2016 Power Broker

Power Brokers of Negotiation

In a record year for M&As, the 2016 Power Brokers excelled at marrying risk management cultures and firming up carrier relationships.
By: | February 22, 2016 • 7 min read

Spurred on by low interest rates and an appetite for scale, business leaders in 2015 sought to create market heft through mergers and acquisitions.

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Winners of the 2016 Risk & Insurance® Power Broker® award were right there with them; marrying risk management cultures, ironing out coverage gaps and redundancies, and getting the insurance carriers to behave on price.

Alex Michon, a Sacramento, Calif.-based senior vice president with Aon, is a 2016 Power Broker® in the health care category. In a health care system merger that came out of the gate as a fire drill and then dragged on for months, Michon was reminded of a key M&A consideration: the human cost in acquisitions is often underestimated.

That’s something commercial insurance brokers need to keep in mind if they are going to build productive relationships and achieve the goals of both the buyer and the seller. Many times the risk manager for the acquired company is losing his or her job. Yet they still have to perform at the top of their game to bring off the deal.

“I think the human cost is usually under-represented in terms of the stress that these people are going through,” Michon said.

In these cases the broker can be a friend to the risk manager, who might not be first in the thoughts of finance executives or other company leadership. The risk manager might be driving in to work every day, knowing that a merger is underway and be unable to tell colleagues about it; even though hundreds of jobs may soon be on the chopping block.

“We are one of the few people who can openly talk to them,” Michon said.

In most cases, Michon said, the risk manager will perform admirably, giving the brokers and carriers all the information they need to be able to write the risk of the combined companies.

But Michon has seen cases where risk managers became so concerned with their futures that they put most of their energy into job hunting.

That tension can also impact dialogues with brokers who are working on a target company account, according to Arthur J. Gallagher’s Amy Sinclair, a 2016 Power Broker® in the pharmaceutical category and a veteran of many merger deals.

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“Employees of the target company are concerned about redundancy at the acquisition partner,” Sinclair said.

“There is a good chance they may no longer have a job once the transaction closes,” she said.

Smaller brokerages that don’t have a lot of experience with M&As may dig in their heels a little bit.

“Generally speaking, brokers for the target and acquisition partner work well together,” Sinclair said.

“Regardless of what side of the transaction you are on, you still want to provide the best service to your client. It is not in anyone’s best interest to withhold information or to be uncooperative,” she said.

Carrier Relationships

The broker’s burden of relationship maintenance in the case of an acquisition also extends to those that underwrite the risks — the carriers. There is a lot of work to be done to convince the carrier that the risk they know won’t change when one company acquires another.

Herman Brito Jr., assistant vice president, Marsh

Herman Brito Jr., assistant vice president, Marsh

Marsh’s Herman Brito Jr.,  a 2016 Power Broker® in the marine category who places cargo and inland marine policies, played a part in two blockbuster deals in 2015; the acquisition by General Electric of the French electric railcar maker Alstom and the marriage of global food giants Kraft and Heinz.

Marsh was new to the Heinz account when the Kraft merger loomed. Pre-merger, Brito convinced Heinz to ditch its captive for global cargo exposures and transfer the risk to AIG. Even though Marsh wound up with both accounts, the rules of broker-client confidentiality meant that Brito couldn’t call his colleagues in Chicago — where Kraft is based — and check up on Kraft’s loss history.

Brito is a big fan of AIG’s multinational placements, calling them “best in class.” His challenge was to make sure that Kraft benefitted from the same aggressive terms he was getting for Heinz post-merger. As the cargo broker, Brito knew that the carriers had bigger concerns about things such as combined property exposures than what he was placing.

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“Not only am I asking you to make it clear and concise for Heinz/Kraft, let’s make it easy on ourselves by implementing a mergers and acquisitions clause and a multi-year rate agreement,” Brito told the underwriters.

“It took a tremendous effort to change the structure that was in place in August 2014, and to obtain the coverages implemented in May 2015, but when claims occurred they started to see the benefits in certain coverages and why we pursued those,” Brito said.

“I think the human cost is usually under-represented in terms of the stress that these people are going through.” — Alex Michon, senior vice president, Aon

The General Electric/Alstom merger was another kettle of fish.

“GE’s acquisition of  Alstom was the hardest acquisition I have ever done,” Brito said.

The reason?

General Electric has a highly centralized risk management department, four risk managers handling the entire global program. Alstom had up to 30 risk managers, many of them with local authority.

Another difference was that General Electric has a huge retention and Alstom had more of a “trading dollars” philosophy, spending so much on premium against so much in expected losses.

