Bake-offs, head-banging, Harvard, Esther Rantzen … it’s just been another average week for the Insider
A compliment can often be the icing on the cake for an insurer after a tricky transaction, but I hear of positive feedback that really takes the biscuit. One industrious Aon client services manager has started literally handing out brownie points to insurers. Hannah Ebbitt’s cakes have become such a barometer for success that she received a call from none other than QBE, politely inquiring why she had not seen fit to send them some of her culinary efforts following a deal. According to Ebbitt, she can turn her hand to everything from cupcakes to muffins – but peanut butter cookies currently rank as the insurers’ favourite.
The big event of my week was without doubt Peter Cullum’s 60th birthday party at Hampton Court Palace. The Kent-based billionaire splashed out on singers Barbara Dickson and Marti Pellow (former Wet, Wet, Wet), who performed admirably for Cullum’s 250 guests. And they were joined by top celebrity Esther Rantzen, who thanked Cullum for raising £100,000 in charity donations.
Against this backdrop of bonhomie, guests enjoyed steak and wine in a marquee – “proper food”, one guest told me, “not this fluffy, arty stuff they all seem to be serving nowadays”. And all my old friends from insurance were there – Allianz’s Andrew Torrance and Chris Hanks, Aviva boss Mark Hodges, entrepreneur Neil Utley…
The biggest laugh of the night came when Cullum’s business partner of 27 years, Paul Dyer, described his relationship with the Towergate supremo as a “life sentence”. One wannabe comedian backed this up by whispering in my ear: “Even the Krays got less.” It was left to the tycoon’s son, Simon, to handle all the warm and cuddly stuff.
It all added up to a pretty good night in a pretty fine venue. Just goes to show: hard times or not, Cullum still has a few bob in his pocket. I doubt he’ll be applying for a bus pass.
Eyes bigger than mouth?
Remember RSA’s bid for Aviva? Many in the market expected a follow-up offer – perhaps an extra £500m to bring it to £5.5bn – but nothing has happened yet. It’s all gone quiet at the top; if any guarded discussions are taking place, they’re getting the Official Secrets Act treatment.
On the other hand, perhaps this was nothing more than a one-off opportunistic bid from RSA boss Andy Haste to get Aviva on the cheap at the bottom of the market. Maybe it will be remembered as the python that wasn’t quite big enough to swallow the elephant. If that’s the case, and RSA clearly has an appetite, where will it go hunting next?
Mr Bump bounces back
My friend Keith Hector had a particularly dramatic few days last week. Already on tenterhooks because of the imminent arrival of child number two, the AXA distribution director’s head came to blows with the loft hatch of his West London des res. But after taking a rare day off to recover, I was pleased to see the shiny-pated Hector back in action at a function in Manchester – wearing his scar proudly.
Vote of Hanks
And finally, my old chum Allianz commercial lines general manager Chris Hanks takes the issue of training very seriously indeed. Hanks’ passion is the Chartered Insurance Institute, but for those who have already passed those tests, he clearly has more ambitious plans up his sleeve. Hanks tells me director of broker markets Simon McGinn is on a Harvard management business course at the moment, quipping: “It’s costing me a bloody fortune.” Yes, I bet it is. But then, McGinn could always take out a student loan. IT