Andy Cook talks to QBE's Steven Price about management changes and business direction

' February 2005 is a crucial month for QBE. That's when it reveals its full year 2004 results. If it hits its predictions, which analysts are increasingly confident about, then the company will have achieved a notable performance.

Why? Well, the Australian-owned company radically restructured its management last year, seeing familiar and respected UK figures such as Paul Glen and Wayne Lewis leave, while upgrading its profit expectations for 2005 from 10%-11% to 12%-13%.

Steven Price was one of the existing managers to benefit from the management shake-up. He was promoted from general manager of the major risks division to managing director of the European commercial division.

Jobs overlapped
Price explains that the restructure was intended to streamline management and take some cost out of the business. The problem was that there were two major divisions based in London following the acquisition of Limit in 2000. So a number of management jobs and back office functions overlapped.

Also, explains Price, the move was about recognising that the market was beginning to turn. "We had to get our house in order in advance of the challenging market conditions we were starting to see. It is better to make these changes on our own agenda rather than being forced by the market or regulators," he says.

If you hadn't noticed the change, don't worry. Price explains that QBE wanted to keep the changes low key. He says that the supply chain is being reviewed, so that could mean new or different loss adjusters and lawyers.

Develop relationships
"The majority of them [suppliers] have nothing to fear because there's not going to be a wholesale decimation. But it will allow us to develop relationships that, say, we have built up in Lloyd's, across the business," says Price.

In the regional UK retail market QBE is best known for its professional indemnity business, while its DA Constable Syndicate is a favourite for some of the more difficult liability risks, and the Ensign brand is known for its motor and fleet products.

Price is a fan of steady development. So while he talks of potential areas of product development to sit alongside the motor and fleet business and the potential to buy books of business because of FSA intermediary regulation, he is keen to downplay any promises.

"We don't get many second chances. There's nothing worse than going out and seeing customers in the regions, making lots of promises and then falling flat on your face," he adds. IT

QBE European - new structure
Steve Burns Chief executive

Peter Grove Chief underwriting officer

Mo Kang HR director

David Lang Managing director of

Lloyd's division

John Neal Managing director

European retail

Blair Nicholls Chief actuarial officer

Steven Price Managing director European commercial division

David Winkett Chief financial officer