Having left Crawford in April 2017 after 15 years at the firm, Ian Muress resurfaced in January as CEO of Sedgwick International, a claims business he describes as the largest of its kind "on the planet". He spoke to Jonathan Swift about why people development, natural catastrophe response and technology will help the firm retain its pre-eminence on the global stage
“I was ready for a change, and it might sound cheesy by having taken nine months off, it has given me five years back. I came out of my ‘gap year’ like a new man. I literally stopped drinking, got super healthy and recharged the batteries.”
The reinvigorated Ian Muress took up his new role as the CEO of Sedgwick International in January this year, having left Crawford & Company in April 2017 after a 15 year stint, and is evidently excited by what he refers to as ‘his new train set’.
Not least because between exiting his former employer and today, the business he now manages has changed significantly. First it acquired Cunningham Lindsey in the days leading up to Christmas; and then in September announced that Carlyle was to become its majority shareholder in a $6.7bn [£5.9bn] deal. A sum Muress is quick to assert was more than the amount MMC paid for JLT [$5.7bn] in the same month.
“I felt it was time for a change,” Muress reflects on his Crawford exit. “I have known [Sedgwick president and CEO] Dave North since way back when he started the business and he is a hugely impressive character. I have stayed in contact with him for a couple of decades and watched the success he created by taking out the claims team from Sedgwick when it was acquired by Marsh, and building a third-party administrator, principally in the workers’ compensation market, that was by any measure the market leader in the US.
“So when I quit Crawford, my ambition was to stay in the [claims] business in some shape or form, but I had nowhere to go. And then during last summer I got talking to Dave about maybe doing something when I was free from my restrictions.”
“I had a few other things that looked interesting,” he adds. “And when I left [Crawford] I thought it could go either way in terms of remaining with a service provider or joining a client. There were a couple of clients that were interested because there is a not a wealth of executive claims talent.
2006 - 2017
CEO, International Operations
Crawford and Company
2002 - 2006
CEO, UK & Ireland
Crawford and Company
1997 - 2001
Jan 1998 - Sept 1997
“There was also interest among US investors looking to exploit opportunities [in the claims space] and I considered those very carefully. But this is the business I know. When I speak to colleagues around the world I tell them I am the claims guy; the guy who back in the day went on claims with a clipboard and pen. Small claims, big claims; I’ve done natural catastrophes, dealt with subsidence claims, casualty claims, product recall claims, the lot.
“I am not a lawyer; I am not an accountant; I am not a consultant; I am not an insurer; I am the claims guy.”
And thus when his restrictive covenants lifted, Muress came on board with both Sedgwick and North, a man he notes shared his belief that clients were increasingly looking at services through a ‘global lens’, rather than in regional silos.
“Before [the CL deal], other than the Vericlaim business and OSG in Ireland, the international arm was a managed network of partners, the VRS Network. But I always maintained - and David shared this view - that one day there would be a stand out claims business that can engage with clients on a truly global basis and Sedgwick - with the VRS model - was not quite there.”
“It has built an awesome reputation with a client list to die for, with a huge penetration of Fortune 500 companies and an ability to engage with those US TPA clients about potential risk and exposures,” Muress continues.
A bigger train set
“I had an inkling this could be the place to be to achieve that global ambition. But when I began talking to it about potentially developing a role it just had a network of partners; I don’t know what was in Dave’s mind, but maybe serendipity happened and it bagged Cunningham Lindsey and I now get a bigger train set.”
Muress is quick to quash any suggestion he had any knowledge of the CL move before it happened, commenting that he learnt of the news the same time as everyone else: “I was in the garden and was on a non-compete until the end of December and so I did not sign my [Sedgwick] contract or discuss it until this year because I was not going to run foul of a non-solicitation clause. But when it was announced I did think that if I could end up working with Dave that it could now be spectacular.”
As things stand today the Sedgwick International business that Muress looks after takes in all of the businesses owned by the firm outside North and Latin America, and totals 5000 people in 65 countries.
“Which is – and I know the numbers – the largest international claims job on the planet,” he asserts. “And it is headquartered in the right place, because I would maintain that the international insurance market is based in London.
“Despite whatever happens in terms of investment, whether it is in Bermuda or somewhere else, or Brexit, London is, and will remain the key market globally. And if you are going to be relevant globally, you better start being relevant in UK and the square mile.”
- Walking (two dogs)
- Football supporter (Newcastle United)
With Sedgwick now owning a network of branches around the world Muress confirms that the Vericlaim and OSG’s relationship with the VRS Network is being “wound down”, with a transition period to manage the orderly transfer of clients. Asked whether there are any gaps which might need to be filled when this process is complete, Muress comments: “We are in most places we need to be but we are a growth company and we have a new investor that is keen to build on our success and if that means looking at non organic growth opportunities we will.
“To build our geographic footprint if we feel that is the right thing to do in key locations. But I have been building up the Air Miles seeing our different regional businesses; and when I have been talking to people they tell me: ‘We are market leaders. We are number one in our market’. I was doing the maths and 75% of the operations I have responsibility for are number one in their respective market, and that is a fantastic place to be with a lot more to go at. So it is not as if we have a huge gap in our footprint”.
Unsurprisingly one area, that Muress is keen to develop in his international business is the TPA side given Sedgwick’s experience. However, he adds that CL’s TPA arm was “bigger than you think” and that half of the OSG’s revenue was wrapped up in this sector.
“What that gives me is a really strong platform. We are not building from the ground up but looking to move the dial and benefit from the Sedgwick success story. There is a great resource here to build on, with existing relationships. So it is a case of joining up the dots.” Not least in areas such as workers compensation, healthcare, and absence management. Strengths that exist in North America, that he is keen to roll out into other jurisdictions.
