NOT MANY outside the insurance industry know the name Stephen Catlin. But he is one of the most successful UK businessmen. Over the last 30 years, he has turned a two person reinsurance company into a £3.5bn international firm – Catlin Group. The eponymous CEO was crowned UK winner at the Ernst & Young World Entrepreneur of the Year awards last year.
He established Catlin Group back in 1984 as a two person syndicate of Lloyd’s of London. It has since grown to have 56 offices in 21 countries and will soon launch an office in Beijing.
Despite this rapid expansion, Catlin thinks that the insurance “industry is intrinsically really poor at selling itself. There is no pleasure in buying insurance because you only benefit at a loss. People always tell the bad stories about their poor experiences.”
As such, he explains that his firm has a challenge in marketing itself because its biggest successes come on the heels of crisis or panic. Catlin Group prides itself on dealing with these issues swiftly, in a cost effective manner and with the utmost diligence and intelligence. However, it is hard to capitalise on the negative situations of others.
Catlin considers hard work to be the most essential characteristic of an entrepreneur. He admits that there were times over the first 10 years when money and clients were in short supply, and he worried about paying his mortgage. But the hard work paid off.
He worries now for the future of the UK. “We live in a global world, and I deal with products and clients globally.” Part of the problem is that the government interprets EU rules too strictly. It is too harsh and restrictive, and Catlin keenly believes the UK now needs a wakeup call. “The UK has a history of legal certainty and business growth. In London, we are in the right time zone to work across the globe. We don’t need complacency in regulations.”
Catlin Group is now looking beyond the world of insurance. The most recent project it supports is the Catlin Seaview Survey. In conjunction with Google, Catlin Group is creating a “Street View” of reefs near the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea.
Catlin hopes that this work will help to encourage further study. To him, the most exciting factor about a previous Arctic Survey his firm supported was that the information it delivered is now available to all researchers to use and collaborate on. It provided more accurate measurements of arctic ice, and Catlin hopes that the Seaview project will open up similar opportunities for researchers.
As an established chief executive, Catlin travels for most of the year and is working hard on expanding his firm. But attending the World Entrepreneur of the Year made him take pause. “What can I do to enable an entrepreneurial environment over the next 10 years at Catlin?” he wonders. Given that retaining an entrepreneurial ethos is the holy grail for all large firms, it won’t just be journalists waiting to see whether he manages to pull that one off.
CV STEPHEN CATLIN
Company Name: Catlin Group
Company turnover: $4.5bn (£2.8bn) gross premiums written
Number of staff: Approximately 2,000
Job Title: Chief executive
Born: Aldershot, Hampshire
Studied: Life (did not attend university)
Drinking: Red wine
Currently reading: Histories of China and Turkey
Favourite business book: The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, by Michael Lewis
Motto: “Build a business for the future”
Talents: Communication and people skills
Hero: My grandfather
First ambition: To make a difference
Awards: Ernst & Young UK Entrepreneur of the Year, 2011