An interview with Anthony Taylor, the former chief executive officer and current executive chairman of Montpelier Re.

Choose four adjectives to describe yourself.

Humble (a little), pragmatic, straightforward and eccentric (so I’m told).

Which historical figure do you most admire and why?

Wellington or Nelson for the obvious reasons. Those who know me should be able to work this out.

Who in this industry do you most admire and why?

That is Ajit Jain. The reason is because he’s just impossible to negotiate with and as a result he is very successful. When it comes to the world’s largest reinsurers, with top quality security, he is the only one who really understands the principle that if you are selling great security you charge top dollar- and he does that without getting too bogged down by the output from catastrophe models!

Outside of this industry what issue are you most passionate about?

I’m passionate about when I’m going to win one of the big horse races – I don’t care whether it’s on the flat or over the jumps. I own all of or have a share of a number of racehorses and it would be wonderful to win one of the top races (we have been second in the Ascot Gold Cup in the last two runnings – damn it).

What qualities do you most admire in other people?

Honesty, forthrightness, humour and consistency.

What qualities do you most dislike in other people?

The reverse of the ones I like most.

What do you know now that you wish you had known when you started in this industry?

There is no way of predicting the unpredictable and thank God there isn’t otherwise none of us would have a job. I am amazed at the number of terribly clever organisations who issue forecasts of the number of hurricanes and tropical storms that will occur in the North Atlantic area per annum (taking account of La Nina, El Nino, jet streams, SSTs, Saharan dust, seaweed etc). They all have totally overestimated the numbers in the last two years and have taken to naming pathetically weak weather systems that don’t get within 2,000 miles of the US seaboard in order to massage numbers upwards. They are forecasting a high frequency again this year and who knows they may well be correct, after all a broken clock is right twice a day.

What was the last thing that completely surprised you?

That the much vaunted risk management controls in the banking industry were totally debunked by the subprime crisis. I went to a meeting almost two years ago now with some other reinsurance executives where we got a lecture on the inadequacies of reinsurers’ risk management practices compared to the quality of the banking industry‘s systems. What has happened to the banking industry just amazes me – it really wasn’t that difficult to envisage what would happen if you lend long to “men of straw“, leverage up and borrow short to cover it.

Whose job would you most like to have and why?

In my next reincarnation I’d like to come back as the boss of a catastrophe modelling agency or a rating agency. Power without responsibility. Which means if you get it wrong don’t apologise just change the models (and charge more fees)… I guess I probably shouldn’t have said this!!

What is your biggest regret?

I failed my geography A-level when I was due to go to university to study geography. I didn’t go to university and ended up in insurance instead.

What are you most proud of having achieved?

I think it is starting work as a motor insurance clerk at the age of 18 in a Dickensian office at 1 Cornhill in London and rising to the position of CEO/chairman of a publicly-quoted New York Stock Exchange company without having a university degree, going to Eton, or the guards.

What factors have enabled you to get where you are today?

The answer to that is in Question One coupled with the strong support of my wife has given me over the many years.