An interview with Colin Bird, the chief executive officer of broker Besso Group.
Choose four adjectives to describe yourself.
Thoughtful, benevolent, caring and forthright.
Which historical figure do you most admire and why?
There are two people I most admire - Nelson and Winston Churchill. Not just because they were outstanding leaders, but their single-minded commitment to what they thought was right often left them in the lonely position of knowing the decisions they made could adversely affect other people’s lives and yet they knew the decisions had to be made.
Who in this industry do you most admire and why?
Sir David Rowland, chairman of Lloyd’s 1994. During Lloyd’s darkest hour this chairman of Lloyd’s, with little if any ammunition, convinced the insurance world that Lloyd’s would remain solvent and strong. His charisma and integrity steered Lloyd’s through two or three years of massive problems.
Outside of this industry what issue are you most passionate about?
It is easy to say world peace and an end to the religious conflicts around the world, but then everyone is passionate about that. I believe my passion would be to see that young people start their business life with hope and excitement. Too many young people today come out of education and within moments fear that they are surplus to requirements. We must have a society that allows these young people to get jobs.
What qualities do you most admire in other people?
Honesty and integrity, particularly when those qualities have a direct detrimental effect on the person’s own position. It is easy to be honest when it does not affect you. It is a lot more difficult when it does.
What qualities do you most dislike in other people?
Dishonesty and selfishness. I believe these two qualities have led to some of the financial crises we face today. It is clear that greed and dishonesty has led to the unsustainable growth that has occurred in our financial services, although I am pleased to say that it is less obvious in the insurance sector with one notable exception.
What do you know now that you wish you had known when you started in this industry?
That the electronic world would turn out to be the dominant feature of the modern industry and that I had an opportunity at an early stage to learn more about the computer world and chose to ignore it.
What was the last thing that completely surprised you?
The sudden and rapid demise of AIG. This is probably due to the fact that most of us were unaware of the complicated financial products that AIG was responsible for. Most of us saw them as a sophisticated entrepreneurial insurance group.
We did not realise that they were the ultimate spiral that became everybody’s last resort.
How do you unwind at the end of the day?
Mostly with a glass of wine and conversations with my colleagues before going home.
What motivates you on a Monday morning?
The excitement of leading a really dedicated group of professionals. When you are an independent broker every year, every month, every week and every day is a challenge, which we meet head on.
Whose job would you most like to have and why?
Martin Johnson, as manager of the England rugby football team. I could not think of anything more exciting and challenging.
What is your biggest regret?
That I was not a better rugby player.
What are you most proud of having achieved?
Taking a small broker, Besso, who employed 12 people in 1985 and turning it into a modern medium size broker employing approximately 250 people. To be able to give that many people and their families’ opportunities and a relatively good quality of life make me extremely proud of all the people that have helped get us where we are today.
What factors have enabled you to get where you are today?
Single-mindedness, sometimes bloody-mindedness, but above all strong colleagues who stick with you when the chips are down and laugh with you when you are having fun.