An interview with Bassem Kabban, chief executive officer of United Insurance Brokers.
Choose four adjectives to describe yourself?
Industrious, caring, honest and a leader.
Which historical figure do you most admire and why?
There are a few but the first one that comes to mind is Otto von Bismarck – for his political shrewdness and managing to unite the whole of Germany. Also Mahatma Ghandi for his humility, advocating the non-violent call for justice and his belief that “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”
Who in this industry do you most admire and why?
A genuine, highly-focused individual is Martin Stevens [AIG Aviation’s chief underwriting officer]. He is very committed to his clients and has great skills. I am very fond of this man.
Outside of this industry what issue are you most passionate about?
For me, by far, it is justice. I take issue when people are treated unfairly and feel that justice should prevail and those that have the power should dispense justice in an egalitarian and fair manner.
What qualities do you most admire in other people?
Integrity, authenticity, humility, self-respect and the respect for others are qualities that I value. I also admire the strength and honour of people who can forgive absolutely.
What qualities do you most dislike in other people?
I dislike people who look you in the eyes and tell you a lie and those who do not deliver on their promises. Similarly, I dislike those who are selfish and think of themselves before those whom they lead.
What do you know now that you wish you had known when you started in this industry?
One needs to surround oneself with quality people, rather than “yes” people who just tell you what you want to hear. I’ve also learnt not to put loyalty before ability and the importance of surrounding myself with highly motivated people who can work well in a team.
“I own and nurture a big collection of Bonsai trees, some of which are over 100 years old
What was the last thing that completely surprised you?
I have been very surprised to see that insurance companies are starting to buy brokers. I didn’t see this coming at all. It used to be a conflict of interest for brokers to own Lloyd’s syndicates but there seems to have been a change in the tide and now it’s the turn of the insurers to buy the brokers.
How do you unwind at the end of the day?
I have a super hobby – gardening. I have a Japanese garden and I love to spend time there. In fact I spend most of my free time in my little garden heaven! I’m the secretary of the Japanese Bonsai Association and I own and nurture a big collection of Bonsai trees, some of which are over 100 years old.
What motivates you on a Monday morning?
Knowing there is a lot to achieve. Every week brings a set of new challenges. I have a big happy family which I look forward to seeing every Monday morning. It may be a company, but to me its my family.
Whose job would you most like to have and why?
David Attenborough’s because it would involve learning about nature and all the creatures, great and small, throughout the world. I a huge fan of his and I watch all his programmes. He is a national treasure.
What is your biggest regret?
I really regret not spending more quality time with my father before he passed away.
What are you most proud of having achieved?
I am very proud of becoming a small player in the City of London. I never thought I’d get here with my background. I came to this country as a refugee from Lebanon in 1976 to study. I thought I would go home afterwards but this country offered me the greatest opportunity for which I will always be grateful. This is a fair community and a fair country and you just have to embrace it.
What factors have enabled you to get where you are today?
My upbringing and family values. I was brought up in a disciplined environment. Seven years as a scout and one year of National Service helped me to believe in myself.