Departing RSA chief executive on Stephen Hester, his new boss, and message to brokers

Adrian Brown RSA

Outgoing RSA UK chief executive Adrian Brown has shared his aspirations for Arthur J Gallagher’s personal lines and underwriting business in his new role as executive chairman.

RSA confirmed this morning that Brown had resigned to become executive chairman of underwriting and distribution at the broker, which he will take up later this year after the insurer has appointed his successor.

Gallagher International chief executive David Ross described Brown’s appointment as “a huge hire for us”.

Brown told Insurance Times: “I’m interested in looking at things from the other side. I was never going to work for another insurer.

“David’s got a great team, but hopefully I can bring my experience of risk carrying and underwriting into the managing general agency side to grow and develop the business.”

Brown said that developing RSA’s direct personal lines brand More Th>n was one of his proudest achievements during his 25 years at the insurer – and that personal lines brokers could develop better products.

“I grew up in the personal lines business so it’s going to be really exciting for me to look at what Gallagher do and where I think we can drive that and improve it,” he added.

Why he chose Gallagher

Brown said he had a great personal and professional relationship with Ross. “We feed off each other,” he said. “We have complementary skills but we’re also quite similar in lots of ways. David absolutely cares about people and relationships first, and that’s where I am.”

Brown’s move was born out of an off-the-cuff discussion one night a few weeks ago, he said.

“Something was said and we both looked at each other. The next day he got back in touch and said ‘hey that might work’.”

But before that, Brown knew he wanted a fresh challenge. “Seven years is a long time to be a chief executive and I thought it was right to move on. RSA’s so special for me, and I also thought it was the right time for RSA as well. It gives RSA the opportunity to bring in some fresh thinking at the start of Stephen’s tenure and a new business plan to deliver.”

Brown said the word “transformation” was overused in the context of RSA’s UK plans.

“A new leadership increases your focus on that for sure. But we’re not talking about radical shifts in direction.

“We’ve got to make sure that the products are making us money and adding value to the brokers. If they don’t, you’ve got to change what you’re doing,” he said. “If you’re running a really good business, that’s what you should be doing all the time anyway.”

Stephen Hester: he’s tough and asks difficult questions

Brown praised RSA group chief executive Stephen Hester, who joined in February, as an “impressive leader”.

“One of the things that made it harder to leave is I have built up a really good relationship with him. He’s tough and he asks difficult questions, but that’s exactly what I’d expect from him.”

When he handed Hester his resignation, Brown said: “There were no histrionics or emotions. We dealt with it together in a very professional way, and in a way that makes sure there’s an effective transition for RSA.“

Brown pledged to work with his successor and Hester to ensure an effective transition.

Continuity for brokers

“After 25 years at a business you don’t announce that you’re leaving and suddenly jump ship. I’m going to be working really hard with Stephen and with [commercial and personal lines managing directors] Jon Hancock and Mark Christer, so the relationship with brokers isn’t impacted,” Brown said.  

He spoke to around 15 of RSA’s biggest broker trading partners this morning. “There was a fair bit of friendly banter, as we’re going to become competitors,” he said.

“I’ve had some great contact from some of my peers in the insurance market and some lovely emails from people in RSA that I’ve worked with for such a long time, too. It really makes you realise how many friends you’ve got in the industry.”

Brown said one of his disappointments about leaving was not being able to see through the turnaround of RSA’s Irish business. “I know it’s on track, but it will take a couple of years to get back to where it needs to be. And I know Ken Norgrove [new RSA Ireland chief executive] is the perfect person to come in.”