Cooper Gay Swett & Crawford Moving to ‘Next Level,’ Says CEO Esser

By | March 19, 2013

On the last day of February, international independent broker Cooper Gay Swett & Crawford (CGSC) made some significant changes in the management of its U.S. operations. In a telephone interview with Insurance Journal, CGSC Group CEO Toby Esser described them as part of the group’s strategy to “move to the next level.”

That’s certainly been the direction CGSC has been moving in since the Cooper Gay merger with Swett & Crawford in 2010. Esser described the changes in the U.S. as “bringing all of its North American activities under one management team at Swett & Crawford, in order to strengthen the brokerage business and drive it forward.”

It is a major undertaking, given the scope of its business activities. Under Esser’s leadership, CGSC has expanded throughout the world, and offers a range of services that are comparable to those of the major international brokers. It covers both insurance and reinsurance brokerage – retail and wholesale, where Swett & Crawford is a major player. CGSC is also a Lloyd’s broker through its Cooper Gay London operation, Globe Underwriting subsidiary, and, through its Creechurch division, one of Canada’s best known MGAs.
Shaun Hooper, the newly appointed president and CEO for wholesale, reinsurance broking and underwriting operations in North America, has worked with Esser since he joined CGSC in 2009. He is now responsible for implementing the group’s strategic plans in the region.

“We’re excited about the changes,” Esser said, “Having all of North America under Swett & Crawford will drive the brokerage business forward.”

Growth is Esser’s main priority, both in an organic sense and through acquisitions. It seems to be a propitious time to achieve it. “Last year was a good year,” he said, citing the fact that overall property placements had increased by 19 percent in 2012, and that surplus lines rates overall were holding steady and in some areas had increased.

CGSC is also looking to expand through acquisitions, focused especially on increasing its MGA business through Swett & Crawford, as well as looking at possible tie-ups in the Asia Pacific region and in South America.

As Swett & Crawford is leading many of those priorities, Esser said there are “no plans for it disappear. It’s a very strong brand name,” he added, with reference to the fact that the company will celebrate its 100th anniversary next year. Esser does want to see greater integration of all of the group’s activities under the Cooper Gay Swett & Crawford – CGSC – label. He sees it becoming “a strong group brand with one identity and one website,” where all of the group’s services can be accessed.

Making that access available around the world is a primary goal. “We’ll do business wherever we’re needed,” Esser said. “It doesn’t matter where the business is [located]; we’re ready to do business in all markets.”

The investment by private equity fund Lightyear Capital, completed in January, has raised speculation about an eventual initial public offering of CGSC shares.

“It’s still in the cards,” Esser said, “but not right now, maybe in five to seven years.” He said the IPO market still hasn’t really recovered from the recession, and that private equity and debt arrangements are currently better ways to raise capital for expansion.

“We’ll probably do a float [i.e. an IPO] when the market improves,” he said.

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