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Longtime insurance executive John J. Byrne, once dubbed the “Babe Ruth of insurance” by his friend Warren Buffett, died last week at his home in Etna, N.H. at age 80.
Mr. Byrne, a 2009 inductee in the Insurance Hall of Fame, founded White Mountains Insurance Group Ltd. after successful stints turning around GEICO and Fireman's Fund Insurance Co. Trained as an actuary, Mr. Byrne began his career as a reinsurance salesman and assistant manager at Lincoln National Life Insurance Co. in 1959.
Mr. Byrne moved on to Travelers Insurance Co., where he rose to the rank of executive vice president, responsible for the company's life and personal lines divisions. In 1976, Mr. Byrne was tapped as CEO of GEICO, which was teetering on the brink of insolvency. Using a combination of cost cuts, rate increases, reinsurance deals and a capital infusion from a convertible preferred stock offering, Mr. Byrne was able to put GEICO back on a firm financial footing. Subsequently, Mr. Byrne took the helm at Fireman's Fund, fixed the company's balance sheet, and took the company public in a then-record initial public offering in 1985, before selling it to German insurer Allianz S.E in 1991.