a vacuum; they have to be liaising with multiple parts of the organization.”

Added King, “Risk management and HR cannot go down parallel paths, not understanding one another. Not anymore. There’s too much at stake.”

Connecting with outside counsel can also be of great benefit to risk managers, said Coppola.

“[They can] provide a very independent objective view of what they see in the overall market and how their knowledge of the individual client’s best practices can be improved and enhanced to ensure that they are protecting employees and the organization.”

Brokers and carriers also may be able to offer insights and services. Unfortunately, that piece is often lost because risk management and HR are siloed.

“The [knowledge of the] services that come with the insurance policy end up with the policy — in a drawer in the risk manager’s office,” said Tom Hams, employment practice liability insurance leader, Aon.

“HR doesn’t know that they exist. Even if they’re just online blogs or something like that, they could be more meaningful to the HR department than they are to risk management.

“So it’s important to make sure that companies are aware they’ve got those tools and — more importantly — to share them internally.”

Expediting Cultural Change

The X factor that underpins every aspect of these efforts is culture, experts agreed.

“It’s not so much ‘does the company have best-in-class policies and procedures in place;’ I think many of them do. I think that a significant change needed is doing a full overhaul of corporate culture, and that’s no small feat,” said Gelot.

Paul King, national practice leader, management and professional services, USI Insurance Services

True culture change can only come from the top level. But that isn’t likely to happen unless everyone at the top understands what the scope of the exposure could be if it’s not addressed appropriately on the front end. And for that, money talks, said Thoerig, who will be presenting on the topic at RIMS 2018 in San Antonio.

“Nothing is more instructive than real tangible claims examples and settlement amounts. Arm yourself with … recent, relevant claims examples specific to the industry and the jurisdictions the company operates in.”

In addition, said King, HR and legal should be regularly feeding claims information to risk managers to share at quarterly meetings of the board and give specific updates around these issues.

Armed with that level of intelligence, top brass can set the goals that will drive all anti-harassment efforts, said experts, putting an emphasis on identifying and correcting behavior that could potentially expose a company to liability.

Better Training and Reporting 

The best anti-harassment programs are multilayered, said Hams, with each facet carefully tailored to suit the employee population, the industry and the organization’s goals. A clearly defined policy is essential, stating that harassment will not be tolerated and neither will retaliation against those who report it.

The policy should be clear that employees are expected to report harassment or unacceptable behavior. Hams said he’s seen companies go so far as to state employees who don’t speak up are in violation of the policy.

“At least it should give them pause to stop and think about what they might have seen before they click the button or sign the document,” he said.

Companies should consider how uncomfortable employees may be about speaking up. An open-door policy is a start.

But there should also be multiple reporting points throughout the organization, said Hams, and an anonymous hotline for those reluctant to bring the matter up with anyone in their chain of command, and a multilingual hotline as well.

An effective training plan will have multiple moving parts and should touch every level of the organization from the executive suite to managers and supervisors to the rank and file. Comprehensive training is especially critical for the managers and supervisors who might receive or investigate complaints.

Many large employers already have training programs that can be considered best-in-class. Small to midsized employers, however, may still be using the cookie-cutter compliance-centric training that has dominated the field for decades.

The goal of this training is to hit all the bases related to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, ticking off a list of acts or speech that would be considered illegal and affirming the company will not tolerate illegal behavior.

Overwhelmingly though, this type of training misses the mark. Studies have shown that this one-size-fits-all training is ineffective, especially when it’s a rote check-the-box exercise. Employees get the message their employer doesn’t take the subject too seriously.

Worse, it can even aggravate tensions, creating more discriminatory behavior from men who avoid working with women just to eliminate the chance of being accused of anything.

One study even found that men were more likely to place blame on the victim of sexual abuse after they’d received that type of anti-harassment training.

Even at best, compliance-centric training will still fail, because it only addresses behaviors that violate the law. But there is a broad array of behavior that — while not quite illegal — shouldn’t be tolerated.

