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2: Aon Corp.


Aon Corp. is in building mode, acquiring both talent and specific businesses over the past year to enhance its capabilities, its chief executive says.

"We're at the end of the beginning in terms of what stands before Aon in opportunity," said Gregory C. Case, president and CEO of the Chicago-based brokerage.

"Aon is all about building for the future. We see it as our time to succeed, and we'll either capture it or we won't," he said.

"It's been two years since I joined Aon, and I came in with high expectations," Mr. Case said. "What I saw was tremendous opportunity. Global demand for our capabilities was going to go up, not down. Two years later, based on what I've seen--and I'm still meeting with roughly 100 clients a month--I have more conviction than I ever have about opportunities for Aon."

One of Aon's most significant restructurings in the past year was formation of Aon Global in January, a business unit that unifies the company's global resources under one service platform. Aon Global comprises the former Global Large Corporate division, the Captives Services Group, the International Risk Management Group, Risk Consulting, Risk Engineering and other units.

Dennis Mahoney, chairman and CEO of Aon Ltd., has been tapped as chairman of Aon Global and is relocating to Bermuda. Steve McGill, CEO of Aon Risk Services Americas, will assume the additional role of CEO of Aon Global. Peter Harmer, who headed Aon's Australia/New Zealand operations, succeeds Mr. Mahoney as CEO of Aon Ltd.

"We've linked our network more closely in the spirit of delivering Aon's global capabilities in a local way," Mr. Case said.

Among other senior executive changes, Aon announced this year that Chief Financial Officer David Bolger will be leaving once his successor is named. Mr. Case praised Mr. Bolger as "a great colleague" and added that Aon's next CFO "will continue to be a valued colleague, helping us build and shape our company to operate more as a global firm."

While Aon's 2006 brokerage revenues of $6.71 billion make it the second-largest brokerage in the world, Mr. Case said that "Size is not a focal point for us; it's about quality and capability" in serving clients.

Business Insurance defines brokerage revenues as commissions and fees derived from insurance services, including brokerage and consulting and other income but not investment or underwriting income. Aon's 2005 brokerage revenues were $6.49 billion.

Risk and insurance services accounted for about 63% of Aon Corp.'s gross revenues in 2006, with the remainder provided by consulting and underwriting operations. Aon's gross revenues grew 5.4% in 2006, to $8.95 billion from a restated $8.50 billion in 2005. The company's 2006 net income fell slightly, to $720 million from $735 million a year earlier. Aon restated 2005 gross revenue to reflect discontinued operations.

Last November, the company sold two of its underwriting businesses, Aon Warranty Group and the Construction Program Group, for $800 million. Through prior sales, Aon no longer underwrites property/casualty insurance, focusing instead on accident and health and life business.

Significant acquisitions last year include:

c San Ramon, Calif.-based Valley Oak Systems Inc., a risk management and claims information system vendor, which Aon has merged with its eSolutions Group. In BI's 2007 ranking of RMIS, the combination of Valley Oak's iVOS with Aon's RiskConsole was the fifth-largest RMIS by risk management department installations.

c Breitstone & Co., a Cedarhurst, N.Y.-based specialty environmental risk management firm. Peter C. Breitstone was named managing principal and CEO of Aon's environmental services group.

c Footman James, a U.K.-based affinity brokerage.

"We're very much in growth mode," Mr. Case said.

In 2006, Aon spent $180 million on acquisitions and has already reached that point in 2007. "We continue to make acquisitions to help our clients," Mr. Case said.

In the first quarter of this year, Aon reported a 10% rise in gross revenue, to $2.4 billion, and an 8% increase in net income, to $213 million, vs. the year-earlier period.

A highlight came in April on the 20th anniversary of Aon trading as a single company under the Gaelic word meaning "oneness."

Mr. Case noted that some Aon companies, such as Hudig-Langeveldt, have existed for centuries, but the company considers its birthday as April 24, 1987, when the name Aon began trading publicly. To celebrate that event this year, he said Aon colleagues around the world volunteered for more than 200 community service projects in 60 countries.

In May, Aon created a Turnaround and Restructuring Practice, based in Boston and headed by Michael Toner, to assist clients with property and liability risk management services. TARP expects to expand its scope to include pension, compensation, employee retention and other services.

In September 2006, Aon announced an amended settlement agreement with the attorneys general in New York, Connecticut and Illinois regarding contingent compensation. While Aon in 2005 ceased accepting contingent commissions for placing business on behalf of insurance buyers, the amended agreement permits Aon to accept the commissions when it acts as a managing general agent or managing general underwriter for an individual insurance company.

Aon has not announced whether it will accept new supplemental compensation programs unveiled by several insurers in the past year, but Mr. Case suggested that Aon may elect not to receive them.

"A two-tier system wasn't helpful," with some brokers taking contingents and others not. "We struggle with how a three-tier system would be helpful," Mr. Case said. "We have not accepted any supplemental commissions and we will never do anything to jeopardize the trust we have with our clients. We will always operate in a transparent way," he said.

"A big outcome of all the work from the attorneys general was around transparency, to make sure clients understand what they get and what they pay for what they get from their brokers. I love that. It puts the knife edge on us to serve our clients," he said.

"Firms that have that capability will do well. If we do well for our clients, we'll do great, and if we don't, we won't," Mr. Case said.

An analyst sees the changes within Aon paying off under Mr. Case's leadership.

"They're focusing on core business and what needs to improve," said Gretchen Roetzer, associate director at Fitch Ratings in Chicago, who tracks Aon and other brokerages.

"Greg Case has pretty well executed on what he said he'd do when he came in two years ago. We can see a positive trend in profitability and financial flexibility," Ms. Roetzer said. "It looks like they're making all the right steps."

On July 6, Aon's stock closed at $42.68 per share, shy of its 52-week high of $43.65. Its 52-week low was $31.90.