Among the many challenges that he will meet when he takes the helm of Willis Group Holdings P.L.C. early next year, incoming CEO Dominic Casserley said refining the company's strategic pursuit of growth opportunities in global marketplaces will likely be the most crucial to the brokerage's short- and long-term success.
Mr. Casserley, currently a senior partner of McKinsey & Co., will succeed Joe Plumeri as Willis Group's CEO effective Jan. 7, 2013, the London-based brokerage announced Wednesday. Steve Hearn, currently chairman and CEO of Willis Global, was named deputy CEO of the parent company.
Speaking to Business Insurance Wednesday morning on a conference call with Mr. Plumeri and Mr. Hearn, Mr. Casserley said a key challenge he, Mr. Hearn and the rest of Willis' leadership will need to address immediately is the careful prioritization of Willis' resources worldwide, particularly in emerging markets such as China, Latin America and Africa.
“The world is a more complicated, more globalized and, to some extent, riskier place. The opportunities that a firm like Willis has to meet those client needs and match them to markets are growing all the time, but are growing more complicated all the time,” Mr. Casserley said. “It's a world of opportunity, and it's a question where we place our bets and where do we focus our resources.”
Mr. Casserley, 54, joined New York-based McKinsey in 1983 and has worked out of the management consulting firm's London office since 2000. He is the second McKinsey partner to leave the firm to head a major insurance brokerage in recent years. In 2005, Aon Corp. hired former McKinsey partner Gregory C. Case as president and CEO.
The announcement marks the end of Mr. Plumeri's 12-year tenure as Willis Group's chief executive, though he will stay with the company as nonexecutive chairman of its board through the remainder of his contract, which expires in July 2013. Under his leadership, Willis returned to public ownership in 2001 and recorded 98.6% growth in total revenues between 2002 and 2011.
Plumeri brought sales flair
Prior to joining Willis, Mr. Plumeri was chairman and CEO of Travelers Group's Primerica Financial Services division; he also oversaw Citibank's North American branch operations following the 1999 merger of Citibank and Travelers. Before that, Mr. Plumeri managed the 1993 merger of stockbrokers Smith Barney and Shearson and served as president of the merged company.
When he joined Willis, Mr. Plumeri candidly admitted that he knew little about insurance broking and his flair for sales and financial deal-making stood in contrast to previous leadership at what was regarded as a blue-blooded London market insurance brokerage.
At Willis, one of his main tasks was to return the brokerage to public ownership. The brokerage, which had been listed on the London Stock Exchange, was taken private following the Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co.-backed 1998 management buyout of the firm. Willis raised $270 million in its initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange in 2001.
Mr. Plumeri also significantly raised the profile of the brokerage in the United States when he moved its Chicago operations to the iconic then-Sears Tower, which was renamed Willis Tower.
Mr. Plumeri also led Willis through some tumultuous times, including the fallout from former New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer investigations into the insurance industry. Willis agreed to pay $50 million in 2005 to settle concerns about fraud and anti-competitive practices raised by Mr. Spitzer. After the settlement, Mr. Plumeri became a vocal critic of contingent commissions, the profit- and volume-based commissions that Mr. Spitzer charged several brokerage firms with abusing.
While Willis Group's revenue growth has been steady under Mr. Plumeri's leadership, its profitability has been variable over the past two years.
In 2011, the brokerage's profits fell by more than 50% to $219 million, largely due to several nonrecurring expenses. The brokerage recorded a 179.8% gain in profits for the first half of 2012 to $333 million.
During the transitional phase between Jan. 7 and the end of his contract, Mr. Plumeri said he plans to provide whatever help he can to Mr. Casserley and Mr. Hearn as they adapt to their new roles within the company. Following the transition, Mr. Plumeri said he has not made any specific plans regarding the next stage of his career, but he was emphatic that there would indeed be a next stage.
“I can tell you this: I'm not prepared to get up in the morning, get the newspaper from the front door, have a cup of coffee and see who's on the Today Show,” Mr. Plumeri said. “I don't know what I'm going to do, but I am going to do something and hopefully make some kind of contribution to the world. But in the meantime, my plan is to be as helpful to Dominic and Steve as I can.”