A CEO Needs to Be Authentic, Optimistic and Resilient: PartnerRe’s Clarke
When PartnerRe acquired SAFR in 1997, it expanded its scope of business, moving quickly from being a monoline catastrophe reinsurer to a multiline company. Along with that purchase came PartnerRe’s future CEO, Emmanuel Clarke, who began his career at SAFR in 1995 as a credit and surety underwriter and worked his way up.
When reflecting on his career, Clarke said his best decision was to stay with the company for the past 23 years. “It’s a great company, probably one of the best reinsurance companies, if not the best one, with a tremendous amount of potential still to go. And it’s been a good run for me as well,” he said. (See related article to read how PartnerRe’s has dramatically evolved–or diversified–over its first 25 years as a reinsurer.)
“So my whole career has been on the underwriting side, in business production and risk taking.” He has underwritten most non-life, specialty classes, first based in Paris and then in Zurich, where he has been for the past 14 years. In addition to being CEO, he also has responsibility for the reinsurer’s specialty lines business segment.
Since PartnerRe was purchased in 2016 by investment company EXOR, it has focused on getting its business priorities right — finding new business opportunities in markets and classes of business where capacity and specialist expertise is needed and pulling out of areas that are either not strategic or are structurally and economically too challenged.
“I’m very proud of my teams for what we’ve achieved over the past few years, both financially and organizationally,” Clarke said, referring to PartnerRe’s 103 combined ratio in 2017, despite a very costly year for catastrophe claims.
“At the end of the day, our business is a combination of financial capital and intellectual capital. Where the true competitive differentiation happens is on the intellectual capital side–that’s where you can outperform or underperform, if you have the right teams or the wrong teams,” he said.
Clarke admitted that decisions around people are often the most challenging ones — making sure you have the right people. On the other hand, it is tough to have to let go of good people “who’ve been working with you, who’ve been sharing your history…”
Discussing succession planning and people development, Clarke said that PartnerRe has all the usual internal emerging leadership programs and external leadership development programs. It sends people to great schools to get executive MBAs.
“While these are all very good programs, the most powerful tool is actually feedback,” Clarke said. PartnerRe launched an initiative this year to enhance and increase the intensity and quality of feedback. “We’ve also launched a customized way of assessing leaders through a 360-degree survey, which also forms part of providing feedback.”