Building on success
Aon founder Patrick Ryan launches specialty unit with a "dream team" of top industry talent
By Elisabeth Boone, CPCU
After a long and distinguished career that centered on the founding and leadership of Aon, now the world’s largest insurance and reinsurance brokerage, Patrick Ryan was not looking ahead to a life of leisure. Instead, this highly regarded industry veteran chose to pursue a new challenge: creating a specialty organization to craft insurance and risk management solutions for a select group of highly complex exposures.
Launched in February of this year, Ryan Specialty Group (RSG) is based in Chicago, with Ryan serving as chairman and chief executive officer. RSG will serve as a global holding company for managing general agencies, managing general underwriters, and wholesale brokerages, with the aim of delivering a platform of specialized services to retail agents and brokers as well as carriers.
No one who knows Patrick Ryan is surprised that he has eschewed conventional retirement to put his skill, energy, and experience to work in a new specialty market venture. Since starting a specialty agency from scratch in 1964 at age 26, he has built a career whose many accomplish-ments are based on an unswerving commitment to discipline, focus, and old-fashioned hard work.
While building Aon into an international powerhouse, Ryan also brought his leadership skills to many philanthropic and civic service endeavors. He was chairman and chief executive officer of Chicago 2016, leading the U.S. bid to host the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games. For 14 years, Ryan served as chairman of the board of trustees of his alma mater, Northwestern University, and he continues to serve as a trustee. He is also an owner and director of the Chicago Bears Football Club and serves as chairman of World Sport Chicago.
Of the many honors and awards he has received, Ryan is perhaps proudest of the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans Award, which he accepted in 1987. That honor also was bestowed on an early mentor, W. Clement Stone, an insurance industry titan of the mid-20th century who inspired many people with his personal story of rising from humble roots and with his dedication to positive thinking. Stone was the founder of Combined Insurance Company of America, with which Ryan Insurance merged in 1982.
Eye on specialty market
Over the years of his career, Ryan acquired both depth and breadth of experience in all segments of the insurance market; in fact, it’s hard to name a line of business or coverage that isn’t available from one or more units of Aon. In explaining his decision to form a company to serve select specialty markets, Ryan says he has long felt a strong affinity for the wholesale, MGA, and MGU world and the challenges of the specialty insurance marketplace.
“It’s pretty hard to differentiate yourself in commodity markets where products are basically sold on price,” he asserts. “I like businesses that are not commodity driven, where we can distinguish ourselves by providing what we call ‘differentiating expertise and differentiating creativity.’”
With an eye on the dynamic global economy, Ryan Specialty Group is focusing on industries where new exposures are emerging rapidly and where designing effective insurance and risk management solutions demands a high level of expertise, as well as creativity and flexibility. RSG’s five target markets are media, advertising, technology, privacy, network security, and financial lines.
As a first step toward meeting the needs of its chosen markets, Ryan Specialty Group in December 2009 formed ThinkRisk Underwriting Agency, LLC, a managing general underwriting agency based in Kansas City, Missouri, that specializes in errors and omissions coverage for the media, advertising, technology, privacy, and network security industries.
Among the exposures faced by these industries are liabilities associated with the creation and distribution of content, storage of confidential data, and creative advertising and Internet strategies. ThinkRisk provides underwriting and claims management services to the clients of retail agents and brokers in these industries.
Ryan is chairman of ThinkRisk. Serving as chief executive officer is Leib Dodell, who formerly was president and CEO of Media/Professional Insurance, a subsidiary of Axis Capital. Chad Milton is executive vice president of ThinkRisk; he previously served as national practice leader for media and intellectual property at Marsh.
A second subsidiary, Ryan Specialty (Europe) Ltd., is a managing general underwriting agency based in the United Kingdom that specializes in financial lines products, including directors and officers, financial institutions, and professional liability or indemnity products. Ryan Specialty (Europe) Ltd. is led by industry veterans Malcolm Nightingale, chief underwriting officer, who has more than 35 years of financial underwriting experience; and Adam Barker, general and underwriting counsel, who previously held the same position at HCC Global Financial Products in London.
