Neil Clutterbuck talks to Chris Wheal

Neil Clutterbuck is director of Allianz Engineering, based in Liphook, Hampshire. The business offers engineering insurance and an inspection service. About 200 staff work on engineering underwriting across products such as contractors all risks, computers and electronics, and machinery and plant. A further 600 work as home-based inspectors travelling to clients and inspecting everything from lifts and cranes to boilers and fixed wiring, all driven by health and safety and related legislation. Clutterbuck is also a member of the Allianz Commercial board.

How did you make it where you are today?

I started in Commercial Union (CU) in 1989 as a graduate and moved into underwriting liability and fleet. After three years I moved to Brighton as a senior underwriter and then to Birmingham in a broker-facing role. I was there for three years. I then had the chance to work on mergers and acquisitions in London. CU merged with GA and became CGU and I moved to Perth. When CGU merged with Norwich Union, I went to work for RSA in London as head of motor fleet and then as manager of the liability account. In 2003, I met a former CU colleague who invited me to join Allianz in its London office. I have spent the past two years as engineering director.

What are the key challenges ahead?

There was already a need for better underwriting results, but the financial turmoil means our clients are going to face a squeeze coupled with rising premiums. Insurers and brokers need to manage expectations carefully. The other challenge is the speed of change in technology and legislation. For example, there are new energy services regulations that require a new inspection regime for commercial properties. Part of our work must be to share our knowledge with clients and brokers and learn from them.

What has changed the most since you started in insurance?

There has been a great deal of energy and money expended on compliance – much of it for the better. Technology has changed too. On my first day at the Birmingham office I was shown a desk where they kept the only calculator in the building. The routes to market have also changed. When I started, Direct Line was just emerging. Now aggregators are moving into the commercial lines space. Broker consolidation has also changed the route to market.

What advice would you offer someone just starting out?

Get qualifications early. The more you progress, the less time you have to balance between study and work. Working in London felt like working in a village – everyone knows everyone else – so don’t make enemies because you never know when you may work with them again. And if you can find a business that shares your values it can be a great place to work.

What is the biggest mistake you have ever made?

Not speaking my mind about something that was important to me. If something bothers you strongly then you should speak up. I can think of a time when I didn’t. It was about the direction a company was heading and, with hindsight, I should have said I disagreed.

What was your biggest success?

I have been very lucky to lead successful teams –for example, the way in which we have pulled together a range of services in relation to the EU Energy Services Directive. Another project was Dealer Car Manager, where I worked with a broker called Dennis Ryan. Those are the things I get a buzz out of – bringing a team together and succeeding, sometimes against the odds.

What is your unique selling point?

I speak my mind and share my thoughts with as many people as possible. I am also adaptable. When I started out I didn’t like change but I forced myself to get used to it. It is useful to be flexible and to be able to adapt quickly.

Talk about some of your contemporaries and friends

I have the good fortune to work with a lot of good people – colleagues and customers alike. I work now with a number of people with whom I started my career, such as Jon Dye and Simon McGinn. Then there are people who have shaped my career, not least my boss Chris Hanks. They include John Seaton, now at MMA, Chris Gibson, formerly at CU, who is now at Argyll Insurance Brokers. Tim Rolfe, my boss at CU and now at Primary, taught me a great deal. And Brendan McManus at RSA, now with Willis, whom I respect for his energy and direct approach.

When you are not working what do you do to relax?

I live in Worthing with my partner Caroline and our two daughters. We are a mile from the sea, where we go with the girls, and a mile from the South Downs, where we walk our three dogs. I play the odd bit of golf and I enjoy watching rugby. I go to the gym less than I should. I enjoy building things – a summer house was the last project.

What is your favourite book/film/football team?

Book: I like John Grisham page turners

Film: Anything light hearted – Hot Fuzz made me smile.

Football: I am a Spurs fan – they were my dad’s team.

Day in the life

5.30am I get up, grab a muesli bar and a banana and head out of the door.

7am I arrive at the office after about an hours journey. I make a coffee and eat my breakfast and spend the first hour catching up on emails.

8am I will have a catch-up meeting with my senior managers about issues that are current or likely to come up.

9am I have been working on the International Association of Engineering Insurers conference that took place at Gleneagles, so about an hour a day was spent on that.

10am If I have meetings, I will head off. If I am in London I will get the train direct to Waterloo and then across to the City. Or I may just go to Guildford, where the Allianz head office is. Or I may be off to visit a client. About three nights a week I am away, having dinner with clients or other evening meetings. Where I am will dictate whether or not I get home. I am about to tour the country meeting all 600 of our inspection engineers. We have meetings booked regionally with about 25 to 30 of them each time. Hearing direct from them is a vital part of the job. I recently went to see a client who had not renewed his engineering inspection contract with us, to ask why and to find out what we could have done to win that business.

2pm I am in the office about two days a week and will have meetings about staff, accounts, particular projects, planning and strategy and technical issues. I split my time between one third to do with board-level work and about two thirds concentrating on the engineering business.

4pm I may join a conference call involving colleagues around the country to discuss trading performance or developments on specific accounts. I also regularly mentor other members of staff, so may meet them over a coffee to share work experiences and discuss their personal development.

6pm I leave the office and try to get home for 7pm on the nights I am at home.

7pm My daughters are 11 and 13 so I will offer to help with homework – but they know more than I do. We will have dinner together. Caroline and I will often have a glass of wine and unwind in front of the television before bedtime.

10.30pm I am usually off to bed for an early start the next day.