Pattaya, 30th October 2009

Today, I have been sober for 61 days.


MOBI’S STORY – (PART 16)

THE INSURANCE YEARS (CONTINUED)


During my last two to three years at my job as ‘No. 2’ to one of the fastest growing international insurers/re-insurers in the City, we continued to make a number of significant acquisitions, both within the UK, in Western Europe, and in Central and Eastern Europe.

In addition were fast making a name for ourselves in the USA, where our trading encompassed   reinsurance as well as general insurance business, which we were able to transact following all that painstaking work carried out some years back in getting the necessary regulatory approvals as a foreign insurer in a majority of US states.

In fact our reinsurance arm extended truly world wide, and we traded in Japan, South East Asia, Africa, Australasia and the Caribbean, amongst others, and our senior underwriters regularly travelled the world to cement and further develop our trading relationships.

Our reputation in the London Market was of a growing, aggressive, influential and innovative insurance player that was able to compete with the truly big boys of insurance and sometimes come out on top.

But critical to obtaining a larger slice of the best international business was to have a first class credit rating, and without the coveted triple A rating, it was impossible to obtain access to the largest and most lucrative business. I worked tirelessly to this end to convince the rating agencies, principally ‘Standard and Poor’s’, that we justified the top rating, and as with everything else in my insurance career, I ultimately succeeded. This meant that at last we could truly compete, and did not have to rely on the crumbs and the ‘second class’ business that the big players would deign to let us scrap for.

So we went from strength to strength, and finally, we were in a position to go for the “big one”.

We were always in the process of trying to identify potential takeover targets, and in fact I had several staff  dedicated to “Mergers and Acquisitions” on a full time basis. Their work included analyzing company’s balance sheets, financial results, track records etc, to see if there may be any ‘bargains’ out there. We had recently acquired a significant UK general insurer that had branches throughout the UK,with a  Head office in no less a prestige location than Buckingham palace Road, and we were now looking for something significant within the Lloyds Market to “balance” our two trading arms.

We were already active in Lloyds, having earlier acquired a notable marine syndicate, and following this, we started a couple of new syndicates of own, but in the grand scheme of things we were still a relatively small player in that market.

So with our arrogant and aggressive attitude, we dared to suggest to our masters in head office that we should look seriously at a UK company that was not only one of the largest players in the Lloyds market, but was in fact larger in terms of revenue, than our entire current  European operation put together.

We were fortunate in having a very ambitious ally on the main board, but while he was also excited by the possibilities that this acquisition may create, he was far more cautious in his approach to potential acquisitions than we wanted to be. Up to that time, all our acquisitions had been of the ‘friendly’ type. Our policy was not to pursue hostile, public take-overs, and even when some of  the friendly ones subsequently became  acrimonious, they had  ultimately been agreed and sanctioned by the owners and lawyers of both parties, always in private and often with the assistance of  firms of city merchant bankers who brokered the deals.

But this would be very different animal, as for starters the target was a publicly listed company on the London Stock market, and in fact was one of the leading listed shares in the insurance sector.

The fact that it was publicly listed did not necessarily deter us, and after we retained a leading firm of City bankers to advise us, we opted to make an informal approach the company’s CEO to see if they would be interested in entering into preliminary discussions with a view to us making a ‘friendly’ take over offer.

But this company was as British as you can get, and was run by members of the Lloyds’ establishment (which as far as I could see was also a ‘branch’ of the British aristocracy), and there was no way in the world they would even consider talking to foreign ‘upstarts’, such as ourselves.

This became the opening salvo in a prolonged battle. We retreated wounded, but not defeated. Over the coming months, we tracked their share price as it gradually fell in value, due to a  downturn in the insurance cycle, and we carried out extensive research into the target’s businesses and drew up a list of their key institutional shareholders.

Our actuaries and accountants produced detailed spread sheets, re-ran the numbers for  every imaginable scenario and as time passed we  became more and more convinced that the target’s share price represented excellent value, and with the synergies we could expect following a merger of the two businesses, it would constitute an excellent deal for our company.

Detailed representations were made to our board, and following their approval, our company made a formal, public take over offer for the company which immediately became hostile – the first such one in our company’s history.

The board of the target company were livid, and wasted no time in rejecting our offer outright, and did their best to belittle us in the press and accuse us of being naïve ‘boys’ in a man’s market, and dismiss our offer as too paltry to be worthy of serious consideration. The more acrimonious the take over battle became, the more determined we became  to succeed.

It raged back and forth for months, with our officers carefully following the onerous rules of the stock exchange in respect of public take over offers, and after several minor upward adjustments to our original ‘offer” price, we submitted our final and irrevocable offer. At this point, we already knew that a large block of shares, belonging to institutions, were supporting our bid.

In the end, the target’s board realised that they had been out maneuvered and conceded  that the game was up. We had won and the board was humiliated, (they knew they would all lose their jobs), and somewhat reluctantly recommended to their shareholders that they accept our final offer.

