Caroline Jordan discovers how brokers find life under a new owner

Most people have an opinion on Towergate. The company is rarely out of the news, and has expanded rapidly with a succession of acquisitions.

The Towergate Partnership is the overall holding company created by the merger of Folgate and Towergate. The company is formed of two divisions, Towergate Underwriting, a group of niche underwriting agencies, and Towergate Risk Solutions, a retail broking consolidator with a number of specialist operations.

Towergate continues to recruit at all levels and senior roles have recently been filled by Amanda Blanc, chief executive UK broking and Marc Donfrancesco, the group head of marketing.

It also attracts its fair share of criticism. This is a business that has grown on the back of tough negotiation with insurers, and seizing opportunities.

But those who know the business best work for it. For many, being acquired by Towergate has provided a career boost, while others - albeit a low number - have parted company.

No one is pretending working for a large organisation is all roses. For those used to running their own firms, there may be more procedures to follow and it means giving up independence. On the plus side, it is a deliberate policy for Towergate's central processes to be run with a light touch. Perhaps surprisingly, its Maidstone-based central support function - deliberately not called a head office - employs fewer than 70 people.

Although the business has grown exceptionally fast, redundancies have been few and far between. So, what do employees think about working for Towergate?

With 3,000 on the payroll - and still growing - there are many different views and a key reason for the company's success is its diversity.

Andrew Bell
Managing director, Towergate AIUA

Specialist agricultural and farm underwriting agency, based in Harrogate

"We had a number of options including an MBO, but decided to become part of Towergate in 2004. Peter Cullum is very persuasive, but we felt comfortable with the deal and he saw it through until the end. Everything he said would happen has taken place. We have grown and have taken on a personal accident business in addition to our core agricultural book. This has been satisfying for me as MD and if you're a young, thrusting type, there are many opportunities to get on."

Julie Walker
Sales and marketing director, Towergate Risk Solutions, Kettering

Commercial lines community brokers

"We joined Towergate in 2004. Our former company name was Adams Tingle, which dates back to 1874. The business was sold because we trusted Towergate and they liked us because we were a solid, sound brokerage. It was a seamless transfer and since then, we've enjoyed a huge advantage. They secure good deals that we pass onto clients, but stay local and friendly. We're also expanding and if we'd stayed independent, we could have been struggling - many smaller brokers are."

John Fuller
Regional director, Country Mutual

Composite broker with various branches

"We were a consolidator ourselves and when owner NFU Mutual decided to sell - and Towergate seemed the best option - we joined on 1 June 2006. They are a broker-friendly company and many staff welcomed it here. It's been proven that they invest in their acquisitions and they also sent their people in to talk to our staff - we have over 400. For anyone serious about their career, this is a good move. It's notable few people leave Towergate."

Keith Harrison
Operations director, Towergate Northern Underwriters

Specialist wholesale liability underwriting agency, based in Stokesby, North Yorkshire

"We joined in 2001 from Dickensons, a Yorkshire broker that had a niche in veterinary surgeries' cover. I initially went to work for Towergate MIA, based in Stevenage, a volume-driven operation with over 100 staff. This was a great experience, but a vacancy came up and I relocated back to Yorkshire. The job is a complete contrast as it is niche, with 30 staff. Towergate is a business where you can learn new skills and gain totally different experience from the same company. We plan to double in size over the next 18 months."

Nick Houghton
Managing director, Towergate Professional Risks

Provides liability cover to psychologists and other therapists, based in Leeds

"I became MD at the end of May 2006 and was formerly sales director for the north - it's been exciting. I have a team of 30 - all good communicators with first-rate understanding of the market and complex areas like medical malpractice. We have delegated authority and there is a lot of responsibility within the team. I've worked for Marsh and Zurich and there is more autonomy here. There is a lot of change going on in the company and some struggle to cope, but there's also relative freedom. To some extent, it still feels like an intimate business."

Neville Mort
Managing director, Towergate Municipal

Specialists in teachers' sickness insurance market, based in Leeds

"We became part of Towergate in June 2006, joining from Capita BEST. The teachers' sickness insurance market comprises no more than a dozen providers to schools, many of which compete by looking to offer schools the cheapest premium. We felt Towergate wanted to offer schools high-value insurance at a reasonable cost rather than settling for more inferior products and services. We're now looking to expand - I'm recruiting sales and administration staff. It's not until you join Towergate that you realise you are part of something different."

David Perry
Regional managing director, Towergate Risk Solutions, Warren Hill

Commercial lines-approved broker for the Federation of Small Business, Haywards Heath

"We became part of Towergate in October 2003. There were a number of suitors, but

I'd crossed paths before with Kenny Maciver and Peter Cullum. I liked the hub-and-spokes concept they'd developed.

"From a personal perspective, I've been promoted to regional director and now control 12 businesses in the south - the commission income is ten times greater than at Warren Hill.

"There are times when the reporting regime is a lot of work; this is always going to happen when you are part of a large organisation - although there is a lean supporting regime."

Jane Davis
Senior executive, GR Patrick

Specialist in care and nursing homes market, and pubs and restaurants, based in New Malden

"We're a niche broker, founded in 1982 and joined Towergate in March. One of the main benefits has been the advantages of central buying power - whether it's health and safety related or paper. We also now get a flexible benefits package and share options, something we did not have before.

"Our sales guys like the fact that the group's top 25 win holidays to places like New York and Mauritius - they've checked out the figures and they're within reach. For senior staff, there is more work in all the management information that has to be fed though, but all in all, everyone has a better deal." IT