An interview with Grahame Millwater, chairman and chief executive of Willis Re

Choose four adjectives to describe yourself

I am an eternal optimist; a committed team player; a strategic thinker; and somebody who genuinely enjoys life.

What qualities do you most admire in other people?

I admire the ability of people to operate as part of a team. Also I admire loyalty, which I think is vital. Confidence is another great quality, because it is key to winning. It is very difficult to succeed if you lack self-confidence.

What qualities do you most dislike in other people?

I dislike people who are self-centred - the antithesis of team. Also, while I admire confidence in a person, I dislike it when this spills over into arrogance.

A third quality I dislike is that of being a bully. While you tend to associate bullying with the school playground, it is surprising the degree to which it continues into the workplace.

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

It is not necessarily what I know now, but rather what I inherently knew when I was beginning in this industry but did not have the confidence or the level of understanding to say. I joined Willis in 1985 as a graduate and I remember during the late 1980s, when I was placing reinsurance business into the market, thinking that there was insufficient analytical back-up and data supporting the decisions being made and that the processes were archaic. But I assumed that that was the way business was transacted.

Perhaps if I had had more confidence earlier on in my career I would have been able to do something about those concerns.

What was the last thing that completely surprised you?

Nothing really surprises me these days. There is so much change occurring in our business that everyday you see something happen and think "what next"? However, I think this is a stage the industry has to go through, so ultimately it's all healthy.

What motivates you on a Monday morning?

Apart from that first cup of coffee at the service station as I drive back up to London, I am motivated simply by the job itself. I suppose though the level to which you are motivated by the job you do is dependent upon having the right team of people around you. I am fortunate to be part of both Joe Plumeri's group executive team, and also head of the Willis Re team. But, I would add that even as leader, I have always been prepared to get my hands dirty and have never asked anyone to do something I would not do myself.

Whose job would you most like to have and why?

One job I would love to do and one which I think I am qualified to do is to present Top Gear (a motoring programme presented by Jeremy Clarkson).

I am a car fanatic and have also been told that I look like the presenter.

What is your biggest regret?

I have no regrets about my career, but I do regret not taking a year out before joining Willis to go travelling. I would like to be able to travel around the world without spending most of my time on an aeroplane, in an office or in a hotel room.

What are you most proud of having achieved?

The biggest sense of achievement is having been part of the Willis team that has seen this company go from a stage in the mid 1990s where it was virtually on its knees to where it is today - perhaps the best platform in the business. People simply do not appreciate what we have gone through to achieve this.

Most recently, in terms of the Spitzer investigation, Willis Group has not been afraid to be at the forefront in addressing which direction the industry should go in. Willis is now a truly transparent broker and took a decision early on in this process to be ahead of the curve and we believe we are.

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

Firstly, the people I work with, who have always been incredibly supportive.

For example, when I worked for John (Pelly) he was a great mentor and coach.

Also my ability to work with those around me to find a solution. Being an eternal optimist there is always a solution, but you can't always find it on your own.

And finally, having a pretty tolerant family who put up with the hours that I work. Although it worries me that they don't seem to mind too much when I'm not around!