An interview with Gerry Albanese, president and chief operating officer of Markel International.

Choose four adjectives to describe yourself. Optimistic, curious, honest and focused… and perhaps stubborn. I'm not really stubborn. I just like to tell people I'm flexible as long as they do it my way (laughs).

If you likened yourself to a historical figure who would it be and why?I really like Abraham Lincoln, largely because of his honesty. He was also one of America's greatest presidents, not only in his leadership during the Civil War but because of his important role in ending slavery in the US.

Who in this industry do you most admire and why?I'm not just saying this because I'm looking for a big raise but I really admire Tony Markel because I think he's built a fantastic company. Tony and his management team have always been able to produce superior shareholder returns while ensuring Markel is a great place to work. They haven't taken the fun out of the business.

Outside of this industry what issue are you most passionate about?I'm always most passionate about my family. My wife, Kathleen, and three sons, John, Chris and Tony, are very important to me. Having a work/life balance has always been very important and for me there's no such thing as quality time. If my children or wife need something I can't just say, “I'll put you in the calendar for Thursday at 9pm”. When they need something they need it right away.

What qualities do you most admire in other people?I always admire people with high personal integrity. I also admire the ability to explain complex problems in very simple terms – that's a masterful skill to have.

What qualities do you most dislike in other people?“Complicators”, ie people who take something very simple and make it a lot more complicated than it has to be.

What do you know now that you wish you had known when you started in this industry?It's not a negative but I didn't know I would travel as much as I have. Perhaps I would have made better use of the trips. That came as a nice surprise over the years. Regardless of where it is I still get a kick out of going somewhere new, even if it's just getting on the train to go and visit a town in England that I've never been to before. I went to Bristol for the first time last year and thought that was great fun.

What was the last thing that completely surprised you?I wasn't surprised by Katrina because we're in the cat business, but I was surprised by the size of the loss. That was a shock.

How do you unwind at the end of the day?I enjoy going home at night and having dinner with my wife. Also talking to my 16-year-old, because he's got an interesting perspective on the world. You find out a lot about yourself from your children.

What motivates you on a Monday morning?I don't mind Mondays – I do like to get out of the house in the morning and get to work. It is usually a pretty good day for me because over the weekend you have time to think about things and you can put some of those ideas into play on a Monday.

What is your biggest regret?Besides this interview you mean? (laughs). I don't really have any regrets – I'm pretty pleased with how life has turned out for me and I feel very fortunate.

What are you most proud of having achieved?I'm very proud of my family and I look at that as a lifetime's achievement. I'm amazed how well my kids have turned out. And I am proud of my job. I enjoy working at Markel and for me it's always a privilege to come to work.

What factors have enabled you to get where you are today? I've always enjoyed work. I've always been curious about things and I've been willing to apply myself. Like so many things, sometimes its just a case that you're just in the right place at the right time.