Ten years on from its demise, former Post editor David Worsfold remembers Independent's launch at an airfield and other personal recollections of dealing with the insurer during its heyday.
From the day a group of insurance journalists found themselves huddled on windswept airfield waiting for an airship to emerge from a hanger, which it never did, we knew Independent Insurance was going to be different.
I had followed Michael Bright's career since his early days at Lombard Elizabethan so I knew that his transformation of Allstate into Independent would be done with some panache and genuine sense of purpose. He had plenty of outspoken views on the insurance market, especially the relationship between insurers and brokers, so it was no surprise to see this as one of the key focuses. Its broker clubs transformed the market, as did its fresh, modern approach to branding and advertising.
Hospitality was big with Independent, whether it was the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra or its box at Wembley. Accepting it often came at a price, however, as on more than one occasion I was chided by Mr Bright for something I, or one of my colleagues on Post, had written. Indeed, this stormy relationship stretched back to the Lombard days, when I was once greeted at a cricket match by the booming Mr Bright announcing to a tent full of brokers: "Worsfold, I don't know how you have the cheek to show your face here after what you have written." That said, he could be very entertaining and engaging as a host when he wanted to be.
Mr Bright has often been cast as a bully but there was much more to him than that. He once invited a long-serving very junior member of staff to the box at Wembley for an FA Cup final because he was a Liverpool fan, who were in that year's final. It wasn't his fault they lost to Wimbledon that day and he was genuinely upset for the guy that his gesture had backfired.
Despite all the outward success of the company, there were always tensions right at the heart of Independent.The departure of senior directors such as Robert McCracken, Keith Rutter and Alan Clarke always left one nervous about what it was like right at the heart of Independent, although the bluff and loyal — disastrously loyal as it turned out — Phil Condon always offset some of these concerns. Questioning Mr Bright about this at a press conference rendered me virtually persona non grata as far as he was concerned for the last three years before the firm's ignominious collapse.
Independent always did everything with a certain style and lavish, if not always classy, luxury. At the Monte Carlo Reinsurance Rendezvous you met everybody else in one of the bars or cafes where brokers, insurers and reinsurers buzz around with a manic sense of purpose. You would meet Messrs Bright and Condon in their shorts and t-shirts sitting at a beach table under a bar umbrella with Del Boy-sized cocktails in hand. That was the same Mr Condon who claimed at his trial that he knew nothing about reinsurance and never had anything to do with it.
Independent Insurance was Michael Bright, and in the end it was his ego that brought it down. He really believed he could buck the market and spin a deal or six to get through the downturn without sacrificing his promises to grow and grow.
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