An interview with Stephen Cross, chief executive officer of Aon Captive Services Group

Choose four adjectives to describe yourself.

Direct, determined, passionate and focused.

What qualities do you most admire in other people?

I like creative people and people who have the ability to execute. I like people who are full of life, who pay attention to detail and have high energy levels.

What qualities do you most dislike in other people?

Laziness. People who are unable to make decisions. People who accept failure without making a proper effort to make something happen. I certainly don't like people who moan and do nothing about it - who complain about problems without coming up with solutions. Finally, people who confuse activity with productivity.

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

I've been working in this industry for 25 years and at the start I was never really told how interesting it could be and that insurance can be interesting! In that respect things have changed now.

What was the last thing that completely surprised you?

Hank Greenberg leaving AIG. It surprised and disappointed me because he's an icon in the industry. Everybody remembers you for your last act and yet for four decades he employed tens of thousands of people. I'm just surprised at the speed at which it's happened. My non-political answer is the speed at which the market softened after September 11. After all the downgrades that happened after September 11 we're straight back into a soft market in 2004. And that's probably stopped now because of Katrina, but it's amazing. It spends 15 years in a soft cycle and three in a hard cycle.

What motivates you on a Monday morning?

Well I don't wear a watch - and this isn't a joke - I never know what day it is. I never know what month it is; I rarely even know what year it is. The only thing that reminds me what's going on is my children's birthdays. So there's no such thing as Monday. What I really get a kick out of is that in this job no two days are the same - and that really suits my personality and my attention span. There is no ceiling in the business that I'm in and Aon really encourages you to stretch for the sky.

Whose job would you most like to have and why?

I have two answers to that. First, I would really like one of my kids to be on the professional golf circuit so I could be their caddy. Other than that I'd love to be Richard Branson - the guy is incredible - he's got all the characteristics and traits that I love to see in people.

What is your biggest regret?

When I was in the US I was in the volunteer fire department for five years. And when I used to do "Dad's Day" at school I'd bring the truck down and be in my training gear and the kids thought I was a fire fighter. My biggest regret is the day they found out I was in insurance - the look of disappointment on their faces. I'm serious - it was terrible. But I'm not a person who regrets stuff - nothing ventured, nothing gained.

What are you most proud of having achieved?

I grew up in Ireland and it was a very depressed place to be - high taxes and high unemployment - and I never travelled. My children have travelled to a lot of places - Central America, Europe, the US - and I'm really proud of the fact that I've enabled them to become open-minded children of the world.

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

Taking overseas assignments definitely helped. I worked for five years in the Cayman Islands and eight years in America and now I'm based in Ireland. It gives you an insight into the way people act and react to things. I'm also a risk taker - I have absolutely no intention of turning up to my funeral and saying, "Phew - I got here safely". And I won't let anyone who reports to me ever use the word "impossible". It doesn't exist in my directory. But I've been very fortunate - I had a great boss - and I've had an exceptional team of people to work with. When you surround yourself with people like that you can't help but be successful. You feed off each other.