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Brito needed to convince the carrier that when GE bought Alstom, the cargo risk management programs would become one. Initially, the insurer wasn’t buying it. But eventually Brito convinced the underwriters that once the companies were married, Alstom’s standards would come up to GE’s.

Part of Brito’s job was to make sure he was available at any hour of the day to answer questions from Alstom risk managers around the globe and help them buy into the GE program.

“If you demonstrate that you are willing to have conference calls at a time that is most convenient in India, people are more willing to do what you are asking them to do,” Brito said.

The GE/Alstom deal closed in November of 2015. Brito was still spending a lot of time on it when we spoke to him in January.

Odd Couples

Marrying risk management cultures in a merger is a must; having the tools and the drive to convince carriers to take on the combined risk is crucial; and so is conducting enough due diligence to manage risk and provide adequate employee benefits when two very different company cultures get together.

Consider the challenges faced by Eric Wittenmyer, a 2016 Power Broker® in the health care category.

Eric Wittenmyer, senior vice president, Aon

Eric Wittenmyer, senior vice president, Aon

Wittenmyer, a senior vice president with Aon based in Chicago, was tasked with ironing out employee benefits for a large hospital system merger involving thousands of employees. One of the organizations classified hundreds of their employees as executives, eligible for a special category of benefits. The other organization counted slightly more than a dozen executives in a similar category.

“What we did was a tremendous amount of benchmarking, and an awful lot of cost modeling,” Wittenmyer said. That science determined that the hospital with the smaller group of employees classified as executives was closer to the norm.

Then came the art. That was figuring out how different employees perceived the value of certain ancillary benefits, such as life insurance and disability benefits.

Once that was determined, the in-house benefits team, with Wittenmyer’s guidance, offered one-time cash payments to employees who felt they were having a guaranteed benefit taken away, while still offering them access to an employer supported program; just not one in which the employer paid for the whole nut.

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“So once we had done all of the plan design work, we had to manage significant transitional coordination issues,” Wittenmyer said.

Because coverage of certain benefits for the merged entities was taking effect on a staggered schedule, with some benefits being in place Jan. 1, for example, and others March 1, Wittenmyer had to earn the trust of underwriters who were being asked to stay on certain programs for a few months — some of them involving high potential life insurance pay-outs — without the corresponding premium income.

In the end, Wittenmyer was able to convince the carriers to work with him, with no price increases, because of the attractive size of the merged accounts.

“I think everything was as transparent as it could be and the vendors understood that,” Wittenmyer said.

See the complete list of 2016 Power Broker® winners.

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

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Exclusive | Hank Greenberg on China Trade, Starr’s Rapid Growth and 100th, Spitzer, Schneiderman and More

In a robust and frank conversation, the insurance legend provides unique insights into global trade, his past battles and what the future holds for the industry and his company.
By: | October 12, 2018 • 12 min read

In 1960, Maurice “Hank” Greenberg was hired as a vice president of C.V. Starr & Co. At age 35, he had already accomplished a great deal.

He served his country as part of the Allied Forces that stormed the beaches at Normandy and liberated the Nazi death camps. He fought again during the Korean War, earning a Bronze Star. He held a law degree from New York Law School.

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Now he was ready to make his mark on the business world.

Even C.V. Starr himself — who hired Mr. Greenberg and later hand-picked him as the successor to the company he founded in Shanghai in 1919 — could not have imagined what a mark it would be.

Mr. Greenberg began to build AIG as a Starr subsidiary, then in 1969, he took it public. The company would, at its peak, achieve a market cap of some $180 billion and cement its place as the largest insurance and financial services company in history.

This month, Mr. Greenberg travels to China to celebrate the 100th anniversary of C.V. Starr & Co. That visit occurs at a prickly time in U.S.-Sino relations, as the Trump administration levies tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars in Chinese goods and China retaliates.

In September, Risk & Insurance® sat down with Mr. Greenberg in his Park Avenue office to hear his thoughts on the centennial of C.V. Starr, the dynamics of U.S. trade relationships with China and the future of the U.S. insurance industry as it faces the challenges of technology development and talent recruitment and retention, among many others. What follows is an edited transcript of that discussion.


R&I: One hundred years is quite an impressive milestone for any company. Celebrating the anniversary in China signifies the importance and longevity of that relationship. Can you tell us more about C.V. Starr’s history with China?

Hank Greenberg: We have a long history in China. I first went there in 1975. There was little there, but I had business throughout Asia, and I stopped there all the time. I’d stop there a couple of times a year and build relationships.

When I first started visiting China, there was only one state-owned insurance company there, PICC (the People’s Insurance Company of China); it was tiny at the time. We helped them to grow.

