Toby Esser

Attracting the right talent and maintaining a practical attitude seem central to caring for a successful firm.

Toby Esser
Under your tenure, Cooper Gay and latterly Cooper Gay Swett and Crawford (CGSC), has grown considerably to become the only truly global wholesale and reinsurance broker and the largest Lloyd’s centric broker. Can you share with us the key milestones on this journey?
While we have grown our profit every single year without fail since 1997, when I became Chief Executive in 2001 we immediately restructured the company. We tried to structure ourselves like a public company or as close as we could. We created a Holdingsboard, hired non-executive directors and formed an Executive Committee beneath the Holdings board, which I chair.
Since then the business has continued to evolve year on year as regulation and compliance have changed and as a result of bringing in external shareholders.

Can you tell us more about the Lightyear investment and how it will help CGSC to develop?
The CGSC board decided that we should bring in some new investors to really strengthen the balance sheet to give us the ability to go out and buy more businesses. We see a great opportunity to expand the size of the company considerably over the next few years and wanted to make sure we had the capital resource to do that. As part of this process we are also refinancing the debt acquired with the Swett & Crawford deal.
Lightyear, in conjunction with Canadian pension fund, PSP, are making the investment into the Group. They are very well respected within the market and we are excited to have such a partner joining us. Their excellent knowledge of the financial services industry and the experience they will bring to the board will certainly help take us along to the next step in CGSC’s development.

What do you think prompted your new investors’ interest in CGSC and how do you believe this partnership will take your business forward?
CGSC has built an enviable reputation over the past few years. We set out with an ambition to have the market talk about CGSC as a successful, thriving and growing business that is going places and I think we have succeeded in that.
Lightyear want to be associated with and invest in a company that will grow and make them a considerable amount of money over the next few years. The fi t was right; we want to grow, we don’t want to take the cash and run away, instead we want to use the money to build our business.
The age profile of our senior management is also good for investors. We all have plenty of years left to be in the business.
What are the key elements within both the Cooper Gay and CGSC ‘DNA’ that have enabled the business to progress?
Cooper Gay started as a very small company. Not that long ago we were just one office and a very small London operation. Fortunately, we have been able to retain the best elements and attitudes of a small entrepreneurial business even though we are now quite large with 60 offices in 17 countries throughout the world.
We have been able to surround ourselves with people who have a very entrepreneurial spirit and a ‘can do’ attitude. The creativity and desire of the business has never really gone away, which I believe is fundamental to our continuing success.
However, our team never sits on its laurels and we never celebrate our successes. We are always focused on what’s next. There is also a collective desire within CGSC to be the very best that we can possibly be. We want our brand to be associated with the very best company, a business that people want to work for, a business that’s creative and going places with a strong vision of where it is going to be taken in the future.

What’s your view on the general economy and the outlook for the reinsurance and insurance market?
I’m no economist so it would be wrong for me to talk about the economy as a whole, but I would say that, as of right now and from an insurance point of view, we are generally still suffering somewhat as a result of the current economic conditions. Very simply, interest rates are very low and there is very little to be made from your fl oat, which is a negative from an insurance broker’s perspective.
There is also not much construction taking place in many parts of the world, especially in the USA. Transportation is relatively down as well and marine is suffering quite badly. Overall, when times are tough and the choice is between paying the bills and buying professional liability insurance, people tend not to buy the professional liability insurance.
Overall the economy is having a negative effect on us, but conversely there are some pockets in Latin America and Australia where the economy is strong and CGSC is benefiting.However, these issues don’t seem to  have stopped the investment into insurance risk taking. There is still too much capital available, which in turn is keeping pressure on the rating environment.

Finally, in which parts of the world does CGSC see its largest growth potential over the next five years?
There is continuing potential for substantial organic growth in the emerging markets, particularly Latin America where our historical growth rates are very high.
CGSC is also looking to really push further into Asia over the next few years. Our base is relatively small at the moment, so there might have to be some degree by acquisition as well.
Africa is of interest. We have no offices in the region at the moment and would like to change that as the region is starting to show some potential. Certain parts of the Middle East and Central Asia also have some good possibilities.
In the more mature markets of Northern Europe, the UK and USA, where we are fundamentally bigger, it’s obviously more di  cult to drive 20 point plus organic growth. We do, however, expect to continue growing substantially in those areas, particularly as the markets have improved over the past year or two.
Working with the rapidly expanding BrokersLink alliance is also an important part of our growth strategy. As members join from new regions we expect to work and partner with them to move into these countries and build our business alongside theirs. This is especially true in regions where we see changes in the way business is being transacted by retail brokers. Opening new markets will certainly create exciting opportunities for the future.

Toby Esser joined Cooper Gay in 1984 as a non-marine property broker and led the team that launched and ran Cooper Gay’s New York office in 1988. He has been a board director since 1997 and was appointed as Group Chief Executive Officer in 2001.
Following his appointment Cooper Gay expanded rapidly, both organically and through a number of strategic transactions, including the acquisition of Junge & Co. in Germany and various asset purchases in the UK.
Under his stewardship Cooper Gay’s revenue increased from £20 million to over £100 million across more than 25 offices worldwide, profit increased each year and the number of shareholders grew to above 100.
In 2010, Cooper Gay combined forces with leading US wholesale broker Swett & Crawford to create the only truly global wholesale and reinsurance broker and the largest Lloyd’s centric broker. On completion, Toby was appointed Chief Executive Officer of the new Cooper Gay Swett & Crawford Group.
Today, the Group places in the region of $4 billion in premiums for its clients in the London, US and international insurance markets, and employs over 1,400 staff across four continents.
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