With Tom Broughton, editor
What to do next with RSA? Adrian Brown has been a front-row observer for the past decade, but now it is his turn to take centre stage. In his 19-year tenure at the group, Brown has seen RSA sink to its knees, scale back its US operations and then reinvent itself through the stewardship of Andy Haste.
“Six or seven years ago, people were talking about us as a takeover target because we were a basketcase,” says Brown. “Now they talk about it because of the turnaround we’ve done.”
His appointment as chief executive is the latest episode in a gripping corporate drama. He replaces Bridget McIntyre, one of the industry’s few female leaders, after she left to spend more time with her family. While McIntyre was heading for the door, the RSA share price was performing back flips and the rest of the market thought the turbulence was due to an aggressive takeover approach by a Chinese investor.
Now, though, Brown is the story. He knows the workings of the business inside and out. He has the people skills to succeed and, given the depth of his corporate memory, he will have surely have learnt from the group’s past mistakes. The only remaining question is, does he have the vision to do anything different? And if so, what? A safe manoeuvre amid the market turmoil would be to continue the good work of McIntyre by hacking away at the cost base, pushing up the premiums, managing sensible commission levels and then waiting until rates rise to achieve the required organic growth. After all, like Norwich Union, RSA cannot keep releasing the level of reserves it has done in recent years – its underwriting results must improve.
But it just feels a little lacklustre, doesn’t it? It’s exciting to hear that Brown will chase the pipeline work filtering out of AIG.
It would be exciting too to hear that RSA had ambitious plans to expand by attacking the opportunities emanating from the recession. But perhaps stability is the secret of success in this market and perhaps Adrian Brown is the right man to provide that stability. Maybe it’s not meant to be exciting. And if, as part of this overall strategy, Brown is charged with preparing the group for sale, the excitement factor will resurface all over again. Keep watching.