Admiral's Henry Engelhardt makes £7m staff gift - we need more like him

UPDATE: The outgoing CEO and founder leaves Admiral in shipshape condition, and is giving a £1,000 bonus to all staff, £7m in total.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 05 Apr 2016

Admiral's bow-tie sporting boss Engelhardt - already well known in the staid world of insurance as a bit of a character - cemented that reputation today with the announcement of a parting gift to all his staff. He's retiring in May and to mark the occasion he is giving all Admiral staff with at least one year's service a 'personal gift' of £1,000 (and £500 each to everyone else).

It’s a generous gesture which is sure to be appreciated by Admiral's workforce, and it will cost him no less than £7m to boot. He's also leaving the insurer - which recently posted a 6% rise in pre-tax profits to £377m for 2015 - in rude good health.

As he enters his final shift at the helm of Wales’ only FTSE 100 company, let’s look at what else Engelhardt's legacy will be, as well as a very happy bunch of workers.

Shipshape and Bristol fashion

From humble beginnings, Admiral grew rapidly. After floating in 2004, its turnover quadrupled by 2011 to over £2bn, but since then growth has been flat. Largely, this is the result of the proliferation of what’s known in the insurance business as ‘direct personal line’ companies, such as eSure, Hastings and increasingly Saga – the space is essentially more crowded.

Engelhardt isn’t necessarily leaving the business stagnant, however. Profits were up in 2015, he said, because Admiral increased rates ‘ahead of the market’, and the company is looking for revenue growth abroad. Turnover at Admiral’s American, French, Italian and Spanish divisions increased 13% last year.

Insurance is fun

Engelhardt is an internal communications director’s dream. He greets every new employee personally, giving them a piece of a jigsaw to show how they’re all essential parts of the team. That might strike the more cynical among us as a little cloying, but few would turn their noses up at the firm's generous employee bonus scheme (this year, 8,000 staff are receiving £3,600 worth of shares each), or indeed its ‘Ministry of Fun’ (yes, that exists), which organises social events.

‘If people like what they do, they do it better,’ Engelhardt told MT last year. ‘So we want to go out of our way to make this a place people want to come into every morning.’

A seamless transition

Succession planning is fraught with difficulties (just ask 92 year-old media tycoon Sumner Redstone, whose answer to the question of who’d replace him after he’s gone was to say he never intends to die). This is never more so than when a founder steps down after decades leading the company.

But Engelhardt again leaves Admiral in good hands. Replacing him is David Stevens, the current COO and the second person he ever hired at the company. Not only have they been working closely together for decades -  ‘One of the keys to the success of our partnership has been to make arguing an art. The next time David and I agree on something I suspect will be the first time. I jest. Sometimes we did agree. I remember once back in 1996...’ –but also Engelhardt is staying on part time to oversee Admiral’s price comparison business. Hard to get a smoother transition than that.

Best chief executive statements ever

Last year was the year of the ‘uncut diamond’, Engelhardt said. ‘When the year started many people thought it would turn out to be a lump of coal. But no, as the results detailed in the pages to follow will show, 2015 was no lumpy coal year.’

Investors and journalists have got used to gems like that (sorry) over the years from Engelhardt, who actually trained as a journalist before becoming a runner at the Chicago mercantile exchange. Among other things we’ve had the ‘year of the baked potato’ (2013 –dull and dependable) and the ‘year of the baked Alaska’ (2014 – ‘hot and cold in a single bite’), but he summarises Admiral’s results since 2000 as being ‘akin to a seedless watermelon: tasty and refreshing, but somehow you always wonder "how can that work in the future?"’.

A question incoming boss Stevens will be keen to answer, even if it won’t be with the same aplomb.

'I don't know why more companies aren't based in Wales' - Read MT's interview with Henry Engelhardt

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