I also received the first foreign life insurance license in China, for AIA (The American International Assurance Co.). To date, there has been no other foreign life insurance company in China. It took me 20 years of hard work to get that license.

We also introduced an agency system in China. They had none. Their life company employees would get a salary whether they sold something or not. With the agency system of course you get paid a commission if you sell something. Once that agency system was installed, it went on to create more than a million jobs.

R&I: So Starr’s success has meant success for the Chinese insurance industry as well.

Hank Greenberg: That’s partly why we’re going to be celebrating that anniversary there next month. That celebration will occur alongside that of IBLAC (International Business Leaders’ Advisory Council), an international business advisory group that was put together when Zhu Rongji was the mayor of Shanghai [Zhu is since retired from public life]. He asked me to start that to attract foreign companies to invest in Shanghai.

“It turns out that it is harder [for China] to change, because they have one leader. My guess is that we’ll work it out sooner or later. Trump and Xi have to meet. That will result in some agreement that will get to them and they will have to finish the rest of the negotiations. I believe that will happen.” — Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, chairman and CEO, C.V. Starr & Co. Inc.

Shanghai and China in general were just coming out of the doldrums then; there was a lack of foreign investment. Zhu asked me to chair IBLAC and to help get it started, which I did. I served as chairman of that group for a couple of terms. I am still a part of that board, and it will be celebrating its 30th anniversary along with our 100th anniversary.

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We have a good relationship with China, and we’re candid as you can tell from the op-ed I published in the Wall Street Journal. I’m told that my op-ed was received quite well in China, by both Chinese companies and foreign companies doing business there.

On August 29, Mr. Greenberg published an opinion piece in the WSJ reminding Chinese leaders of the productive history of U.S.-Sino relations and suggesting that Chinese leaders take pragmatic steps to ease trade tensions with the U.S.

R&I: What’s your outlook on current trade relations between the U.S. and China?

Hank Greenberg: As to the current environment, when you are in negotiations, every leader negotiates differently.

President Trump is negotiating based on his well-known approach. What’s different now is that President Xi (Jinping, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China) made himself the emperor. All the past presidents in China before the revolution had two terms. He’s there for life, which makes things much more difficult.

R&I: Sure does. You’ve got a one- or two-term president talking to somebody who can wait it out. It’s definitely unique.

Hank Greenberg: So, clearly a lot of change is going on in China. Some of it is good. But as I said in the op-ed, China needs to be treated like the second largest economy in the world, which it is. And it will be the number one economy in the world in not too many years. That means that you can’t use the same terms of trade that you did 25 or 30 years ago.

They want to have access to our market and other markets. Fine, but you have to have reciprocity, and they have not been very good at that.

R&I: What stands in the way of that happening?

Hank Greenberg: I think there are several substantial challenges. One, their structure makes it very difficult. They have a senior official, a regulator, who runs a division within the government for insurance. He keeps that job as long as he does what leadership wants him to do. He may not be sure what they want him to do.

For example, the president made a speech many months ago saying they are going to open up banking, insurance and a couple of additional sectors to foreign investment; nothing happened.

The reason was that the head of that division got changed. A new administrator came in who was not sure what the president wanted so he did nothing. Time went on and the international community said, “Wait a minute, you promised that you were going to do that and you didn’t do that.”

So the structure is such that it is very difficult. China can’t react as fast as it should. That will change, but it is going to take time.

R&I: That’s interesting, because during the financial crisis in 2008 there was talk that China, given their more centralized authority, could react more quickly, not less quickly.

Hank Greenberg: It turns out that it is harder to change, because they have one leader. My guess is that we’ll work it out sooner or later. Trump and Xi have to meet. That will result in some agreement that will get to them and they will have to finish the rest of the negotiations. I believe that will happen.

R&I: Obviously, you have a very unique perspective and experience in China. For American companies coming to China, what are some of the current challenges?

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Hank Greenberg: Well, they very much want to do business in China. That’s due to the sheer size of the country, at 1.4 billion people. It’s a very big market and not just for insurance companies. It’s a whole range of companies that would like to have access to China as easily as Chinese companies have access to the United States. As I said previously, that has to be resolved.

It’s not going to be easy, because China has a history of not being treated well by other countries. The U.S. has been pretty good in that way. We haven’t taken advantage of China.

R&I: Your op-ed was very enlightening on that topic.

Hank Greenberg: President Xi wants to rebuild the “middle kingdom,” to what China was, a great country. Part of that was his takeover of the South China Sea rock islands during the Obama Administration; we did nothing. It’s a little late now to try and do something. They promised they would never militarize those islands. Then they did. That’s a real problem in Southern Asia. The other countries in that region are not happy about that.

