Our man takes a bookish turn this month, but fear not – he still has plenty of dirt to dish

From one superhero to another …

If you’re like me, you await Warren Buffett’s annual letter to shareholders with bated breath. He usually has a go at something or someone, and there’s always some nugget of industry genius that makes everyone go: “Now why didn’t I think of that?”

Uncle Warren was a bit light on the criticism and advice this time around, apart from having a customary go at other reinsurers for writing rubbish business. That said, his words of praise for Berkshire Re superman Ajit Jain just keep getting better. “Even Kryptonite bounces off Ajit,” he said. Priceless.

It’s just not cricket tea

Good old Frank O’Halloran. On presenting Australian insurer QBE’s 2010 results to the press corps in London, I’m told by one of my journalist pals that he opened proceedings not by rattling off the headline figures but by lamenting his country’s drubbing in the Ashes. He then went on to discuss the state of the Wallabies team. Good to see he has his priorities right. But cracks might be appearing in Frank’s all-Australian veneer. An Aussie mole tells me that instead of serving lamingtons and Bundaberg ginger beer at the results event, the hacks got Danish pastries and Swiss mineral water. He’d never get away with that Down Under.

When sparks fly

I don’t usually give underwriters free advice, but you can have this titbit for nothing: always do a site visit for a risk, especially if the supporting information is in a foreign language. An old Lloyd’s hand told me the other day about an Indonesian bicycle factory he once underwrote, which he assumed from the name was surrounded by unused land. But as he flew into Jakarta airport, his jet went through a worrying plume of black smoke, which it later transpired was the bike factory. Turns out it was sited on land that was full of barrels of highly flammable liquid, which were ignited by a static spark when someone was filling one of them.

Try modelling that.

Hopes for a happy ending

Ask anyone in this industry what they do in their spare time and the chances are they’ll say golf. As a result, it’s always nice to hear when someone does something different with their spare time. Kelly Fegan, client services director at RI3K, is working on a novel, inspired by people and events from his 27-year insurance career. I just hope the firm’s takeover by Qatarlyst hasn’t distracted him from the tricky task of finishing it.

Kiss and tell

Speaking of books, does anyone recall Bad Boy by one-time Lloyd’s underwriter Stephen Gray? If you don’t (it came out six years ago), it gives a lurid account of the naughty things that go on behind the scenes at Lloyd’s and in Monte Carlo. What you might not know is that the book is endorsed by long-tongued bass player Gene Simmons of US rock band Kiss – apparently a good mate of Gray’s. “Engrossing. To use the American vernacular, Bad Boy rocks!” Mr Simmons says on the back cover. Who said insurance was boring?

LeStrange turn of events

Finally, it’s with some sadness that the industry bids a (hopefully temporary) farewell to Ken LeStrange, who has stepped down as chairman of Endurance, having given up the job to David Cash last year. I get the impression from people in the know that it got a bit emotional, with one of the senior team shedding a tear or two. You can’t blame the person in question – Endurance is a force to be reckoned with thanks to LeStrange. They’ve never accepted the dodgy risks I’ve tried to palm off on them, anyway. GR