By STEVE YAHN, who has written for and edited national publications for more than 30 years
David J. Bidmead, the new CEO of Marsh U.S., recalled one of his most noteworthy accomplishments: parlaying his first job into a solid start in the insurance brokerage field. In fact, Bidmead's occupational wish was not insurance at all.
Throughout high school he dreamed of being a forensic scientist. His father was a cabinet-maker and his mother a housewife, and Bidmead did not want to put his parents through the hardship of paying for a college education. So he had an alternative for his forensic science interests: the police department, a stable job with good benefits that would make his parents and neighbors proud.
"David Caruso was perceived to be an attractive guy, and I saw myself in that role," said Bidmead. "When I finished school, I applied to the Sydney Police Department, and I was at the point where I'd done all the medicals for admission."
Only one test was left. "A physician pulled a book, and he confronted me with a series of dots, and said, 'What do you see?' I said, 'I see a series of dots.' He took off his glasses, and you know there are times in your life when you know something bad is going to happen."
Bidmead continued: "He said, 'You are color blind and therefore you cannot serve on the police force.' I said, 'Is there anything that can be done about it?' and he said, 'No.' "
Right then, Bidmead's world faded to black ... so to speak. "Rocked" was how he put it.
"For the longest time, this was what I saw as my ticket to medicine," he said.
When Bidmead got home, his mother and father helped him through his grieving period, and before long, he was on the job-search trail.
Sure enough, there was an ad in the local newspaper for an insurance trainee at the firm of Frank B. Hall.
"So I received an interview with an imposing man who sat behind a big mahogany desk, was well dressed and smoked a cigar. I had good grades from school and I presented myself well, so before long I was offered an entry-level job," he recounted.
Back in 1983 in Australia, insurance training was code for "mail boy." It was a step down from police cadet, to be sure, but a step down only on paper.
"Since it was an entirely new field for me, it was a real challenge," said Bidmead.
For the next 12 years, Bidmead worked as a broker for Aon companies in Australia. In 1995, he joined Sedgwick Australia and three years later was all set to head Sedgwick's office in Sydney ... when something unexpected happened once again.
Marsh came calling with an offer for Bidmead to lead its large-client segment, which then blossomed into being responsible for Marsh's East Coast operations in Australia.
In 2004, he succeeded the former executive chairman to lead Marsh for all of Australia and the Pacific operations. Bidmead gradually expanded his duties from the Pacific region to include the Western zones of the United States from Seattle to Hawaii and from San Diego to Denver.
Last week, when he was named to the newly created role of CEO of Marsh U.S., he became the first non-American to serve in a CEO-level role, according to Marsh.
"Our global vision is to help our clients thrive," Bidmead said in an interview this week with Risk & Insurance®.
"We are blessed with having a very big and very impressive client list," he also said. "For me, our mission is to help our clients more accurately define the relevance of risk."
Bidmead remembers growing up at a time when to the word "risk" was typically attached to a negative connotation. And for many years during his professional life, it was. Risk was a concept loaded with loss and misfortune, and the role of the broker was to help clients enjoy adequate insurance and protection, he said.
Today, though, the conversation has changed.
"Now it's about effective management of risk," he said. "I think the challenge for our company is to deepen the conversation from the simple transaction analysis to one where risk becomes a valuable commodity."
Bidmead said his appointment and other structural changes just announced come at a time of strength for Marsh under Brian Duperreault, president and CEO of Marsh & McLennan Cos. Inc., rather than at a time of forced change. MMC on Feb. 15 topped analysts' expectations for results in the fourth quarter and forecast double-digit earnings growth for 2011.
In his new role, Bidmead will be based in New York and lead Marsh's U.S. retail brokerage business reporting to Joe McSweeney, president of Marsh U.S./Canada.
"David Bidmead has proven himself a strong leader and visionary change agent," McSweeney said in announcing Bidmead's appointment. "His record of accomplishment in Australia and the U.S. West zone makes him the ideal candidate to inspire and guide our retail brokerage operations through its next phase of growth."
Bidmead, 45, joined Marsh in the mid-1990s and has experience in leadership positions in the areas of account management, business development and alternative risk financing.
His industry experience spans risk coverage in the real estate, construction, power and energy, and financial institutions sectors.
February 17, 2011
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