Pattaya, 5th October, 2009

Today I have been sober for 36 days.


Today, another exciting episode in the life and times of Mobi.


MOBI’S STORY – (PART 12)

THE INSURANCE YEARS (CONTINUED)


I should recap as to how it was that I received the coveted appointment of FD of my company’s European Operations.

When I first started working with my colleagues at the reinsurance company, about a year or so before the merger was completed, the company was headed up by a bright young Irishman, who had been brought over from the back office in Shannon the run the show after the company had been purchased from it previous owners.

But during the merger process, he was “poached” by a major German reinsurance company, and was subsequently replaced by another bright young man, this time English, whose previous company had been one of the many casualties of the Lloyds’ meltdown.

This was a very fortunate change of leadership for me, as the Irish Manager obviously favoured his Irish colleagues from back home, and in particular was keen to promote his own financial people into senior positions in the soon to be merged entity. Luckily for me he gave in his notice before his plans had been finalised or approved by head office, and I immediately hit it off with the new English G.M.

Things were still touch and go for a while, for my masters in head Office were in love with all things Irish, not least because the CEO and The CFO both boasted Irish ancestry. However, as I have previously mentioned, my stock was very high following my successful completion of the project; I had a very strong ally and supporter in the name of my boss, (the G.M. of the insurance company, who over the past few years I had built up an excellent and personal relationship with), and now the new GM of the reinsurance company was also fast becoming my strong supporter.

Against me was the fact that I was an unqualified accountant, as compared to the entire Irish mob who had qualifications coming out of their ears, and also their loomed the distinct possibility of recruiting a new, qualified insurance heavyweight to head up the newly merged department.

But my supporters won the day and I was subsequently  ensconced in my new, very powerful position.

Once the two operations were merged into one operating entity, we found ourselves  in the difficult and touchy situation of having two general managers. The first GM was the traditional, ‘crusty’ general insurance GM in his early sixties, and the second, a brash young professional in his mid thirties. The older GM was made in nominal, overall charge, but on a day to day basis, the younger man could run his reinsurance business with minimal interference from his boss – “Mr. Crusty”, the older man.

This was an uneasy situation, and for a year or so we all had to “walk on egg shells” in an attempt to placate Mr. Crusty when we started to introduce new ideas and a new “culture” into the London Company. The two men got on pretty well on a personal level, and both had respect for each other. The younger man respected Mr. Crusty’s experience, sense of humour and wisdom in a general way, and Mr. Crusty respected the younger man’s intellect, work ethic and undoubted profitable track record.

But in spite of this “mutual respect” there many clashes on all manner of issues ranging from salary scales and bonuses, to petty matters like how the junior staff should address senior Managers; in the old man’s mind, he still expected to be addressed as “sir” and was shocked and upset when the new reinsurance staff had the temerity to address him by his first name!

This really was a “changing of the guard”, as new professionals were recruited into the company on much higher salaries than the existing insurance staff, and who were given superior benefits, including top of the range, expensive company cars. Of course all this was absolutely necessary if we were to attract the right caliber people to help us make our mark in the London market, but the older man struggled to accept these young upstarts, less than half his age, who wore garish, “Larry King” type suspenders, drove fast cars, had fast women, and addressed him by his first name.

As for me – I was caught in the middle. I got on extremely well with both bosses, and had to tread a delicate, middle road, as I listened sympathetically to complaints from both men, whispered sage advice into their ears and tried to calm their burgeoning egos.

To his credit, my elderly boss was not so stubborn that he could not see the direction the company was going in, and as business increased, and we started to become a bigger player in the market, he started to admit that his “day’ was over and it was time for this new, brash breed to take the company to the next level. His respect for his younger colleague grew, and he started to appreciate the philosophy that in terms of staffing, you get what you pay for.

I will never forget one particular day, when the three of us were ensconced in the boardroom to review the staff annual salary increases and bonuses. By this time Mr. Crusty was pretty much sold on the idea of  higher rewards for key staff and suddenly, out of the blue, he told his colleague that he would recommend a huge increase for yours truly – Mobi, and on top of that, as my car was up for replacement, he said I should be given a top of the range 5 series BMW, or equivalent. At that time I was driving a bog standard Vauxhall Cavalier. The younger GM concurred heartily, and I soon became the proud owner of my very first “beamer”.

My older boss was around 62 or 63 at the time, and it wasn’t long after this that he suffered a massive heart attack and had to undergo triple bi-bass surgery. The surgery was successful and he made a complete recovery, but he was away from the office for many months as he went through a period of  lengthy rehabiliation, and when he finally came back to work, it was really all over for him. Much had happened during his absence: my younger boss had taken over the full reins of the company, and there was little for the older man to do. He maintained his huge, “prestige” office in Fenchurch Street, but he found himself without any meaningful role, and it wasn’t too long before the head office started to negotiate a retirement package with him.

The package offered was very generous, and he was very happy with the outcome. It was truly the end of an era when he entered his office for the very last time, and I was honoured by being invited to have the very last drink with him at his favourite city pub, before he jumped on a commuter train and headed off into the wintery sunset.

In actual fact, he remained on the various  London and Irish boards as a non executive Director for many years into the future, and I saw him often at board meetings where we would catch up with the City gossip over a few pints and a ‘ploughmans’ at one of his many favoured pubs.

But his going represented the end of an era in the London Insurance market – an era where there were countless small players – like our old insurance company, who transacted small, labour intensive insurance transactions for minimal profits, and staffed by people who earned low salaries and as a consequence had little initiative, and were basically clock watchers – waiting for knocking off time so that they could rush to the pubs for some beer and darts.

We were now in a new era of highly paid, dynamic professionals, who were dedicated to their work, spent 18 hours a day in the office, dined and drank in up market wine bars and who were going to take us to previously unforeseen heights. And as F.D, I was sitting right up there with the gods, on the right hand side of our insurance God, my mate the General Manager.

We were really going to take this outfit somewhere big and exciting, and if we didn’t, it wouldn’t be for the want of trying.