Having shifted the firm’s strategy to become a specialist motor insurance broker, MCE founder Michael Edwards and his sons are proof that passion can be a true driver for success. Here, they talk about how the business has evolved and what they’ll do next
I formed the company in November 1975, purely out of frustration with my own career, and being at an age where I felt I could do it. Regulation was nothing like it is these days; it was easier to start up then. The difficulty was in getting insurers to deal with you. Your agencies weren’t yours by right – that was a big hurdle. Shortly after I started, my wife joined me and then we were off, doing anything for anybody, anytime, anyhow.
The ambition was not to start the business from a bedroom; it was to start it from a bona fide office. We progressed the company up to 10 offices. Then, 20 years ago we had a “Madonna moment” and we reinvented ourselves. People’s buying habits were changing with Direct Line coming on the scene. All our offices were making money, but we took the decision to focus on more niche products. It was very difficult for us to do this; a lot of emotion went into the offices.
It took us 10 years to bring all the offices together into one. Now we have a product range of four: motorcycles; cars, with a focus on specialist cars; taxis; and commercial vehicles. That helps us totally focus on our strategy in each section, makes the job a lot clearer and recruitment a lot easier.
In our boardroom we have a picture of a crane because life is all about building and future development. As our penetration into the motorcycle market progressed, that allowed us to create the team we wanted to work with. We have attracted a very young management team – everyone apart from me is under 40 – and that creates a very vibrant atmosphere.
We started off life as M C Edwards Insurance Brokers Ltd – what a mouthful. That was the fashion of the day; personal lines insurance was a parochial activity. That changed, hence we changed. We rebranded using my initials, MCE, to be a bit more “now”. We don’t have quills here, either! We are constantly trying to develop; we don’t think we’ll ever get to the top of the escalator. In fact, I’d question whether we’d want to.
I started M C Edwards as a career move for me. It was not going to be a dynasty – that was never the intention. It was about my career, and still is; I still have that selfishness. I had two sons, off they went to school and university, and I think I’d rather they filled you in on the rest of their stories.
Nobody’s here by right. We have three very different jobs, we’ve all got our own professional direction and our own goals. If the three of us were going round as a posse, that wouldn’t work. Both Dominic and Julian are fiercely defensive of their own careers and their own positions. It’s not like we all go around with a peace sign, of course.?We have professional disagreements, but you would in any company. And that’s how we like to treat it.
When Dominic and Julian joined, it still wasn’t the plan for them to go up through the company. I never said, “One day son, you’ll be running this.” That moment came naturally; nothing was forced. Then, when I invited them to become directors four years ago, that was a very proud moment.
What’s the succession plan? It’s such an exciting place; I’m going nowhere. Why would I want to? I’ve got the job that everyone wants. Something will develop organically for the future. My wife and I own the business; that will change. But you don’t tell too many people too many things!
Growing up with insurance around you, and with the way Michael talks about the business, it sparked my imagination from a very early age.
It was a real natural fit to want to come into the family firm. I approached Michael for a position in 1992 when I was 18. I was interviewed and posted as a filing clerk, starting right at the bottom.
I progressed through the company, going from clerk to insurance clerk, line manager to middle management, senior management and then directorship. I felt proud to be working for Michael, with him as a mentor. The passion that comes over just makes you want to be in business. It just so happened to be insurance, which was also incredibly interesting.
Today, I run the affiliate marketing side of MCE. We set it up in 2008 and it’s just done its first year. We set up a network of around 1,500 motorcycle retailers. It’s been incredibly successful and now we are approaching manufacturers with insurance schemes on a white-label basis. I enjoy the sales element, the business-to-business aspect, dealing with like-minded people in the industry; there is no negative side to it.
Julian and I don’t argue. We have a very tight relationship – he was best man at my wedding. We work incredibly closely together and it’s great to be able to rely on his opinion as well as mine; we have honest conversations.
Julian and I have children of similar ages, so naturally we spend time together outside work. Will they join the business? I don’t know; it’s their call.
When I left university I had the usual student debts, so I got a holiday job at MCE. I wasn’t thinking of coming in and writing cover notes for the next three years of my life.
I did a very basic job for a relatively long period, and then moved to the specialist vehicle department. That really captured my imagination. I loved the dynamics of it: attracting weird and wonderful risks and then placing them with a panel of insurers.
I assumed the role of business development about nine years ago. Today, in addition to director responsibilities, I take direct reports from marketing, sales, IT and product development.
There are no power struggles here. We’re really fortunate to work with a brilliant group of people. The success of MCE will be down to the success of the individuals.
We want to significantly increase MCE’s brand reputation. In motorcycling there are opportunities to do that, none bigger than being title sponsor of British Super Bike. We went for it and pulled it off.
Of course, there’s a huge fun element to it as well. The motorcycle community can see that you’re really buying in to their passion and pastime. Not only that, it’s given our team a real lift; they’re incredibly proud of what they’re doing.
MCE is a different organisation now to what it was a decade ago. What will it look like in another decade? That’s an impossible question to answer.