Biba's new upcoming chairman Derek Thornton tells Andrew Holt of his quiet determination to continue the work of outgoing chairman Max Taylor

The new incoming chairman of Biba, Derek Thornton, is a quiet, unassuming man who doesn't use more words than are required – which is unique for a Yorkshireman.

When asked what his vision is for his two-year tenure, he says quietly: "There is no need for a huge change in agenda. Max Taylor [Biba's outgoing chairman] and Eric [Galbraith] have both done great jobs and I want to keep that going."

Thornton, a director at Heath Lambert and chairman of FSJ, Heath Lambert's London Market wholesale division, doesn't officially take over his role from Max Taylor until Biba's AGM in July. And he isn't looking to stand on anyone's toes in the meantime.

The Biba conference, he says: "is Max's, he has put all the work in. I do not take over for a few more months and Max is still very much the chairman." '

But what are the big issues for him once he does sit in the chairman's chair? "Lobbying is very important," he says.

PR consultancy firm Fleishman Hillard was appointed 18 months ago to promote Biba and its members' interests on a political influential front.

This approach is working, says Thornton. "Fleishman Hillard is doing a great job and it is very important to get our message across with government bodies."

There is no doubt that Biba learned many lessons from the effective lobbying by travel agents, resulting in them being excluded from regulation when selling travel insurance unlike the way it applies to brokers.

EU lobbying

But the lobbying programme is not just within a UK framework. "The EU is very important for us to get our views across. I know the EU has put a hold on a certain number of legislation coming from Brussels, but there is still something like 20 potential drafts of legislation that could develop," says Thornton.

"There will always be a case for us to keep pushing our views through various channels and making our voice heard. It is something we have not been that strong at in the past."

Thornton is in a good position to assess the challenges facing brokers because his career has been shaped by the on-going development of broking and he has seen, at first hand, the reality of consolidation in broking over many years.

He has worked for Sedgwick Forbes, Jardine and Fenchurch. All have seen changes over the years, the latter of which merged into Health Lambert in 1999.

When I ask him about broker consolidation, he points to the fact that new companies are also emerging.

"The focus is always on consolidation. But there are more new companies entering the market than ever before."

And when asked about all the developments at Heath Lambert he casually bats this away with: "It's just business as usual."

But isn't his London market experience aloof from the remit of Biba's commitment to regional brokers? The manner in which Thornton answers this query shows his unassuming manner underpins some steel.

"Through the London Market Brokers' Committee there is a very effective regional committee and regular regional input, I will be travelling all around the country to hear for myself regional concerns and I have worked within a regional framework – so I know what the issues are for regional brokers."'

One of the issues that keeps cropping up at Insurance Times' regional broker events has unsurprisingly been that of regulation.

"We have regularly argued for lighter touch regulation," says Thornton.

But hasn't Biba failed in this regard? "We, like anybody, have to work within the environment that is set by the regulators, but we are in regular contact with the FSA to express our views." But he adds more firmly: "We do not see a reason for more regulation to be introduced."

Thornton has made a career in taking top positions within the industry, holding many posts within the City and market, to the point one has to wonder if he likes holding titles.

His most recent title foray, was being the founding chairman of the CII's London Market Faculty. "It is not just about holding a title," he says.

"It is about putting something back into the industry and more importantly shaping how the industry can be in the future. This is very important to me."

Max Taylor, the outgoing chairman of Biba and deputy chairman of Aon, focuses on Thornton's experience when assessing his qualities.

"Derek has a wealth of broking knowledge and experience of the industry and I know he will bring great benefits to Biba's board. I'm sure he will prove to be a strong chairman for the organisation."

Thornton will also see a big membership push, that has already borne fruit. "We have been undertaking a big membership drive which has been successful."

There were 220 new members last year and 193 so far this year. "Although I cannot take credit for that," says Thornton modestly. IT