After a year of restrictions, following his move from Alexander Forbes in August 2005, Tony Blyfield is aiming to become the dominant force in the PI broker market, with Prime Professions. Andrew Holt reports

In the last 18 months, Tony Blyfield, the former managing director of Alexander Forbes Professions has been something of an Austin Powers of the insurance world: a man of mystery.

His mystery status came about because having left Forbes in August 2005, he was on a year's gardening leave before joining his new venture, professional indemnity (PI) broker Prime Professions, in August 2006. In the meantime he had to deal with a whole raft of restrictions placed on him by his former employers.

Forbes unleashed restrictions that old clients could not be poached from Forbes and for some time there was a real threat of litigation. "This has been settled," says Blyfield, but will not comment any further on the settlement, making it clear that legal restrictions are still in play.

The irony is that, what would have been his 25th anniversary month with Forbes, April 2006, was spent in his garden. "It was a very big decision to move and it would have been easier, but more boring to stay at Forbes," Blyfield says openly.

Rumours in the market at the time suggested that Blyfield's departure from Forbes came about because he was enticed to move by a £500k "golden hello" payment. "That is complete rubbish," he says firmly, then laughs and jokes: "It was more than that."

Blyfield was followed by 19 more staff making the jump from Forbes to Prime Professions - many of senior level - to build the "client friendly operation" he wanted. But many of those making the move also suffered from the same restrictions as Blyfield, in being told not to approach old Forbes' clients.

The last of these restrictions ran out at the end of November however, leaving the business to grow unhindered for the first time since its inception. "It has been like driving a car with the handbrake on," says Blyfield, of trying to grow the business during this time.

The extent to which Blyfield was disillusioned with his job at Forbes is something he is completely open about. "Over the years Alexander Forbes changed to the point it was like working for different companies. And what I wanted to do didn't fit into the Alexander Forbes structure. I wanted to be more hands on." And he adds: "I was fed up with the fact that the only major decision I would have to make was on the colour of the carpet tiles."

In his 24 years at Forbes, Blyfield worked his way up to the position of managing director, but he felt more and more aloof from clients. This experience is key in explaining his move to Prime Professions. The issue of some brokers being too removed from their clients is a central theme Blyfield keeps returning to and dominates Prime Professions promotional literature.

And it is a point he highlights further, when faced with the accusation that with so many senior people joining Prime Professions, the company could be said to be all chiefs and no indians. "That's fine," says Blyfield, "Our chiefs are the best in the market and are here to get back to what they love and do best - having a direct relationship with their clients."

The average experience of the senior team is 20 years in the PI market with the directors aged between 35 and 45, so says Blyfield, experienced, but young enough to have real enthusiasm. "So we will gain in the longer term," Blyfield says.

And he his keen to push the message that his team has had more solicitor PI clients in the Top 100 solicitor lists than anyone else in the market. "That is better than Marsh or Aon, or anyone in retaining business of this kind." He has big ambitions, to grab 40% of the PI market in the "medium term."

The Prime Professions business is backed by Primary Group, along with 14 director-shareholders. "We are a very autonomous organisation," says Blyfield. Will the director shareholders look to buy out Primary? "It is more likely that Primary will buy out the directors," Blyfield says candidly.

But this is not the first time such an organisation was touted. Over the years Blyfield was approached by other organisations to join such a new operation. "But it wasn't the right time and the right people" he says. "And I didn't want to start from a small shop operation, we needed the right backing so we could have the right operation, have the right people and the right weight in the market."

One of the results of having various restrictions on approaching certain clients has meant that Prime Professions has not yet had a full year of business. Despite the business starting in October 2005 the first client didn't come on board until March 2006. "85 % of businesses run on their renewal book and we do not have a renewal book as yet," admits Blyfield.

But that is changing. Prime Professions, only two weeks ago, won a property consultancy firm, GVA Grimley, which is an old client of Blyfield's dating back to 1992.

And on future clients and the overall ethos of the business, Blyfield is clear. "We want a client that wants us. We want to be at the consultancy end of the market and based on our service proposition. And be the leading PI broker in the market place."

And now with the freedom of the business road before him Blyfield and his team will be looking to race ahead of the competition. The days of Blyfield being a mystery are long gone.IT