The Andy and Peter show

He was a last minute replacement for Towergate chairman Peter Cullum but Andy Homer certainly did not disappoint. The stage was set at the Insurance Times inaugural Commercial Lines Forum at the Hilton, Tower Hill. Over 150 executives from the industry were sat ready to hear Fortis chief executive Barry Smith give Homer a grilling on issues such as commissions, succession planning, the sustainability of the Towergate model and the future of Open GI to name but a few. And Smith went straight for Homer’s throat: “Tell me about the Towergate banking covenants then?” A question which was batted off with the ease that it was asked. But if Homer was agitated then he certainly didn’t show it and poked Smith straight back in the eye with a jibe about the current financial health of Fortis, which of course has been in the spotlight since its parent was all but nationalised by the Begium government. But the truth is however, the duo [who are former colleagues] played nicely in the glare of the public eye. Smith was not reluctant to ask the tough questions but neither was Homer reluctant to answer. Such was the smoothness of the performance of both men it just begged the question of how much time they had spent in rehearsals? Had Homer spent hours locked in a room with his PR team to prepare? Or did he just knew his stuff instinctively and have the ability to push it through and communicate it expertly with confidence? I suspect the latter.

What was fascinating was Homer’s message about the future of Towergate. He was self deprecating but still managed to map a five year vision which will see either a succession plan kick in with Clive Nathan and Amanda Blanc taking over the reins. Or an alternative vision of an IPO where he and Cullum would ‘fade away’ as the elder statesman of the Towergate empire by taking non executive roles with majority shareholdings.

But for those who know the Cullum/Homer double act it is difficult to see them ever letting go. They are self confessed deal junkies and have an irreverence that takes their negotiating prowess to new heights. This picture was best painted by Homer when talking about all of the Towergate businesses that need attention. He talked about his ‘critical list’ and how he strived to turn around the poor performing businesses in the group. But for all of the irreverence and bravado that follows Homer and the Towergate entourage, it is clear that there is steeliness inherent to the model that makes it succeed. And as Homer admitted: “there are always different businesses on the critical list.” It is difficult to know quite how fragile the Towergate model is, even if you have take a view that a sustainable business cannot be built on high levels of debt and a commission pyramid structure, but what is clear is that Homer clearly thinks it can and is very plausible in his robust defence of the company, even in these unprecedented times of financial turmoil where the banks that provide the basis for the debt have been nationalised. For much of the interview Homer was straight talking and showed little of the jokey, bravado and one liners from which he has carved out a reputation. Homer was professional, slick, compelling and believable. He made his case and was prepared to take on all comers….and Barry Smith asked the right questions too and in the right way. If Homer aimed to shoot down the Towergate detractors he succeeded for the time being. But they will not go away, and Homer probably knows that, so perhaps this time next year he should come back and tell us all over again?