Last Friday night 1,000 insurance industry professionals gathered in Birmingham to listen to Frank Sinatra, watch a circus troupe and celebrate the winners of the Insurance Times Awards 2001.

It was a night to remember for winners, colleagues, friends and those shortlisted for the 26 categories. Among the diverse achievements were Towry Law's Martin Darbyshire, who created his own insurance scheme for beach huts when he was still a teenager, and Insurance Times' columnist Bob Scott, who created the UK's biggest insurance company and won the lifetime achievement award.

It is, perhaps, unfair to pick out the performance of one company, team or individual for praise, but one entrant stood out.

Zurich Financial Services won general insurer of the year, commercial lines insurer of the year, personal lines insurer of the year and motor insurer of the year (jointly with Fortis). The list goes on.

So what is the secret of Zurich's success? It is difficult to put a finger on. Certainly Zurich has worked hard on broker relations and seems to have emerged from the trauma of mergers and acquisitions that firms like AXA and Norwich Union have been experiencing.

But look deeper and it is possible to see a progressive culture emerging. Zurich is investing heavily in its "heroes". These are young managers who have been identified as the leaders of tomorrow and are being nurtured carefully. Look at the way Eagle Star deals with third party injuries. Rehabilitation is paid more than just lip service.

There is one winner that might be thought controversial and perhaps needs explanation. Amelans won law firm of the year for its perseverance with the Callery v Gray and Sarwar v Alam cases.

While Amelans would not be on the Christmas card list of many in the insurance world, the firm - through bloody-minded determination - is helping to define the future of legal expenses cover in the UK. And no two cases have created more discussion this year.

Well done to everyone who competed.