60 seconds with … Andrew McMellin

This month, Clare Nash, Director at Norman Broadbent Group interviews Andrew McMellin, ex CEO of Pioneer Underwriters. Having started his career 30+ years ago as a broker, Andrew went on to have a successful career in underwriting including working in the Lloyd’s market, growing and managing global teams with various underwriting and general leadership roles, both in the UK and US.

Of all your experiences and achievements in the industry to date, which are you most proud of and why?

I am fortunate to have had two great experiences, both very different. Firstly I’m very proud of my recent role at Pioneer as group CEO, and of the team there. We completed a complex sale in three tranches through the COVID lockdown, which in itself threw up a number of challenges.

Pioneer was a challenged business. When I joined in October 2018, it hadn’t made an underwriting profit for the majority of its carriers. One of the most immediate priorities was to get the Lloyd’s syndicate business plan approved and get capital support back on board. We then had to go about repositioning the business, which involved strengthening reserves and letting go of some units clearly with a real human impact. Then in early 2019 we undertook a strategic review with the Board and it was clear that the best course of action for all stakeholders – shareholders, customers, employees – was to go through a sale process.

We had terms agreed just before the first lockdown last year. It was a fairly complex structure which involved a large number of people in the organisation from a technical or quasi-legal process, which took them out of their comfort zones. The COVID lockdown made it even more challenging and slowed the process including not being able to thrash out issues with everyone in the same room.  But we got there!

I’d like to thank everyone involved in getting over the various challenges, individual and corporate and achieving a good result for all stakeholders (importantly including the employees). While it took a lot of perseverance, I look back on it now with pride both for myself and the team.

The second experience was when I went to work in the US as the CEO of Catlin’s US business. The US market is different to the UK – it’s obviously the largest global market, but it has a unique structure and a distinct culture; one that you only truly appreciate being in situ. The business I went to run had been fast-growing from its start-up and had got to a position of writing GWP c. $1bn. However, it had quite an independently minded culture to the wider Catlin group. One of my tasks was to build a more collaborative environment. We started top down and I worked with the exec team to drive that cultural change. For some this meant significant differences, taking them into new territory so there was a need for continual encouragement and reassurance. But what was satisfying was that perseverance paid off with people seeing and appreciating the change across the business.

This was exemplified by the teamwork shown during the successful implementation of a new IT platform involving the US and the wider group that we delivered on time and within budget; it’s not often you can say that about IT projects!

At the same time, we further grew the US business by 40% over my three years and so I look back at that with a great amount of pride over what I and my team achieved.

What advice would you give yourself if you were starting out again?

Try different things. Don’t pigeon-hole yourself into one career or industry segment. Go off and experiment with new experiences . And within that – volunteer for initiatives , especially projects that wouldn’t necessarily fall to you. The prospect will be quite daunting, but that’s where you will learn the most from it. Particularly early on in your career – there’s nothing really to lose. Actually, later in your career there’s nothing much to lose either! If you don’t fail at things you can’t grow.

And always ask lots of questions along the way! Be very curious – about the business and the broader industry. If you don’t understand – ask a question. If you want clarification – ask lots of questions! We’ll never know everything.

What excites you most about the future of your industry?

That’s a big one. The first thing I would say, which doesn’t just apply to insurance, but many industries is that we’re really at a turning point, in terms of what we’ve been through in the last twelve months. I think for our industry, and particularly for the London market, working remotely through the COVID lockdown has accelerated the use of technological tools. Much more so than any amount of corporate cajoling or industry initiatives could ever have achieved. That will have a lasting impact on the industry – and what excites me is what that impact will be. What we need to focus on as an industry now is how we accelerate to the next level. We need to take what we now know is possible and keep moving it forward – be it single data entry, real end-to-end processing. It doesn’t mean we lose the face-to-face negotiations, but it is how you support that and translate that through into real efficiency and expense savings. I don’t think we’ve seen that yet, but we will, and it’s exciting because it means that the business becomes more sustainable, with customers obtaining better value but also companies maintaining their balance sheet strength.

Additionally, there is more to be done around communicating the value of insurance. I think over the last 12 months, in the public eye at least, the perception of the insurance sector has taken a knock. Many leaders are getting out there to drive communication about the value of insurance in keeping society and industry moving, but we need more of that, helping everyone understand the value and benefit that insurance offers.

What is your Golden Rule?

Enjoy what you’re doing. Make sure you have fun in what you’re doing. We spend so much of our time at work, so you want to enjoy your role, and the people you are working with. If you don’t, then change it – life is too short to go around being glum about what you are doing plus people do better at work they enjoy doing, so you’ll reap more rewards, and be more successful, too.

What are you currently reading?

I’ve just finished Eric Idle’s autobiography Always look on the bright side of life. I’m a  Monty Python fan, but it’s a great book for everyone. Not only were Monty Python all very talented as individuals, but also had very different skills and brought them to the team. Their collective output was far greater than the sum of their parts; a lesson for us all.

I’m just starting Skin in the Game by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. It’s a practical exploration of hidden asymmetries in individuals when we talk about taking on risk and assessing whether they really do have ‘skin in the game’. Taleb says “don’t pay attention to the advice people give you, pay attention to what they actually do, and whether their neck is really on the line” He explores the concept in lots of different aspects of life – religion, public service as well as industry, which makes for a fascinating read.

If you would like to discuss the wider market in more detail and /or your hiring plans for 2021, please do not hesitate to contact Clare Nash, Director of Financial Services via clare.nash@normanbroadbent.com or +44(0)7483 015591