Tim Johnson takes over as the new Towergate chief executive with an ambitious acquisition goal. He reveals his plans to Michelle Hannen
As the new chief executive of Towergate Underwriting Group, Tim Johnson has big shoes to fill. Johnson, who joined Towergate in September, was brought in to replace founder Peter Cullum, who had decided to concentrate on overseeing Towergate and its sister company, Folgate, through his role as chairman of both companies. But it is a challenge Johnson is relishing and he is enthusiastic to talk about what he terms "phase three" of the company's development. Phase three, which follows an initial acquisitive phase and then a period of bedding down, sees Towergate back on the acquisition trail once more. It involves the ambitious goal of doubling gross written premium (GWP) 2006, from the current level of £200m. "A lot of that's going to come from acquisitions," Johnson says. And Towergate, he says, has "several tens of millions" to spend.
Branching outThe kinds of businesses that Towergate is interested in acquiring are either in areas that complement its existing niches - which include marine, professional indemnity, military and caravans - or those that give it an entrée into new markets, such as classic cars or high net worth. He says in order to fit the Towergate ethos businesses must be specialist and non-commoditised, with loyal customers and consistent underwriting profits. But Johnson says that acquisitions will not necessarily be limited to businesses, but could also include teams of people, books of business or portfolio lists. He confirms that Towergate is currently in discussions with "several" targets. Before joining Towergate, Johnson was chief operating officer of Aon's Affinity Insurance Services division and speculation is rife that his appointment will act as a catalyst for Towergate to open a dialogue. Johnson is at pains not to rile his former colleagues and denies that Aon is one of the companies he is talking to, but he is pragmatic enough not to rule anything out. "Obviously I have a high regard for that business," Johnson says. "It would fit our model, but it's not in my power to control what Aon want to do with that." Aside from acquisitions, Johnson is also looking to derive organic growth from Towergate's existing niches. He says that part of his job involves working with individual business managers to find new directions for expansion if existing businesses are reaching maturity. It may sound a hard task, but Johnson says there are "tons of opportunities".
Underwriting academyThe training and development of people is also a top priority for the ACII and MBA-qualified Johnson. As such, Towergate will launch its own underwriting academy, backed by the Cass Business School, early next year. The CII compatible, three-tiered programme will give staff the opportunity to work towards a certificate, diploma and MBA. Along with developing existing staff, Johnson says Towergate is currently recruiting to fill several roles that will be instrumental to its ability to grow. It will appoint another regional managing director to complement its recent appointments as well as a new head of marketing, IT director and is also recruiting for a senior e-commerce role. Johnson says that once the IT positions are filled, Towergate will concentrate its energies on an e-commerce project which will see many of its schemes put into an online shop, with products at the smaller end of the scale auto-rated. "Customers then have the choice to deal with us in several different ways," he says. Customers are another of Johnson's passions. He says that recognising the expertise of the people in the businesses it acquires and encouraging them to stay by providing them with training and support should make Towergate "the most customer focused player in our chosen niches." Johnson, who is freshly returned from a whirlwind visit of Towergate's many offices around the country when interviewed by Insurance Times, seems inexhaustible. It's a good thing, too; he has an awful lot to do.
Tim Johnson: for the recordAGE: 35FAMILY: Married, no childrenCAREER: Johnson began his career with Royal Insurance before moving to Aon where he held a number of senior positions. His most recent role was as chief operating officer of Aon's Affinity Insurance ServicesINTERESTS: Golf, kickboxing to keep fit, skiing, reading.
Current market nichesTowergate operates these schemes: