Alterra's John Berger was born lucky

How did you make it to where you are today?

Total luck. I was lucky to be born into a family with great parents who made sure I was healthy, nourished, educated and loved. I was lucky to be born with reasonably good physical and mental abilities. I was lucky to be born in the US. I was lucky to marry a great woman. I was lucky that in 1978 I started working at Prudential Reinsurance and met Paul Ingrey and Jim Stanard, who became valuable mentors.

How has the industry changed?

Every level is smarter. In 1984, there were no actuaries in brokers. Now, they have armies of actuaries, modellers and quantitative analysts.

What are the key challenges ahead?

We need the demand and supply curves to tilt in our favour. In the developed world, we have strong economic head winds and demand for insurance is going down. At the same time, the property/casualty business has never been better capitalised – not great if you are a seller.

Equally, what are the biggest opportunities?

While still relatively small, the best opportunities are likely to be in Latin America and China.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in the industry?

Work hard and meet as many people as you can.

What is the biggest mistake you’ve made?

Falling in love with a deal because it was big and not getting the right margin for the risk.

What comes to mind when you think of contemporaries in the market?

We’re fortunate to be in a business where integrity, character and personality are still important.

What do you do to relax?

I read. I exercise a lot. I am obsessed with golf.

John Berger is chief executive, reinsurance, and vice-chairman of the board at Alterra Capital Holdings