On the day that they admitted defeat, our name was in the headlines throughout the British press, not only in the financial pages, but even on the front pages of the Broadsheets such as the “Times”, “Guardian” and “Daily Telegraph”. This was a significant financial acquisition, by any standards. In one fell swoop, we had doubled the size of our European operations, and had  added something approaching another 30% to the size of our overall group.

Our celebrations knew no bounds, and I couldn’t even begin to tell you how many dozens of bottles of Bollinger were drunk in the wine bars of London over the next few days. We relished our famous victory over the entrenched insurance ‘establishment’ and we spent many drunken hours planning how we would merge and manage our new ‘empire.

But my dreams and celebrations were relatively short lived.

During the past year my drinking had steadily increased, and my health had steadily deteriorated – probably in direct  proportion to the increasing amount of alcohol I was consuming.

I had been diagnosed as a ‘type two’ diabetic back in the early eighties, which within a few years had degenerated to the point where I had to take regular insulin shots. For years now, I had been injecting myself four times a day.

Then I started to have regular pains in my chest and my left arm, and the heart specialists told me I had angina and very high blood pressure. I underwent a series of angiograms (whereby they ran a micro camera inside my artery to assess any artery hardening and blockages.) The results were that my artery had a 40% blockage but was not bad enough to justify surgery – yet.  I was given a host of drugs to take: beta blockers to slow down my heart rate, statins to reduce my cholesterol level, aspirin to thin my blood and others to reduce my blood pressure.

Then I was diagnosed with glaucoma which had to be controlled with daily eye drops, and finally I was told I had an enlarged prostate which is also had to be controlled by yet more drugs.

On top of that I had a problem at the neck of my bladder which would require surgery.

I was fast becoming a ‘drug junkie’ and a potential walking heart attack.

At around the time we were finalizing our major take over plans for the Lloyd’s company, I had a ‘heart to heart’ (no pun intended) with my cardiologist and my endocrinologist to discuss my various ailments and their prognosis for my future well being. They both told me the same thing. If I carried on with my present high pressure life style – stress, alcohol, insufficient sleep, unhealthy meals, extensive travelling, etc – then I may well be dead within 5 years.

I first discussed this with my wife, who had been urging me to slow down for years, and then my boss. The result of all this was that my boss approached the main board with a proposal that the company should offer me early retirement with a generous retirement package. My boss contended that the company was certainly culpable in the alarming deterioration of my health, and after all I had done for them, the very least they could do was look after me in my current state of ill health.

However, the subject conveniently  disappeared from the agenda, and as ever I became immersed in my work,  particularly  with this latest and greatest city take-over on the agenda.

But my wife hadn’t forgotten, and about the time that I was planning my new and exciting role in the soon to be enlarged London entity, I was asked by my boss to undertake a series of medicals with company appointed doctors, which resulted in their concurrence with my own specialists’ earlier conclusions – that if I don’t stop work, I wouldn’t live to enjoy my retirement.

The retirement offer was finally on the table, and it was a good, very fair offer.

I didn’t want to take it. I had no idea what I would do if I stopped working. One way or another I had been working since I was barely sixteen years old, and in spite of my alcoholism, I was an undoubted workaholic. I was addicted to alcohol, and I was addicted to work – my two, life threatening cravings.

In spite of my misgivings, I was ‘between rock and a hard place’, and following some discussion with my young boss, it was agreed that I would take early retirement on 1st July, 2000, just a few weeks after my 54th birthday, and barely a few weeks following the successful completion of my biggest and most ambitious work project: the take over of the Lloyd’s operation.

Sadly, I would no longer be there to manage the bedding in of our latest acquisition, to determine who would stay and who would go, what offices would be close or merged and all the other myriad tasks that I reveled in, following a major take over.

What would I do? Where would I go? I would never have any money problems, but for me, at that moment in time, I didn’t care about money. I cared about my future life, and I especially feared for my life of idleness with my wife of over 20 years, who I knew would make things very difficult, now she finally had me to herself.

They put on a farewell party to top all farewell parties. It was an incredible ‘do’ and my wife and daughters were also invited. There was an incredible turn out of staff from all over the UK, many from our overseas offices, and even a number of friends, business colleagues, and other people who I had known (or had known me), in the insurance market. Even the Company lawyers and audit partners came along to wish me well.

As you can imagine, I got very drunk.

That night wasn’t intended to be a total conclusion to my associations with the company or the London insurance market. I was to be retained on the boards of the various companies as a non- executive Director, and in a general way, it was expected that I would make regular visits to the city to have ‘liquid lunches’ with my former boss and other former business colleagues, ‘shoot the shit’ and generally remain in the background as an informal adviser. This would be therapeutic for me, as it would ease my transition into retirement, and also should provide some benefit for the company, as after all my years there, I should have at least a small amount of valued advice to impart.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way.

In the next and final installment of the “Insurance years” I will tell you what happened, as in a way, it had a much greater emotional effect on me than the retirement itself.



One thought on “Pattaya, 30th October 2009”

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