When John Berger joined Chubb in 1998, establishing a trusting, collegial relationship with the company's top brass was a daunting task.
One of the members of Chubb's executive circle at the time and now the company's vice chairman and chief administrative officer, John J. Degnan, put it this way: "When I joined the company in 1990, a high-level executive said to me, 'Be sure you want to come here, because we are like amoeba massed to repel any senior-level lateral transfers."
Some of that attitude remained a high hurdle for Berger when he was brought in to launch Chubb Re.
But successfully leap the hurdle he did, with style and grace.
"John is a very effective communicator," Degnan observes. "He rapidly built up a high level of confidence in the way he was running Chubb Re, and particularly the consistency in what he suggested, and we agreed, ought to be the business model for Chubb Re."
Remember, Degnan notes, Chubb didn't separately capitalize Chubb Re as a reinsurance company. "John wrote Chubb Co.'s paper, so it was very important to us--because we have one of the highest ratings in the industry--that John conform to the business plan," says Degnan. "We were not interested in growing premium. We were interested in being profitable in a different line of business."
As time marched on, "John's relationship with a lot of the senior executives got more solid because of the absence of surprises," Degnan adds. "We were never confronted with an outsized loss on John's part, either in Sept. 11, 2001, or catastrophes or, for that matter, the book of casualty he wrote. And that was all the more important because the upside clearly became the dramatic growth in premium volume that he pursued when the market indicators suggested he should."
Summing up Berger the professional, Degnan says, "Given the nature of the Chubb Re startup, his reputation was very important to us. Our due diligence indicated he was one of the most respected reinsurance executives in the world, and his performance matched that, which was even better."
John Berger the person? "He's the whole package," Degnan says without hesitation. "He's very devoted to his family. He's very proud of his kids, and his wife is a very talented, articulate, bright woman--a pleasure to be with."
Another perspective on John Berger comes from James D. Carey, principal of Greenwich, Conn.-based Stone Point Capital, an investment group that is the largest financial backer of Harbor Point Re.
"Stone Point backed John Berger and his team because they have an outstanding track record of profitable underwriting over many years and throughout market cycles," says Carey. "John has a well-defined underwriting strategy, and he and his team have a proven ability to 'put down their pens' and shrink their book of business when underwriting conditions turn bad."
Adds Carey: "They are one of the top teams in the business, and they have also been terrific partners in Harbor Point."
January 1, 2007
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