While at McLarens Toplis, Muress was part of a management team that sold the business to outsourcing giant Capita; and at Crawford, he was involved in the acquisition of GAB Robins so he has had previous experience of integrating acquisitions. And to his mind the Sedgwick takeover of Cunningham has gone about as smoothly as could be expected.
“If you think about Vericlaim it was largely a major and complex loss business with some great people with awesome reputations that in many ways punched above its weight. CL in the UK certainly had and still has an major and complex loss business, but it had a whole lot more as well.
“Other integrations [I have been involved with] have involved clashing together two branch networks and two of everything. But the overlap here was at the ‘rock star’ end of adjusting and that is perfect because they can work alongside each other.
Nine out of 10
“We have not intentionally lost people and have worked really hard to bring the businesses together. I am going to fall into the trap that I usually do as a mathematician and say that on a scale of one-to-10, the integration is a nine out of 10. It is almost finished, but it has literally been as seamless and successful as I could of hoped for. If I was to look back and recall when we went into this and all the things we had to do, and if I now reflect on where we have got to it is happy days.”
Quizzed on what might have made it a ten, Muress jokes he is not known for his patience and so the one thing that made it fall short of a perfect score was “speed” in that he would have liked to have had a single IT platform quicker, but stresses that the margins are minimal.
And the one area he does score the integration full marks is in communication. Especially when it has come to retiring brands such as CL, OSG and Vericlaim and trying to build a “one team, one culture outlook”.
“You learn lessons, and I have been on the other end as an acquired, as well as an acquirer. One of the biggest lessons that I have learnt is you can’t communicate enough, so if we have done one thing spectacularly well it is to make sure all the colleagues are on board and there are no surprises,” Muress continues.
“And it has been seamless because we have been focused on the colleagues and the messaging. In terms of how we have communicated that integration from the outset I give it 10/10. It has been carefully done and everyone has been on board.”
Five words to best describe him
- People person
- Contemporary thinker
- Strong moral compass
Muress does note there was one exception out of 6500 staff who told him ‘I have always worked for CL, I cannot believe we are retiring it. It is my bones and blood’. “To which I replied: ‘Ace bought Chubb, Ace paid the big cheque to buy Chubb, but then retired its own name. It is all about the people, it is all about the services’. And he admitted I had a point.”
Sedgwick now has considerable size and scale, and with that Muress comments comes “a moral obligation” on three fronts.
“First, in terms of people, we are putting a huge amount of effort into developing the next generation. So whether its career development, international secondments, which is big if you talk to millennials, we are very big on career advancement. That is key. It is link to what we call colleague relations, CR, not human relations, and everything circles back to that including diversity and inclusion, which is massive here, because we are still in a bit of a time warp.”
“Catastrophe response is another,” Muress adds. “The lessons learnt from back-to-back hurricanes last year can’t be ignored. If there is an organisation that needs to stand out in what we can do for the industry it has to be the company that has 23 000 colleagues around the world doing nothing but claims; if we can’t figure it out, how can all the others do so. We are finalising a worldwide cat plan that will deal with these events in a singular way which we believe is the right thing to do, because it is not a case of if, but when something happens.”
The final part of the jigsaw is technology, Muress comments, adding that Segdwick has 1500 IT professionals and an “unbelievable” IT budget that he jokes he would love to share but can’t.
“That helps us with what we are able to bring to this market to digitalise the claims process and it is eye watering. The kind of things that I have always had in mind, and we are actually bringing to market. So you can only get to that transformational place with the kind of bench strength we have; and Sedgwick and our investors are totally behind making a difference. It is not being big, being in 65 countries or having 6500 staff across the international business, or any of that. It’s the difference we can make with our people, if something happens with a nat cat, and the way we use technology.”
Getting beyond the cliche
In terms of technology Muress concedes there might be some truth in the suggestion that given its TPA origins Sedgwick might be in a better place than some more traditional loss adjusting businesses to explore the full potential of technology. But the benefits don’t end there, he claims.
“My initial time was spent in the US, and thinking if we could have some of this stuff over here we would massively benefit. And that goes for the way Sedgwick engages with clients too,” Muress remarks. “it has clients that pay it a lot of money, and the way it engages with those clients and have a relationship with them is above and beyond the cliché of trusted partnerships.
“We are not there yet, but if you can get beyond that TP cliché, which I have seen in the US and Sedgwick’s Fortune 500 world, you get unpicked value all over the place that you cannot really see. If we can get some of that in terms of how we engage with our market, if we got a small part of the way to how they operate that would be spectacular.”
Finally, given Muress has worked for an owner-managed business in McLarens; an NYSE listed entity in Crawford; and now a PE backed business, what difference has he seen?
“I have no hesitation in saying that what we have here is the best of the best of the best. Because the investors are backing the management and value proposition and see the opportunities,” he responds.
“It is very different when you have private ownership where if you get to the end of the year and have some money left you throw a party; the public domain is very transparent, a rhythm of quarterly reporting, and an investor community where the share price never really moves; but here is very clear that with different investors coming in it has had a track record of growth and success. The new investors have looked long and hard and see the potential and having been around the block I have no doubt with the right PE investor – and boy have we got that – it is a great place to be.”
Muress concludes by using a football analogy that he feels like he playing for his third big club after McLarens and Crawford, and that he is now bringing his knowledge to a bigger stage than ever before. However, he also reveals that as well as getting fit during his nine month ‘sabbatical’, he learned to play the ukulele having been given the instrument by his sons. And that having previously plucked strings in front of small audiences in a pub on Monday night, he is now pulling the strings in what he describes as the ‘Champion’s League’ with Sedgwick. Or to return to his ‘trainset’ analogy, railroading the advancement of his employer’s [and investor’s] bold ambitions.
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