The Board of Directors of Willis Group Holdings selected a new leader who is not well known to the investment community and who has no insurance brokerage experience.
But that may not be a bad thing, according to financial analysts at Barclays Capital Inc., who view the "transition as similar to Aon's wise decision to hire Greg Case, also a former McKinsey exec without an insurance background, as CEO in 2005, who has delivered results for the company."
Dominic Casserley will take the helm at Willis on Jan. 7, replacing Chairman and CEO Joe Plumeri, who has led the company for 12 years.
Casserley, who was a senior partner at McKinsey & Co., mostly recently based in London, is a "noted expert on global financial services, including insurance companies, and the opportunities of expanding into new markets," Willis stated in announcing the appointment.
Casserley said "governments, businesses and organizations that operate across borders have become increasingly interconnected. Managing their risks is more complex than ever, but Willis consistently demonstrates how to do it right. I believe the opportunities in front of Willis are enormous, and I am very excited to be joining the team at this critical time."
Among those challenges, according to the report by Barclays, are "slow organic revenue growth and a lack of margin expansion."
"Our expectation is the new CEO will move quickly to address these issues and improve [Willis'] valuation, which has the lowest P/E among its insurance broker peers," it stated.
Gregory W. Locraft Jr., executive director of Morgan Stanley Research in Boston, said the recent challenges at Willis shouldn't color the overall view of Plumeri's leadership.
"He has done an excellent job through his tenure, driving growth on all key metrics, top line, bottom line and stock price," Locraft said. "He exits Willis having been the only public CEO that the Street has known. The company is an incredible platform from which to grow, as it sits No. 3 in the marketplace and is a true global P&C brokerage franchise."
Still, Locraft said, the future outlook remains unclear.
"His successor is really unknown and anytime you have a CEO, a long-standing CEO that leaves, there will be a culture change and there will be a re-evaluation of everything that Willis is and does," he said. "That is going to lead to some uncertainty in 2013 that makes it harder for investors to analyze from the outside."
Locraft said Casserley was coming from "outside the company but not outside the industry," noting McKinsey's position as a global thought leader on the industry.
Willis also appointed Steve Hearn as deputy chief executive officer, in addition to his current role as chairman and CEO of Willis Global, which encompasses the company's global reinsurance, placement and specialty operations.
Plumeri successfully took the brokerage public in 2001, helped develop the Chinese insurance market, and continued the company's global expansion in Asia, Europe and Latin America.
He also took the lead in disavowing contingent commissions during the New York Attorney General's investigation of the brokerage industry.
Former Sen. Bill Bradley, Willis' presiding independent director, said Plumeri's "unswerving belief that 'Anything is Possible' has propelled Willis toward global leadership in insurance broking and risk advice that has marked our record for the last decade and will serve the company well in the years ahead."
--By Anne Freedman
December 17, 2012
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