By STEVE YAHN, who has written for and edited national publications for more than 30 years
Thomas Huerlimann, newly named CEO of the worldwide Global Corporate business at Zurich Financial Services Group, literally has been preparing for this new position for all of his adult life.
While earning a degree in business and economics from the University of Zurich, Huerlimann traveled around the world. He first worked in Singapore and Switzerland as an options and futures trader and then in Ghana and France conducting marketing research.
"Traveling and working throughout the world and experiencing new cultures and at the same time working was a fantastic experience," said the Swiss national, 47.
After his first international foray, Huerlimann earned an M.B.A. from IMD in Lausanne, Switzerland.
"It was an incredible experience," recalled Huerlimann. "It was a truly international experience; I was the only Swiss person in my class."
Entering the world of banking, Huerlimann's good fortune held. He started with Westminister Bank doing mergers-and-acquisitions in London and Zurich. Later he landed a job with Coutts & Co., a subsidiary of National Westminster Bank, where he served for seven years.
"I was assigned to build up the business for Coutts in Central and Eastern Europe from scratch. This was a great experience, something in your life you rarely have the opportunity to do. Starting something from scratch was very exciting and rewarding," he said.
Then, an attractive opportunity opened up at Swiss Re in 1996 in the corporate development office in M&A and strategy. Eventually, he was put in charge of the global insurance clients at Swiss Re New Markets. He also became the global head of the insurance practice after Swiss Re purchased the boutique investment firm Bank Fox-Pitt Kelton.
It was in 2003 that Huerlimann moved on to Zurich Financial Services Group. His first assignment was as global head of group reinsurance. In 2005, he became chief operating officer of Global Corporate. He was in that position not even six months when, in June 2006, he was tabbed as CEO of Global Corporate in Europe. In that position, Huerlimann oversaw 2,500 employees in 17 countries. His group served the large and global with international exposures.
HIS NEW DOMAIN
In his current CEO position, Huerlimann reports directly to Mario Greco, head of general insurance business for all lines of Zurich worldwide. He succeeds the departing Mario Vitale.
Assessing his new domain, Huerlimann said, "This is definitely a global position. Zurich is very strong in North America, and very, very strong in Europe, being the market leader. Zurich also has a sizable position in Asia Pacific and the Middle East, and we are working with all our clients in Latin America to achieve the same."
As a top executive, Huerlimann observed, what he likes about his job is that "we make a promise to our customers."
"We write very big lines obviously as the market leader in Europe, and we have large claims from time to time," he explained. "Then it's about being there for the customer, and the highlight for me was when I could hand-deliver the check, sometimes very big checks, to the customer personally."
Another highlight of Huerlimann's job, he said, is enjoying being in a people business.
"To develop and grow young talent, by giving them assignments where they can stretch, or providing them with international exposure and then to see how they grow and succeed, is such a great thing," Huerlimann observed. "Our biggest assets are our people, and to develop them is hugely rewarding for them, for the company and, most importantly, for our customers."
March 14, 2011
Copyright 2011© LRP Publications