CEO Esser Exits Cooper Gay Swett & Crawford Group

June 15, 2015

Global wholesale insurance and reinsurance broker Cooper Gay Swett & Crawford (CGSC) said today that Toby Esser, Group CEO, has decided to step down.

The company said Martin Sullivan, who has been non-executive chairman of CGSC since October, 2013 and is a past president and CEO of AIG, will assume Esser’s responsibilities until a successor is announced.

No reason was given for the move.

Update: Steve Hearn to Leave Willis for CEO Role at Cooper Gay Swett & Crawford

Esser joined Cooper Gay, a London broker that specialized in marine business, in 1984. He managed the business through the major merger with Swett and Crawford in 2010. He has been CGSC Group CEO since 2001.

“I have been privileged to be part of the growth of CGSC over the past 30 years,” Esser said in the statement released by CGSC. “To have spent virtually my entire career with a single company is testament to the quality of the colleagues, clients and underwriters with whom I have had the good fortune to work.”

While Esser is stepping down as CEO, CGSC “will continue to benefit from his counsel, and he remains a significant shareholder in the company,” Sullivan said.

Speaking at the Entrepreneurial Insurance Symposium sponsored by MarketScout in Dallas last September, Esser said that at the very beginning of his tenure as CEO he believed that the company needed to decide if it wanted to be a lifestyle company, comfortable but without much growth, or be a big, professional company with real growth.

“We decided we didn’t want to be a lifestyle company,” he said. “We didn’t think that was a real future in our industry and I still believe that.”

The firm also began to look at acquisitions, including the 2010 deal with Swett and Crawford.

Under Esser, the business has grown to a diversified business with global revenues in excess of $350 million. The firm has extended its operations across Northern Europe, Eastern Europe, Latin America, Hong Kong, China, the U.S. and Canada.

The year 2013 was the first time in CGSC’s history that the business did not grow substantially in profit terms.

In April, 2014, Standard & Poor’s Rating Services affirmed its ‘B’ rating for CGSC but revised its outlook on the rating to negative from stable.

Last August, CGSC announced plans to streamline costs and implement operational efficiencies following the filing of the group’s 2013 report and accounts and a downgrade to ‘B-‘ with a stable outlook from ‘B’ by the ratings agency S&P.

“CGSC’s global coverage and the range of our business offering is an enormous strength, but the by-products of our successful organic and acquisitive growth over the last 18 months are some profit reducing inefficiencies that need to be addressed. Our 2013 results brought the less efficient aspects of our operating model into sharp focus, and have been a catalyst for positive change in reviewing how we operate across the Group,” Esser said last August.

In a September interview with Insurance Journal’s Charles Boyle, Esser said CGSC had grown quickly and integrating all of the various parts isn’t done overnight. “It takes time to get the costs out,” he said, adding that while the group’s “top line is good, the bottom line isn’t so good.” He said he was not worried, however, about achieving eventual success.

Lightyear Capital LLC, a New York-based private equity chaired by Donald B. Marron, took a controlling interest in CGSC in January, 2013.

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