To deliver the differentiating expertise and creativity that Ryan Specialty Group is committed to providing in its target markets, Ryan has assembled a “dream team” of experienced professionals with impressive credentials.
In evaluating candidates for positions in his new firm, Ryan says, “I look first of all for relevant experience in our chosen fields. After that, the issue quickly becomes: How does a particular individual fit into our team in terms of embracing the culture I’ve built in businesses throughout my career?
“The people we have chosen possess both depth of experience and the demonstrated ability to be working members of a team,” he says. “We’re bringing together a group of blue-chip people, and we’ve already had favorable comments on the quality of our team.”
Unity of purpose and commitment to teamwork are core values for Ryan; at the same time, he seeks leaders who have a strong entrepreneurial spirit in the sense that they take ownership of their portfolio and excel at guiding others in pursuit of agreed objectives. “I want the members of our team to be mentally attuned to being creators and builders,” Ryan says.
In addition to Dodell, Milton, Nightingale, and Barker, the Ryan Specialty Group leadership team boasts a roster of accomplished professionals in key disciplines.
Timothy Turner is a managing director of RSG and also is president and CEO of RT Specialty, the wholesale side of RSG. Turner formerly was president of CRC Insurance Services, Inc.
Debra McClenahan is also a managing director and oversees RSG’s MGA/MGU business. She previously was the CEO of Aon Underwriting Managers and most recently was chief administration officer for Aon Re Americas.
Diane Aigotti is a managing director and chief financial officer of RSG. Most recently she was senior vice president, chief risk officer, and treasurer at Aon. Also serving as managing directors are Ed McCormack, a former federal prosecutor and most recently a commercial litigator with the law firm of Nixon Peabody; Frank Phillips, most recently president and chief executive officer of the Aon division responsible for all U.S. brokerage in personal lines, small commercial, and private risk management; and Michael Rice, formerly executive vice president of Aon and previously chief executive officer of Aon subsidiaries that distribute insurance products nationwide through multiple channels.
Additional managing directors are Kevin Schrage, most recently head of Aon’s small commercial brokerage operation; Kurt A. Summers Jr., who served as chief of staff of Chicago 2016; and Jerry Tegan, most recently chairman of Aon’s Agency Specialty Product Network (ASPN).
Ryan was quick to note that all former Aon employees were no longer at Aon before RSG was formed.
Broad service platform
As noted earlier, a key initiative for Ryan Specialty Group is to develop a platform of services for retail agents and brokers that will support them in placing business with specialty MGAs, MGUs, and wholesale brokers such as Think Risk Underwriting Agency and Ryan Specialty (Europe) Ltd.
RSG’s MGA/MGU team provides a full menu of services to clients in program development, sales and marketing, underwriting, policy issuance and administration, loss control, and claims handling.
“We employ advanced technology to provide outsourced back-office processing and insurance transactional services to retail agents and brokers, and we believe this will be of great interest to producers who don’t have the scale themselves to perform these functions with the degree of efficiency we can provide,” Ryan says.
“We have developed technology that responds very meaningfully to the needs of the agent and broker. In particular, we are using Web-based technology that will put retail producers in a position to make more use of the Internet than perhaps they have done in the past.”
An online wholesale portal with call center support offers retail producers access to both admitted and nonadmitted markets for smaller accounts.
With strong leadership, top industry talent, and a growing network of MGAs, MGUs, and wholesale brokerages to deliver solutions for complex exposures, Ryan Specialty Group is clearly poised for growth in the United States and the countries of the European Union.
Asked about plans to expand his company’s geographic reach, Ryan says, “We’re not at the point where we’re seeking a global presence, but we definitely intend to become more international.” Ryan Specialty Group, he explains, will seek to grow both domestically and abroad through a dual strategy of creating new specialty facilities and pursuing strategic acquisitions of existing entities. “I very much like starting up new units, but we’ll also evaluate opportunities for acquisitions,” Ryan says.
It’s obvious that Patrick Ryan and his dream team at Ryan Specialty Group are relishing the challenge of tackling tough risks with focus, discipline, and commitment. With this powerful industry “brain trust” in place, conventional retirement isn’t even on Ryan’s radar screen.
For more information:
Ryan Specialty Group
Web site: www.ryansg.com