Tom Broughton comments on Willis boss Joe Plumeri.
Without doubt Willis boss Joe Plumeri has a little bit of showbusiness about him. Unveiling his brand new, shiny headquarters building on Tuesday, in his immaculately cut suit and heavy New York accent, he charismatically spelt out his vision for the future. His story began with where Willis once was and where he has dragged it to. Nearly a decade ago, during a time when his competitors were standing still, shedding jobs and worrying about their futures, Plumeri took over a UK broker that was feeling a bit sorry for itself. By using the backing of private equity giant KKR and coupling it with a large dose of American energy he transformed Willis into a force to be reckoned with and restored its sense of pride as a business that can aspire to be as perfectly groomed as its chief executive.
It is clear that Plumeri is a character who enjoys the game and the limelight, where others will often shy away. And now that the new Willis house has been built, Plumeri has turned his attention to the London market itself. “London will be the hub,” he declared, before promising that Willis will build on its past, and then lead, challenge, modernise, reform….and do all those other good things that chief executives promise their companies will do. The thing with Plumeri, however, is that it isn’t just what he says, it is the way he says it. He is straight, believable and a little intimidating, but he gets what he wants. Put to one side any Marsh acquisition, and the attention turns to Plumeri’s key UK lieutenant Brendan McManus. Now McManus is no shrinking violet himself, but while Plumeri has been grabbing the limelight, he has been quietly masterminding the next Willis attack on the market by forming a strategy around what he does best – holding the pen. Willis will no doubt build on its position as a global broking giant, but the deal it is about to seal with Norwich Union, and other commercial insurers, will establish a Willis managed general agent business that manoeuvres it into a different realm from its competitors. What other tactics Plumeri and McManus have up their sleeves will only be known in time, but it clear they have a plan for growth, and that acquisitions may follow. In whatever direction the Willis empire eventually settles, it is likely to travel in its own very distinct style as part of a show that is going to be very difficult to miss.