John Sutton took a gamble when he left Marsh to set up a new broker. It paid off when Integro bought the business, he tells James Dean in his first interview since the deal
In an autumn morning 13 years ago, John Sutton was beginning to worry after leaving his job at Marsh. He was sat in a City office with his two business partners, a broken computer, and a phone that would not ring. With one call in that first morning, and few in the rest of the week, his new company looked like it might never get off the starting blocks.
Fortunately, things brightened up for Humphreys, Haggas, Sutton & Co. The company was eventually swallowed up in 2005 by international broker Integro - dubbed the “mini-Marsh” by some because of the abundance of ex-Marsh executives on its books. In his first interview since the deal, Hutton revealed plans for growth, but ruled out a public listing for Integro.
Sutton is now one of the top brass at Integro London, although he admits to the occasional disagreement with his new owners, and continues to work with his original partners.
Born in Barnet, London, in 1961, Sutton had initial hopes of becoming a journalist, but was discouraged by his parents. By 19, he was assistant manager of Lucas Sports, before a family connection coaxed him into the Lloyd’s market. At 20 he had his first insurance job at broker Sten-Re.
“I had an awful lot to learn,” he remembers. “And it’s still a daunting place for anybody, especially youngsters.”
After two years at Sten-Re he went to Bradstock-Blanch, before stints at Merrett and Bowring Finpro – now subsumed within Marsh. He rose from there to run the reinsurance business of Finpro Re.
In early 1994 Sutton began conversations with Toby Humphreys, who ran Finpro’s professional indemnity division, and Simon Haggas, underwriter at Lloyd’s insurer SVB.
“We weren’t happy with the current situation. Marsh is a massive organisation and it’s hard to find your way through to the top,” he says.
So, in September 1994, they formed broker Humphreys, Haggas, Sutton & Co (HHS) in partnership with Morgan Reed & Coleman – giving HHS immediate access into the Lloyd’s market, in return for a fee on its brokerage.
But not everything fell into place straight away. “The first morning we all turned up to work together, the phone rang just once. We only had a single good luck card in the office, and a computer that barely worked.”
“The first morning we all turned up to work together, the phone rang just once
However, on the last day of that long week, HHS claimed its first major contract, for Marketform. Two years later, the trio awarded themselves their first – albeit modest – bonuses. In 1998, HHS won a Lloyd’s licence and split with Morgan Reed & Coleman. The company expanded and diversified its portfolio, moving to Gracechurch Street in 2002. But by early 2005, another three Marsh men were to enter the picture – this time from the other side of the Atlantic.
Peter Garvey, once worldwide co-president and North America chief executive of Marsh, formed Integro alongside Roger Egan, ex-president of Marsh Inc, and Bob Clements, who had headed Marsh’s worldwide broking operations before rising to serve as president of parent company MMC.
“They needed a London broker to put their business through, although we didn’t initially expect they wanted to buy us”, says Sutton.
“In the event, they approached us in late spring, and the sale was completed by November 2005.”
Sutton admitted it was difficult for him to adjust to having a boss again after more than 11 years. “It takes a year for that to bite down. But it’s a fresh company that can design its practices accordingly. We are part of the leadership team, although we don’t always agree on things.”
According to Sutton, the main prospect for Integro London is growth. “We will continue to look for good people and good books,” he says. “Integro has no intention of going public for the time being. Our first obligation is to repay the people who invested in us in the first place.”
And he is frank when asked about the potential impact that sub-prime litigation will have on the business: Integro writes both directors’ and officers’, and errors and omissions for financial institutions in the US.
“It is a challenge to the entire market and it is likely that we have received notifications of potential sub-prime related claims, although I do not know how many. But we will continue to write US financial institutions.”
So despite the initial worries, Sutton’s venture seems to have worked out just fine. Like many others, falling into insurance does not appear to have done Sutton any harm.
Born Barnet, London, 1961
Primary school in Barnet
Secondary school in Chigwell
Retail job on Oxford Street, age 18
Joins Lloydâ€™s broker Sten-Re, age 20
Joins Bradstock-Blanch, age 22
Joins underwriter Merrett, age 24
Joins Bowring Finpro (now Marsh), age 27
Leaves Marsh, spring 1994
Co-founds broker HHS, autumn 1994
Sells HHS to Integro, November 2005
Tottenham Hotspur season ticket hoder. although nowadays visits to White Hart Lane are constrained by monthly business trips to the US