Does Sax Riley hate the press? No one really knows for sure, but since he became chairman of Lloyd's in January 2001, he has given only a couple of newspaper interviews. And one of those was with an old friend. It seems Riley simply doesn't trust the media. Riley rejected numerous phone calls and email requests to help with this profile.

Who is this mysterious man who spends half his week at the forefront of one of the world's largest insurance centres?

Riley has been working in insurance for nearly half a century. In 1955 he joined Cornhill Insurance Company and six years later moved to Schofields, one of Manchester's largest brokers at the time.

In 1964 he joined Price Forbes and was almost immediately sent to Johannesburg, South Africa.

But he didn't make his name until he was appointed to Sedgwick Group's board in 1985 and worked his way through various senior positions, eventually becoming chairman in March 1997.

The following year, Sedgwick was sold to Marsh and McLennan Companies (MMC) and Riley was elected to the MMC board.

Lloyd's caretaker
In January 1999, he joined the Council of Lloyd's and three months later was appointed deputy chairman. When Max Taylor announced he was going to resign as chairman after a three-year stint, Riley agreed to step in as "caretaker" for one year, until a new chairman was found.

At the time, a Lloyd's statement said: "The role of chairman will revert to being a part-time position from 2001. The role moved to being full-time in 1992 due to the exceptional set of issues then facing the market. With that particular time in Lloyd's history well behind it, and the positive prospects for the market's future, a part-time chairman is now appropriate."

The market began to mutter that former rock band manager Taylor wanted a challenging full-time job, working five days a week. He is now deputy chairman of Aon.

So the job fell to deputy chairman Riley and market gossip suggests he was, in fact, the fall guy. He was passed a poisoned chalice that couldn't be refused, because there was no other candidate.

One observer simply says Riley "got where he is by standing still".

Despite his original promise to stay for 365 days, Riley agreed to continue as chairman for another year. In April, Lloyd's announced he had set up a strategy group to discuss ways to modernise the market and that he was staying "to drive forward the implementation of the group's recommendations".

Revelling in it?
According to one theory, Riley remained partly due to Lloyd's failure to attract a replacement. When Lloyd's employed headhunter Russell Reynolds early last year, it short-listed figures including Paul Myners, the former head of fund management giant Gartmore, but most candidates refused to let their names go forward.

Market sources say the individuals were reluctant to take the part-time position, where it is becoming harder to get a knighthood.

Another theory is Riley is just revelling in his position of responsibility and is reluctant to give up one of the most prestigious seats in the City.

Although he has previously held key positions, the benefits of being chairman are extremely good and this is said to be one of the few times he has been given free rein.

The perks are rewarding. Last year Riley was paid £200,000. His benefits amounted to £41,000 and included a chauffeur-driven Jaguar, life assurance, long-term disability insurance and private health care. His office is furnished with a television, bookcases, marine pictures, an antique map of the world and provides a spectacular view of the Lloyd's atrium.

Groupama former chairman and chief executive Tony Lancaster has known him as a colleague and tennis partner since he insured Riley's clients in 1982.

"He was one of the best brokers in the market, broking big business, multinationals and large energy risks," he recalls. "People trust him. Sax tells you something in a very direct manner, but he is not malicious."

Generally, Riley will not mix business with his private life. When he became chairman, he refused to let the Lloyd's press department add any personal details and hobbies to his biography.

Family is fundamental. One friend says the death of his wife a few years ago "knocked him sideways". Another recalls he declined numerous arranged dates, preferring to keep himself to himself.

Riley tends to spend Mondays to Wednesdays at Lloyd's, commuting from his home in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire.

In his free time he visits his daughter in Cornwall, or flies to New Zealand to spend time with his fiancée, whom he plans to marry when he retires from Lloyd's. Riley is a real jetsetter and last year made business trips to countries such as the US, Australia, Russia and various European states.

Yet, despite representing Lloyd's internationally, he has been criticised for failing to raise its profile.

Australian Association of Lloyd's Members (AALM) deputy chairman Patrick Moore says: "Sax is not a man who seizes the moment. He accepted Lloyd's as it was when he took over as chairman and uses due process rather than his innate skills to attempt to make Lloyd's globally competitive."

It was only after the World Trade Centre tragedy that Riley began to make a real effort to steal the limelight.

"The majority view is that he came into his own during 11 September," says a close colleague. "You did not see much of him before and he kept a low profile. That was the first time he went centre stage."

On 13 September, Riley addressed underwriters and brokers at One Lime Street.

"He made an unscripted speech before the Lutine Bell was rung," says the colleague. "A lot of people were moved by it."

Wartime leader
Chaucer Holdings managing director Ewen Gilmour agrees: "He seems to have risen to the crisis and enjoyed it. He is more of a wartime than a peacetime leader."

Riley is now attempting to leave his mark by radically changing the market. In January, his strategy group suggested the end to unlimited liability Names and to three-year accounting.

He is said to be frustrated by the publicity the recommendations have received. They have now been dubbed worldwide as "The Bain Report", after the management consultancy Bain & Co which helped to compile the suggestions. Riley is said to be annoyed his 17-strong team are missing out on the glory while Bain & Co contributed a mere two people to the cause.

Convincing the market to accept the proposed changes is the only way Riley can edge into the history books, before he steps down as chairman at the end of the year.

Gilmour says: "He is desperately keen to reform Lloyd's and to modernise its capital base and way of doing things. That is what he would like to achieve in his tenure."