Towergate CEO David Ross talks to Stephanie Denton about how he intends to make his employer the broker rivals love to hate again.
David Ross, CEO of Towergate, would like to apologise to the market for what his ‘challenger brand’ plans to do in the future.
“I’ll apologise now for the damage we’re likely to do to our competitors. We’re looking forward to competing with them and locking horns. As this business emerges from almost its own shadow, it’s making sure that it evolves into an incredibly confident place, but one that handles itself appropriately, and becomes a business that everyone can be desperately proud of,” he explains.
Ross is even confident that it will return to the position it enjoyed in its pomp, when it revelled in its status as the broker that everyone loves to hate. This is despite the fact he is only five months into a job at the firm that was bailed out from almost certain bankruptcy by investor Highbridge in February 2015.
Throughout his career – spent mostly at Arthur J Gallagher International, where he spent 25 years – he claims he was often approached to move firms but nothing enticed him to do so. “Then the opportunity came along with Highbridge and Towergate. It was so compelling in the end that I realised I probably wouldn’t be able to forgive myself if I didn’t take it,” he explains.
He says in the era of the consolidation of the consolidators it was the challenge that attracted him. “You’ve got a landscape that basically has the multinationals, Marsh, Aon, Willis and then you have Towergate, standing as the last beacon of independence. Towergate’s peer group is more Marsh, Aon, and Willis [...] because they all started in the same place as a business like Towergate did. How many platforms are out there that you could stand on that really have a shot at doing that? This is it, frankly,” he adds.
A dramatic year
Ross went through what he admits was “quite a dramatic year” to get to his current role. Having quit Gallaghers – a firm notable by its absence when he talks about Towergate’s peers – his former employer issued court proceeding against him and several other ex-employees for what it claimed amounted to breaching contractual, fiduciary and equitable obligations.
Of his legacy at AJG he says he would rather be “remembered for the billion dollars in revenue” and the 5000 employees the firm had grown to, rather than the last two major acquisitions of Oval and Giles, the court proceedings and £20m settlement that eventually followed his departure.
“I’m very proud of the job I did there,” he says.
I certainly left behind a far better business than the one I took over. You don’t spend 25 years in a company and then become disloyal at the end of it.”
But he was no longer willing to be “at the mercy of somebody else’s whims”. “In the second half of 2014 there were a number of things that happened that made me realise that I’d gone as far as I was going in the company.
“In the end [the court proceedings] was just a great, big waste of money, over a homeowner’s policy. The greatest thing about starting work at Towergate was that within 24 hours I’d completely forgotten about it,” he explains.
But that’s not to say all is quite forgotten and forgiven yet: “It’s all water behind a dam. A therapist would have a field day with that. The problem is I’m young enough where I can feed off that for a while. It’s a great motivation to get out of bed.”
And he clearly believes he can succeed with Towergate where others have failed.
“The priority for me was to figure out, ‘did I believe that the workforce could become reconnected to the leadership of the company, so that the entire firm was acting as one’?”
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