When this kind of activity is allowed to flourish unchecked, the environment becomes increasingly toxic for those on the receiving end. It also tells employees that the company will tolerate harassment as long as it’s not overly egregious. In that case, it’s just a matter of time before the company is faced with a serious claim.

“Nothing is more instructive than real tangible claims examples and settlement amounts. Arm yourself with … recent, relevant claims examples specific to the industry and the jurisdictions the company operates in.” — Kelly Thoerig, U.S. employment practices liability coverage leader, Marsh

In its 2016 report, the EEOC’s harassment task force recommended changing tactics, exploring alternative training models such as respect-based civility training — what some call professionalism training.


The theory is “if you train them to act in a professional manner, these things tend not to happen at all,” said Hams.

The EEOC also suggested bystander intervention training, which is designed to empower employees to intervene when they witness harassing behavior.

Experts agreed whatever training programs or modules a company chooses, it’s important the training material reflect the workforce and be continuous and regularly refreshed.

A certification scheme also should be put in place to ensure the training is hitting the mark. While the law does not yet require companies to prove the effectiveness of their programs, some suggest it’s only a matter of time before the courts catch up to the problem.

What’s more, said Coppola, it’s simply the right thing to do for companies that want to confirm they’ve created a culture where all employees can expect to be treated professionally.

Zero Tolerance

Gelot and others believe a zero-tolerance policy should be a key component of an effective anti-harassment program.

“There are many companies that have Harvey Weinsteins and Matt Lauers and Kevin Spaceys working in their midst and those people are tolerated. Employees know about them — it’s not a secret.”

Bob Graham, vice president, HUB International Limited

Particularly when the harasser is a high-level executive, companies may wrestle with the decision to look the other way or lose a key rainmaker. In a zero-tolerance environment — one that starts at the top — the decision would be clear.

“What we saw with Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose — they were terminated immediately as the accusations came out. That’s zero tolerance. That’s sending a message to all of the employees within the company that this is completely unacceptable, we won’t tolerate it, and [it] clearly sends a message to the public at large.”

Employers should promote a workplace culture where all forms of harassment and discrimination are unacceptable and reportable, said Gelot. That’s the only way to take the fear and the stigma out of reporting.

That said, the EEOC offers a word of caution on zero-tolerance policies applied militantly without regard for common sense. Employers should hash out the specifics of which acts merit immediate termination versus a warning.

Overzealous application of the zero-tolerance doctrine can backfire if an employee fears her coworker’s children will go hungry if she reports his lewd or sexist jokes.

Creating a Dialogue

As with managing any other exposure that touches everyone, robust sharing of ideas and best practices has the power to improve the risk profile of entire industry sectors.

Facebook raised eyebrows in December, making public its sexual harassment policy in full.

“I hope in sharing it we will start a discussion, both to help smaller companies thinking about this for the first time, and to improve our own practices by learning from other companies,” wrote Lori Goler, Facebook’s global VP of people, about the company’s bold move.


That level of disclosure is making some risk professionals uncomfortable. But others acknowledge the wisdom of it.

“Any time you can share best practices that’s probably a great idea, because no one has all the answers … or at least not all the right answers,” said Graham.

“There’s a reason they did that, and I think it’s for all the right, positive reasons. They want to drive the momentum that is going to reduce or even eliminate what we have seen in corporate America over the last 50-plus years. They want to lead by example, they want to be the model and rightly so,” added Coppola.

“I think we are at a perfect time in our economic environment that allows the evolution of equality in our workplace.”

Part of that should involve making the workplace more egalitarian, said Gelot, and figuring out “how to make female employees not feel ostracized by a ‘boys’ club’ atmosphere, and actively championing the ascension of women into senior rolls.”

“We can’t focus on the past,” said Coppola. “But we can work very hard collectively as a community, and within the insurance industry specifically, to move forward.” &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]