Learn How WTW’s Jay Berg Builds Brilliant Risk Management Teams
When clients laud Jay Berg, he is quick to elaborate that his work could not be accomplished without the help of his team. And his team includes not just his colleagues at Willis Towers Watson, and even beyond the client, to include carriers and even in some cases the client’s other brokers.
“I am a risk manager who became a broker,” Berg said, “and I understand how important it is to level the playing field for the client. I believe in long-term relationships, which means being able to work with many people for the ultimate benefit of the client.”
That expansive view of collaboration takes on another dimension during mergers and acquisitions, an area of expertise for Berg.
“Who is the M&A team?” Berg asked. “It’s the seller and the buyer and their attorneys and the lenders and their attorneys. And the seller’s brokers and carriers, and the buyer’s brokers and carriers.”
Berg is also careful to note that “sometimes my client is driving the deal, and sometimes they are along for the ride. Even when my client is in the passenger seat, I still have to meet my client’s goals within the overall transaction. Individuals, balance sheets and operations all have to be protected throughout the process and after it is over. In M&A that means not just purchase and sale agreements but runoffs and on-going coverage.”
It also means particularly diligent gap analysis of moving targets. “How do runoffs mesh with continuing or new programs?” Berg explained.
“The deals may change, prices may change, escrow amounts may change. We don’t get into the dollars and cents of the deal, but as that gets negotiated, we have to keep current on costs and what assets are changing hands. Some carriers don’t want certain exposures. We always try to work with carriers that have both aptitude and appetite.”
And there always has to be a contingency plan in case the deal is delayed. That has been the case for PNM Resources, a regulated, investor-owned utility in New Mexico and Texas. “Last year was very challenging for our organization,” said Rebecca Tafoya, insurance and risk manager.
“We were fully expecting to merge in 2021, and Jay fully expected to lose the account as our program was rolled up into the new company.
But Berg was a risk manager in his past and understands the challenges of navigating M&A.
“Despite that prospect, he and his team handled our renewal as well as several other major projects,” Tafoya continued. “There were a lot of moving parts and they never missed a deadline. They got everything done and made me look good. Now the merger has been extended until 2023, and we are grateful to have Jay another year.”
One of the extra projects that Tafoya detailed was a heavy lift for her employment-practices liability (EPL) coverage.
“Our incumbent carrier decided not to renew. Instead of scrambling just to find another underwriter, Jay took it upon himself to create a whole new EPL tower and get it placed at comparable costs, terms, and conditions.”
Berg is originally from Miami. He started his studies at University of Miami and finished at Florida International University with concentrations in international business and marketing. He started working in the late 1980s at AMP, Inc., a large manufacturer of cables, motherboards, and subscriber identification module (SIM) cards.
“Work took me from the East Coast to the West Coast,” Berg related, “where, in the 1990-91 recession I was laid off. I took an ‘opportunity as management trainee’ which turned out to be in claims at State Farm, where I worked my way up to running their West Coast region.”
One of his clients liked Berg’s work so much that he was asked to join California Federal Bank, in San Francisco, which at the time was the second largest thrift institution behind Washington Mutual building expertise and responsibility. He was there until it was acquired by Citigroup, whereupon Berg joined Gateway Computers, based in San Diego, as risk manager.
“All along, Willis had been a broker for CalFed and Gateway,” said Berg.
“In 2003, I was recruited out of Gateway to join Willis in New York, back to the East Coast. I moved to Atlanta in 2005 — becoming a client advocate, ultimately becoming a global client advocate (GCA) in 2015.
“Being a GCA, allows me to be a risk manager again. I love assisting my team in building risk management programs and having my hands in lots of pots.”
Berg credits two important mentors in his life.
“First, my father, Edward. He was and still is a big part of my life, in particular how I handle myself in business: work hard and listen. My mentor at Willis was Wayne Herrington, a previous regional leader of the Willis operations in the South. He helped me understand the political environment in and around business.”
Berg’s wife Abbie is an underwriter for Safety National. They have four children and live outside of Atlanta but still get back to New York often, especially to see Broadway shows.
They also try to get to Europe every other year. In between, their activities range from cycling regionally to cruising. They also frequent the gulf beaches of Florida and Mexico.
Berg is an avid and eclectic reader. Several recent books he recommends include The War Before Independence by Derek Beck, and Cork Dork by Bianca Bosker, about becoming a sommelier. &