Simon McGinn, director of Allianz commercial broker markets, on how he got to the top

How did you make it to where you are today?

I started in 1992 as a graduate trainee for Commercial Union in London. After working in each of the departments in its West End branch, I spent time as an account executive, development manager and ultimately business manager.

I then did some project work, which ultimately led to involvement in setting up the Norwich Union operations part of the NU, CGU merger. After that, I worked for Aviva in New Zealand before coming back here as director of central collections. I sorted out some of the merger-related issues for NU’s credit control at the time.

The role was made redundant, so I moved back into the development side of the business and became the north Midlands trading director within Allianz. I’m still with them and took up my current role at the end of last year. I now effectively run the UK region and branch network for general commercial business.

What are the key challenges?

There are the obvious challenges, such as improving profitability and getting rate back into the market. The other challenges are around the constant search for more talent. Without it, we can’t deliver anything.

What has changed most?

My waistline – and not in the right way! In the industry? Distribution. When I started, there were effectively two main channels: the largest independent brokers and the national brokers. The divisions between these two has shrunk, and more distinct market segments have been created. Some of the core technical aspects of insurance have suffered because of this ever-increasing complexity in distribution. I suspect the pendulum will swing back over the next few years or so.

What advice would you give to someone starting out?

Decide what you want to do and where you want to build your core skills and confidence. Once you have done that, make sure that you look very broadly at the industry and pursue every opportunity offered. It is an enormously complex and fascinating industry, and you should sample everything to get the most from your career. Be ambitious; you will probably surprise yourself!

What has been your biggest mistake?

I achieved a relatively senior position within a company early on and didn’t really consider what I wanted to do beyond that. As a result, I lost a degree of drive and became slightly complacent. Thankfully I received a wake-up call from one of my bosses, but until that point I had never realised quite how important ambition is. Without it you can become rudderless and lethargic.

And your biggest success?

The establishment of the small business operation within Allianz. It was the first time I was able to really influence the set-up and structure of a business area and see the initial idea be taken to levels that I couldn’t originally have hoped for!

What is your unique selling point?

My ability to form strong working relationships with colleagues and customers.

Talk about some of your contemporaries and friends in insurance

I was lucky to start at Commercial Union at a time when its graduate trainee programme took in many people who still work in the industry. I find great value in getting the views and opinions of people such as Neil Clutterbuck and Darren Cornish. I was also lucky to work as part of a very strong management group with Cathryn Riley, Clive Nathan, Mark Armitage, Garry Webb, Geoff Snape and David Wolfe.

What do you do to relax?

Spend as much time as I can at home with my wife and children. I have two boys aged 9 and 6 who, I am pleased to say, are as keen on rugby as I am.

Favourite book/film/football team?

Book: Dune by Frank Herbert; film: Bladerunner; football team: don’t do football, it’s rugby – London Irish are the team!