“We probably empower our underwriters more than some of our peers do,” says Ulrich Wallin. The flip side, however, is that he pays them less than his peers do too.

It’s no secret that Hannover Re has one of the lowest cost ratios of the major reinsurers, earning it a reputation for being, as one industry source describes, “more of a skinny tiger than a fat cat”.

But after just over a year in the job, Wallin likes it that way. He has grown up through the ranks of the business under the distinctive leadership of Willi Zeller, and is more comfortable to fly under the radar in the same way as Hannover manoeuvres among the big three.

To your average cedant, however, Hannover is known for its flexible underwriting approach, and Wallin is keen to stress the continuation of the strategy. And, despite this low-key approach, Wallin has successfully negotiated access to new capital and acquired ING’s life portfolio.

Questions still remain about whether the business has further acquisitions in the pipeline or not, and, more importantly, whether it has the capital to enact any significant plans. But despite underwriting returns being limited, due in part to the Chilean quake, the notable annual 15% return on equity promise gives Wallin a clean pair of heels to show most of the market.

Wall Street analysts this month saluted Patrick Thiele as he announced plans to retire after 10 years in the job, despite PartnerRe posting a loss in its most recent set of numbers. One good measure of any successful leader is the legacy they leave behind, and when Costas Miranthis takes over the reins in 2011, it is unlikely he will make any radical changes to the business or management structure.

Thiele’s time is best summed up by one leading analyst on page 14, who states: “PartnerRe has had a long track record and many quarters where it has lost money, but over the long term it has got a pretty good return on equity: 13% to 14%, including those bad periods.” It’s difficult to argue with that. GR

Tom Broughton is editor-in-chief of Global Reinsurance