R&I: One thing that has differentiated your company is that it is not a public company, and it is not a mutual company. We think you’re the only large insurance company with that structure at that scale. What advantages does that give you?

Hank Greenberg: Two things. First of all, we’re more than an insurance company. We have the traditional investment unit with the insurance company. Then we have a separate investment unit that we started, which is very successful. So we have a source of income that is diverse. We don’t have to underwrite business that is going to lose a lot of money. Not knowingly anyway.

R&I: And that’s because you are a private company?

Hank Greenberg: Yes. We attract a different type of person in a private company.

R&I: Do you think that enables you to react more quickly?

Hank Greenberg: Absolutely. When we left AIG there were three of us. Myself, Howie Smith and Ed Matthews. Howie used to run the internal financials and Ed Matthews was the investment guy coming out of Morgan Stanley when I was putting AIG together. We started with three people and now we have 3,500 and growing.

“I think technology can play a role in reducing operating expenses. In the last 70 years, you have seen the expense ratio of the industry rise, and I’m not sure the industry can afford a 35 percent expense ratio. But while technology can help, some additional fundamental changes will also be required.” — Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, chairman and CEO, C.V. Starr & Co. Inc.

R&I:  You being forced to leave AIG in 2005 really was an injustice, by the way. AIG wouldn’t have been in the position it was in 2008 if you had still been there.

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Hank Greenberg: Absolutely not. We had all the right things in place. We met with the financial services division once a day every day to make sure they stuck to what they were supposed to do. Even Hank Paulson, the Secretary of Treasury, sat on the stand during my trial and said that if I’d been at the company, it would not have imploded the way it did.

R&I: And that fateful decision the AIG board made really affected the course of the country.

Hank Greenberg: So many people lost all of their net worth. The new management was taking on billions of dollars’ worth of risk with no collateral. They had decimated the internal risk management controls. And the government takeover of the company when the financial crisis blew up was grossly unfair.

From the time it went public, AIG’s value had increased from $300 million to $180 billion. Thanks to Eliot Spitzer, it’s now worth a fraction of that. His was a gross misuse of the Martin Act. It gives the Attorney General the power to investigate without probable cause and bring fraud charges without having to prove intent. Only in New York does the law grant the AG that much power.

R&I: It’s especially frustrating when you consider the quality of his own character, and the scandal he was involved in.

In early 2008, Spitzer was caught on a federal wiretap arranging a meeting with a prostitute at a Washington Hotel and resigned shortly thereafter.

Hank Greenberg: Yes. And it’s been successive. Look at Eric Schneiderman. He resigned earlier this year when it came out that he had abused several women. And this was after he came out so strongly against other men accused of the same thing. To me it demonstrates hypocrisy and abuse of power.

Schneiderman followed in Spitzer’s footsteps in leveraging the Martin Act against numerous corporations to generate multi-billion dollar settlements.

R&I: Starr, however, continues to thrive. You said you’re at 3,500 people and still growing. As you continue to expand, how do you deal with the challenge of attracting talent?

Hank Greenberg: We did something last week.

On September 16th, St. John’s University announced the largest gift in its 148-year history. The Starr Foundation donated $15 million to the school, establishing the Maurice R. Greenberg Leadership Initiative at St. John’s School of Risk Management, Insurance and Actuarial Science.

Hank Greenberg: We have recruited from St. John’s for many, many years. These are young people who want to be in the insurance industry. They don’t get into it by accident. They study to become proficient in this and we have recruited some very qualified individuals from that school. But we also recruit from many other universities. On the investment side, outside of the insurance industry, we also recruit from Wall Street.

R&I: We’re very interested in how you and other leaders in this industry view technology and how they’re going to use it.

Hank Greenberg: I think technology can play a role in reducing operating expenses. In the last 70 years, you have seen the expense ratio of the industry rise, and I’m not sure the industry can afford a 35 percent expense ratio. But while technology can help, some additional fundamental changes will also be required.

R&I: So as the pre-eminent leader of the insurance industry, what do you see in terms of where insurance is now an where it’s going?

Hank Greenberg: The country and the world will always need insurance. That doesn’t mean that what we have today is what we’re going to have 25 years from now.

How quickly the change comes and how far it will go will depend on individual companies and individual countries. Some will be more brave than others. But change will take place, there is no doubt about it.

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More will go on in space, there is no question about that. We’re involved in it right now as an insurance company, and it will get broader.

One of the things you have to worry about is it’s now a nuclear world. It’s a more dangerous world. And again, we have to find some way to deal with that.

So, change is inevitable. You need people who can deal with change.

R&I:  Is there anything else, Mr. Greenberg, you want to comment on?

Hank Greenberg: I think I’ve covered it. &

The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]