Who wants to be a DLG CEO?

direct line phone and mouse

Editor’s View: It is approaching six months since Penny James, Direct Line Group’s CEO “stepped down” from the role, but who could be in line to take over?

2022 was particularly tough for motor and home insurers, and the first to really go public with its struggles was Direct Line. The personal lines giant announced in early January how the board doesn’t expect to pay a final dividend to shareholders.

Two weeks later, on 27 January, news emerged that Penny James was stepping down as CEO, with chief commercial officer Jon Greenwood taking over as caretaker CEO.

As a Chelsea fan (for my sins), and after the season the blues have had*, I can only sympathise with DLG’s predicament.

However, unlike DLG, Chelsea has announced its next boss.

So, in the spirit of sports journalists, let’s look at who could take over as DLG’s permanent CEO. Because, as we approach six months since the insurer had a permanent CEO, we would hope to know for sure sooner rather than later.

What kind of person could DLG be looking for?

For this writer, I feel DLG will want stability. An experienced leader to steady the ship. The firm has to turn things around in the right way after posting a £45.1m pre-tax loss for 2022.

In Q1 2023, DLG did reported a 9.7% rise in quarterly gross written premiums to £805.7m, but Greenwood said the "2023 earnings outlook continues to be challenging".

Shares suffered as well.

On the morning of the “no final dividend” announcement, DLG shares plummeted from 232.30 GBX to a low of 162.02. And at the time of writing, they are hovering around the 160 mark.

Whoever does take over the job will need to get shareholders on side quickly, which would suggest the insurer is looking for a well-respected name in the industry.

So, here are six people who could be in line to take over.

Jon Greenwood

We start with the acting CEO. Greenwood has been at the helm for the past five months, taking over from James.

jon greenwood

When Greenwood took over, Danuta Gray, chair of DLG said: “Jon has a successful track record in leading our commercial business and as chief commercial officer has a deep understanding of the group.”

Greenwood already has more of a head start than anyone else coming in from external, having been at the company for years.

But is he the big name that would get shareholders on board? Unfortunately not. And if he were to be announced as permanent CEO, he probably would have been announced by now. Not one to put your bets on.

Steve Treloar

On to people who are potentially available, having left their previous role without announcing where they are going next. And we start with Treloar.

Now here is a popular name in the industry. The CEO of LV and Allianz Personal announced he is stepping down from the role at the end of June.

Steve Treloar

Of course, Treloar was previously at Direct Line for 14 years between 1996 and 2010 before leaving for Aviva.

He would certainly demand the respect and backing from the board, having led one of the largest personal lines brands for the past seven years, and considering his history. And we know he is available.

However, with the two firms being competitors, what amount of gardening leave would Allianz impose on him to leave?

When former CEO Jon Dye left the German firm to join Hiscox, he had to wait nine months before he could take up the post.

If Treloar’s gardening leave is anywhere near that amount of time, can DLG wait that long?

Gareth Hemming

Another name in the industry who has left his previous role but has not yet announced where he is resurfacing.

Gareth Hemming

Hemming left Aviva at the end of 2022, to later be replaced by Dave Martin. His last role was managing director for UK general insurance distribution & SME. He has 33 years of experience, all of which were at Aviva.

In his LinkedIn post to mark the end of his tenure at the insurer, he said he is “starting his gardening leave”, suggesting he would be resurfacing at a similar firm. And that post was five months ago, so even if it is not at DLG, we should be learning where he will end up soon.

Potential marks against Hemming would be that he is very much focused on distribution and working with brokers – maybe something that would be a little outside what DLG is looking for.

Another outside bet.

Cristina Nestares

Now on to people who are currently in posts elsewhere but could be available if tempted.

Nestares is currently head of UK insurance for rival firm Admiral, and her reputation in the industry is unquestioned. She is seen as a great leader, and one that helped Admiral weather the storm of 2022, posting solid results despite inflation and severe weather events.

However, things are taking a turn for Admiral, and not necessarily for the best.

This week, Citi downgraded its stance on Admiral shares to ‘sell’, citing loss ratio trends. This led to its shares falling 6.6%.

However, Nestares had already been busy with her shares. According to the London Stock Exchange, on 30 May she disposed of almost 31,000 shares, worth a total of £714,422.

