An interview with Hans-Peter Gerhardt, CEO of Paris Re.
Choose four adjectives to describe yourself.
Persistent, impatient, objective and results-driven.
Which historical figure do you most admire and why?
Firstly, Nelson Mandela for his ability to forgive all the injustice he suffered and to embark on a path of reconciliation which saved his country from civil war.
Secondly, Bill Gates, who started with nothing but good ideas from which he not only built a global powerhouse, but changed the way the world communicates and transacts business. Then he became a philanthropist.
Who in this industry do you most admire and why?
I admire Claude Bébéar for building the AXA Group and J Shiro for saving and revitalising the Zurich Group.
Outside of this industry what issue are you most passionate about?
A growing issue is the imbalance in the distribution of wealth around the world and the economic, social and demographic consequences it has. The other issue that concerns me is the environment we’re leaving behind for our children and the future generations.
What qualities do you most admire in other people?
Honesty, dependability, doing what you say and openness.
What qualities do you most dislike in other people?
Sometimes it’s just the reverse like dishonesty. I’m a very direct person and people sometimes dislike that but I like people to be that way. So people who beat around the bush and who need to be interpreted to be understood I find very difficult, because I’m not a very patient person.
What was the last thing that completely surprised you?
“There is so much pain in preparing for a full marathon that I don't think I need to do it again
How a one percent shareholder, TCI, managed to trigger a takeover battle for ABN Amro of such gigantic dimensions.
How do you unwind at the end of the day?
I like sports – I cycle, I run and occasionally I swim – all endurance sports and that’s consistent with the way I like to run the business. For me running a reinsurance company is like running a marathon – it is a million small steps and if you try to sprint in the middle you’re likely to drop out of the race. I’ve run four marathons – in Paris, London, New York and Cologne. Although I still like to run half marathons, there is so much pain in preparing for a full marathon that I don’t think I need to do it again.
What motivates you on a Monday morning?
The same thing that motivates me on a Friday morning. That is I really like to continue developing a business that is successful, that’s profitable and that’s liked by shareholders. And I enjoy working with people – whether it’s people working inside the company or meeting clients from different parts of the world and different cultures. I think this is a fascinating industry that offers so much diversity.
Whose job would you most like to have and why?
What I really like and admire is architecture. If you look at some of the magnificent buildings in Spain or the big cities in the US, or London, or around Asia, I’m really impressed and amazed by what they do. I could imagine if I ever had to choose again and I couldn’t join the financial services sector, that is a career I would really find very fulfilling.
What is your biggest regret?
That I never learnt to play an instrument – I would love to play the piano. I think that would be hugely relaxing if you could sit down after work and just play for 15 minutes.
What are you most proud of having achieved?
The turnaround we have achieved here coming from where AXA Re was in 2003 to being Paris Re, a publicly-listed company owned by a world class group of investors. All of this in the space of four years makes me feel very proud.
What factors have enabled you to get where you are today?
The willingness to dedicate myself to something. Discipline and persistency – but it’s also being able to take a risk, such as taking on a new job when it’s not so immediately obvious that you’re going to succeed. When I came here in 2003 a lot of people asked me why I was doing it. But sometimes it’s those risks that reward you the most – not only financially but also in terms of job satisfaction.