The 2020 Executives to Watch: The Starr Company’s Haoming Zhou
The history of the Starr Companies in China is long and deep and bears repeating.
Cornelius Vander Starr, the company’s founder, began insurance operations in Shanghai in 1919. Although interrupted by the seizure of Shanghai by Japanese armed forces in 1941, the company has maintained operations in China ever since.
Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, the chairman and CEO of Starr, holds a special place in his heart for Shanghai, the Chinese people and the significance he and the insurance business have played in broadening U.S.-Chinese business relationships.
That’s why the September 2019 appointment of Haoming Zhou as the general manager and president of Starr China P&C is so noteworthy.
Zhou’s history in insurance isn’t as long as Hank Greenberg’s, but then again, not many can claim that kind of longevity. Toward the end of 2019, Risk & Insurance® caught up with Zhou to get his thoughts on the appointment and some of the challenges and opportunities he plans on engaging.
Bringing and Engineering Perspective to Insurance
Zhou’s track record includes six years as head of Brit Global Specialty of Lloyd’s in Shanghai, more than two years as CEO of Aon in China, and as the head of construction and engineering of RSA in Hong Kong for two years, among other appointments.
Zhou is trained as an engineer and said he plans on leaning on his analytical training and skills in his new position. He also said his extensive international experience should come in handy.
“I have been in the insurance industry for more than 20 years, including reinsurance and intermediaries as well as insurance, having managed businesses in China, other parts of Asia and the Middle East,” Zhou said.
“These experiences are very relevant when dealing with the business opportunities and challenges in Starr China and when I communicate and collaborate with Starr Companies in Asia and beyond,” he said.
Zhou has the experience, and he’s going to need it, because the insurance business is getting more — not less — competitive.
Zhou also faces challenges that many insurance leaders face. One is the ongoing challenge of recruiting, hiring and training talent. The other is maintaining and expanding the Starr brand in China, which despite its long history, must still compete with other Chinese insurance businesses for premium dollars.
Carrying on the Legacy
Zhou has faith in the Starr brand and considers himself honored to have been able to participate in the celebration honoring Starr’s 100th anniversary of doing business in China.
In October of 2019, Greenberg traveled to China to be part of that celebration, which was joined by the International Business Leaders’ Advisory Council, an international business advisory group that was begun by Greenberg when Zhu Rongi was the mayor of Shanghai. Greenberg has chaired that council over the years, and still serves on it. The council celebrated its 30th anniversary alongside Starr’s 100th anniversary last October.
Now Zhou is excited to help carry on that legacy.
“I knew a lot of people at Starr before I was approached for this position, so I was familiar with the corporate culture,” he said.
“It was the interviews with the Starr senior executives, and most importantly with Mr. Greenberg, that made me eager to join the great team in China,” he said.
Zhou said he can already point to a few highlights in the four months he has been with the company, including meeting and working with the energetic Starr team in all 13 branch offices, the ability to leverage Starr’s market-leading position on several fronts and the positive working relationship Starr has with is clients and insurance partners.
One of his main highlights was being part of a strategy and business review with Greenberg and his executives in China in his second month on the job.
“It’s an honor to participate in celebrating Starr’s 100th anniversary in Shanghai and be part of the Starr history,” Zhou said. &
For the full list of Insurance Executives to Watch in 2020, click here.