No matter which way you look at it, that is a sizeable chunk of shares to sell.

It would make sense for Nestares to make the move as well. While she may be head of UK insurance, a move to group CEO at DLG would be a step up in her career.

But as is the issue with Treloar, what would her gardening leave be? And is DLG prepared to wait that long?

Adam Winslow

Sources have suggested Aviva’s Winslow is under consideration too. The UK and Ireland GI CEO for Aviva is definitely a name in the industry. Another one who could make the move from Aviva to DLG.

He would be a solid choice as well, showing good leadership throughout the current climate, with personal lines reporting a 2% increase in GWP for 2022 compared to the year before. Considerably better than most players in the market.

Adam Winslow

And again, moving from UK&I CEO, to group CEO would be a step up in his career.

But he could well be waiting for the group CEO job at Aviva to become available.

However, if we were to believe sister publication Insurance Age, a split could be on the cards at Aviva, meaning the remaining business could be considerably smaller if it was just the GI business left, meaning Winslow's job wouldn't really change much, just taking on the Canadian business as well.

However, again like Treloar and Nestares, Winslow would need to take considerable gardening leave.

Underdog choice I would say.

David McMillan

Of course, another rival company DLG could be looking to nab its CEO would be Esure.

McMillan was brought in as CEO for Esure in 2019 and has overseen a huge amount of change in the shape of a £140.6m digital transformation programme, putting a real focus on digital solutions.

And despite the insurer posting losses of £29.1m for 2022, McMillan said those plans are still in place.

McMillian revealed it is unlikely the full financial benefits of Esure’s digital transformation will be seen in the company’s results until 2024.

Does that mean the project is nearly finished? And could that mean McMillan is looking for a new challenge?

Direct Line is looking for transformational change, and who better than McMillan? It is what he is known for. He was group transformational director at Aviva before taking on the CEO Europe role before adding the Turkish and Indian businesses between 2014 and 2017 under group CEO Mark Wilson (more on him later).

After Aviva, McMillan went to QBE as CEO for two years, before joining Esure in 2019.

It looks like McMillan likes to spend a few years as the top boss at a business, oversee a transformation and then leave. He has been at Esure for four so far. Could he be getting itchy feet?

However, like many others in this list, how long would DLG have to wait?

Mark Wilson

Wilson, formerly group CEO of Aviva, and now co-founder and CEO of Abacai, could bring a huge range of experience to the role, having previously held CEO roles at AIA and Axa in China.

When he was first revealed as Aviva's group CEO, the industry felt the insurer had pulled off something of a coup, as he was about as sure a thing as you can get in financial services.

While his exit from the insurer may have been somewhat of a shock, it was felt that he lost trust in the shareholders after revolts around his bonus package.

Mark Wilson

After leaving Aviva in 2018, Wilson took some time out and later set up Abacai, an integrated, next-gen insurance distributor and underwriter operating in the non-standard, short-term, and prime segments of the UK motor market.

While it was well-backed to begin with, raising £50m in funding early on, things haven’t totally worked out so far.

It is understood investors are growing in frustration at the progress the firm is making, and could well be looking to sell.

Post also understands Wilson was on DLG’s initial shortlist.

What could be a solution is for DLG to purchase Abacai, and with that bring Wilson in as group CEO.

Abacai would fit with DLG’s focus on bringing new tech solutions to its products, having recently acquired By Miles.

And if that were to happen, Wilson would be available quicker than other candidates.

Someone from overseas?

Could DLG's board try to bring some more excitement and optimism by looking overseas?

With State Farm scaling back home insurance operations, no longer accepting new applications including all business and personal lines property and casualty insurance, effective 27 May, could there be someone DLG could snap up from there?

Whoever DLG decides to bring in, they have a task on their hands.

For DLG, a new permanent CEO needs to be announced soon. It needs stability and a clear vision for the future, coming from the top, something it simply does not have at the moment.

* To cut a very long and depressing story short, Chelsea had a manager the fans loved. Then for reasons that are still unclear, he left at the start of the season. Then Chelsea hired another manager who was sacked after six months. And from early April to the end of the season in May, the club had a caretaker manager, but things didn't seem to improve, and Chelsea had one of its worst seasons since the mid-90s. But before that caretaker manager was hired, another caretaker manager was in place. Technically, Chelsea has had four managers in one season.

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