Group CEO, BMS Associates

You’ve worked in many industries. How’d you wind up in insurance?
I started in the ceramics industry, then moved into the clothing industry, then the specialist paper-making and paper-conversion industry. From that I moved into strategic consulting, which is the way I got introduced to the insurance sector. After about 12 years advising brokers, underwriters and markets, I understand how it works.

Where did you grow up?
In a small town in the U.K. called Stoke-on-Trent. That is the ceramics connection. That town was the home for brands like Wedgewood and Royal Doulton. It’s in the north of England, very close to Manchester. I’m a northern lad in a very southern industry. I’m often asked about the whereabouts of my flat cap and whippets.

What’s the biggest misperception about England that you find from foreigners?
I think it depends where you are in the world. In the Middle East, they see London as the representation of everything cultured. In the States, many people see the U.K. as one big town. I very often get asked, “Do you know such-and-such a person?” only to find they live 200 miles away. However, my favorite U.S. story relates to when I worked for a Scottish company, a paper-making company, and I was visiting the States with my very Scottish group CEO. During one client meeting, my CEO was asked, “So what part of England is Scotland in?” The question couldn’t have been better had I set it up! Another interesting observation is that wherever I travel and I refer to living close to Manchester I’m immediately hit with, “Oh, Manchester United.” Wow, what a brand. Good for Aon.

Soccer or rugby?

You played?
I did. Until I was 16 or 17, I was convinced I was going to be a professional footballer. I’m one of the many who didn’t quite get there, much to my father’s disappointment. He’s quite poorly in hospital at the moment but still managed to remind me of my big failure in his eyes.

What have you learned in the insurance industry that you could pass on to others?
Relationships really are key. This is an industry where trust is an absolute prerequisite and the value of a close and trusting relationship is at a premium. Therefore my advice would be: Develop close, transparent and honest relationships, whatever the industry. The insurance sector clearly demonstrates the value of this time and time again.

What would people be most surprised to learn about you?
Probably the fact that I can be quite emotional, especially when watching certain films. I’m normally perceived as a calm and cool character. I think this other side of me might surprise people.

What film in particular has had that effect on you?
One of my favorite films is “Forest Gump.” I really enjoy that film. It’s very clever and deeply moving. He’s an unfortunate guy who’s as straight as the day is long, devoted to his lifelong girlfriend, his best friend as a young boy. It’s funny, it’s sad, it’s happy. It just takes you across the spectrum, really.

Your favorite Beatle?
John Lennon. I just perceive him as the most creative of the Beatles. And I think he was the one, once they separated, who created the most interesting music.

What would you be doing if you weren’t the CEO of an insurance company?
I think I’d still be in a consulting position. I really do enjoy helping people devise solutions to their business-growth dilemmas.

If you could change the industry, what would you do?
A little more collaboration and transparency between brokers and underwriters would be a good move in the right direction.

What has given you your Leader’s Edge in this industry?
I’ve been fortunate not to have been burdened with a long-term history with the sector. I’m not in a position where I answer the question before I’ve even heard it. I think it helps me a great deal. It gives me a unique stance to constructively challenge an industry where doing things the same old way can often hold it back.


The Beardmore File

Age: Turns 52 this month

Family: Single, three children: Michelle, 28; Craig, 26; Ian, 24 (“They still all live in or around Stoke-on-Trent.”)

Wheels: BMW 3 Series

Last vacation: Turkey (“Eastern Europe has a way of making you feel like you’ve gone to someplace really different.”)

Last book read: Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett (“I read it on my iPad.”)