'I don't know why more companies aren't based in Wales' - Henry Engelhardt

YOU LIVE AND YOU LEARN: The CEO of Admiral on why insurance is fascinating, giving employees shares and his love of rugby.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 22 Oct 2015

I began my professional career in the madhouse that was the Chicago mercantile exchange. I was a runner, the lowest of the low. Starting at the bottom is a great way to learn a business. I still get people joining our senior management to do entry level training with 19-year-olds.

After six years I became disillusioned and left with my French wife for Europe, where I became a management consultant. There's a lot less ambition here than in the US. People aren't afraid to fail there, but in Europe failure can leave you marked.

I got into car insurance by accident. I'd seen an advert for a marketing manager in a financial services start-up. When I asked what it was, the woman sounded like she wanted to crawl under the table and hide. 'Well, it's car insurance,' she said. How dreadful, I thought. What could be more boring? But, as I didn't want to be a management consultant, I went for the job.

I named that company Churchill and very quickly discovered insurance was fascinating. You get to see how people actually behave versus what they say. We brought in popular innovations like complimentary brochures and freephone sales numbers, but I knew I could do things even better. When I was headhunted to start a new firm, Admiral, I jumped at the chance.

We grew rapidly by going after unpopular market segments with higher premiums, like young drivers. I used to walk the company four times a day when we were in one building. Now I'm lucky to get round the South Wales offices once a year, though I still hand out the candy at Christmas.

Mine is the Phantom of the Opera of welcome talks. I've met every UK starter since 1992, so I must have done it 400 times. We give each one a piece of a jigsaw to show how we're all part of a bigger whole. We also give them shares, even though it means management get less. If everyone has shares, everyone's shares do better.

I don't know why more companies aren't based in Wales. It's great to be a decent-sized fish in a small pond. We're on the Welsh rugby jerseys. If we were based in Brighton, which is where we were originally going to be, we wouldn't be on the England jerseys. It's a great sport - I dream in rugby now.

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