Outgoing president reflects on his high-profile career and the hazards of going “from 100mph to zero”

A year ago the then Crawford & Company [Crawford & Co] president Clive Nicholls lost his sister at the age of 51, an incident that completely devastated him. After that, time became more precious.

But the experience he said was something that he could not have navigated without his Crawford & Co colleagues, many of whom offered their sympathy.

This was Nicholls’ main message in his leaving speech at his retirement party in September, he also spoke of being taken aback by the number of well wishes he received upon the announcement.

He told Insurance Times that retiring was one of the toughest decisions he has had to make, but the reality of losing his sister made him question working past his 60th birthday.

Nicholls retired as president of loss adjuster Crawford & Co at the end of last month after serving the firm for a whole decade. He will pass the baton to Lisa Bartlett, who he has been training over the past month. She currently holds the position of chief client officer, and began her role at the beginning of October.

March 2015 saw Nicholls appointed president – UK & Ireland for Crawford & Co, he had previously been appointed as senior vice president, global client development for Europe, Middle East, Africa & Asia Pacific for the firm, but started there in 2009.

Heart of the business

Nicholls believes that people matter first in business – they are the heart of it. And it is the people that Nicholls says he will miss the most. 

He says: “Most of us would say it’s belonging to the wider [Crawford’s] family that makes a difference. If people are in trouble or need looking after, it’s how you handle that [as a company] that makes a difference.”

He compares this to the handling of a claim stating that the consumer should also feel looked after and not like a commodity, highlighting that the former experience would increase the likelihood

“We [as loss adjusters] are an integral part of that. It doesn’t mean paying claims that shouldn’t get paid. It’s a cultural thing. Are you looking after a business or individual that has suffered a loss? A bereavement in my case. It’s not easily definable, but it’s most definitely there,” he adds.

Even now, he is not sure yet if he is completely ready to settle into retirement, he says: “Maybe I’ll do a non-executive role here or there, I don’t know. But it would be at a different level of pace. Something to keep my head occupied. I don’t think you can go from 100mph to zero and it not hurt. I’m not sure I could sit in my garden and do nothing in the long run.”

Investing in people

While he says his biggest challenge was investing in technology and bringing systems up to date, the other was training people and progressing them through the business.

“I think the insurance industry has under-invested in people for a long time, and loss adjusters are no different and if we don’t invest in people from the outset, how are they ever going to become the specialists? We can’t have a situation where one day [a competitor] pinches my loss adjuster and the next day I pinch theirs. That just leads to wage inflation. It’s not sustainable as a business model and we have to start investing in people. We have been putting a lot more effort into that,” he explained.

Whereas his biggest achievement, was “far more interactions around the world” than Crawford & Co used to have.

Not just a 9-5

Nicholls began his career in 1981 with loss adjusting and claims management provider – Robins Davies & Little before moving to GAB Robins in 1983 where he worked for over five years in a variety of senior roles, leading to his appointment as its chief executive in 2000. 

Clive Nicholls - Preferred

Clive Nicholls

Crawford & Co later bought the its rival – loss adjusting and claims management provider GAB in 2014 for £45.8m.

After leaving GAB, Nicholls joined Accidentcare, which following a merger became Aquilo where he set up a building repair network business in 2006, before transferring to construction company, Rok Plc as business development director, maintenance division when the business was acquired in 2007.

Nicholls advised those looking into working for a loss adjuster that it is not just a 9-5 job. This is because of the unpredictable nature of the profession.

But he continues: “If you like not knowing what is going to happen tomorrow – good stuff. You will be out meeting all sorts of people doing all sorts of things. It’s a fabulous job. But it has genuinely been a brilliant journey for me from being a trainee loss adjuster to running the show. I have travelled the world and met all sorts of people. Where else would you get to do that? It has been a fabulous career.”

Passing the baton

When asked what advice he would give his successor, Nicholls adds: “Look after the people first. If you don’t look after your people, someone else will and spend as much time thinking about the future as the [past] in this job, if you’re not thinking about where it’s going, it’s already gone!

Lastly, he says that he feels the responsibility of what he does, “I do think it is a responsibility to leave the business in a better shape than I found it. Then hand the baton on to the next person”.