Winds of change blow at independent insurance provider

29 March 2012 Gareth Stokes
Gareth Stokes, FAnews Online Editor

Gareth Stokes, FAnews Online Editor

The South African insurance industry is a close-knit community. As a result changes in executive management are soon broadcast to all stakeholders. This week we heard rumours of a senior management change at independent insurance provider Centriq Insuranc

Gareth is a Chartered Accountant with extensive experience in the financial services and insurance industry. He has played a key role in the management of the company since joining Centriq as Chief Financial Officer three years ago. His previous appointment was as Executive Director of Finance and Operations at Stalker Hutchison Admiral (a Santam subsidiary). We took the opportunity to ask Gareth a few questions, beginning with whether or not Michael’s departure came as a shock.

“Michael’s decision to leave Centriq to follow a new opportunity came as a surprise to most people within the company and on the Board of Directors. But you must remember that even senior people within organisations move on when they feel their work is done. Michael has been with Centriq for 11 years and has been the CEO for the last seven years – and was clearly ready for something different,” he says. Gareth also commented on the change in employment trends, with few modern day employees not committing to companies for 30 or 40 years as they did in the past...

Ensuring business continuity

We asked Gareth how the company would ensure a smooth transition from one leadership style to another. He observes: “As a member of JSE-listed Santam Limited, Centriq has ensured that the business is not dependent upon any one individual, including the position of CEO. Sustainability and good corporate governance of which succession planning is a key factor, has been and continues to be a ‘top of mind’ agenda item, and this is driven by a solid process throughout the Santam group and its subsidiaries.” In other words: Adequate planning ensures that short-term pressures on the newly appointed CEO and support staff are limited, and that a smooth and orderly handover is achieved.

One of the benefits of an internal promotion is that the incumbent can ‘hit the ground running’. As an executive director at the group the new CEO already has a good idea of the operational focus (challenges and opportunities) at the company. We asked the incoming CEO where his focus would lie in the immediate future. “Centriq’s predominant focus [since our recent growth spurt] has been on building the back office and technical service capability within the business, again with the objective of ensuring a strong and sustainable business. This ‘internal’ focus has been at the expense of growth and expanded market presence in terms of new relationships with our distribution channels and new product offerings. My focus is going to be on positioning the team to start focusing on growth and ensuring that we have sufficient dedicated resources to put Centriq at the forefront of doing deals in our chosen market segments,” said Gareth.

“I am comfortable that I can and will hit the ground running. Michael has always given me latitude to operate within the company, and whilst my official job title was that of CFO, I have actually operated quite extensively in a strategic and commercial capacity within the company.” Gareth will wrap his current responsibilities into the CEO portfolio and will determine additional resources and internal restructuring requirements over time.

Taking up new challenges

We wondered how Gareth would find the shift from his current position to the new CEO role. “I was appointed as Executive Director – Business Development from 1 January 2012, having previously been the CFO. My role in that position was to be responsible for driving the growth and expansion of Centriq, which would have included a focus on growth in our existing niche markets, but also in developing the company strategies. Our aim is to diversify into a traditional type insurance company through innovative ideas and products.

“I see my primary responsibility as CEO to continue with this focus, which aligns with my personal passion. I am not one for maintaining and squeezing out marginal growth, but rather to pursue and find some magic that will see Centriq transform itself. Of course I will make sure we have highly capable resources to keep a close watch over other operational aspects including regulatory compliance, governance, systems and processes among others,” he said.

Another major benefit of promoting executive skills within the company is that they already understand the corporate culture. But is a three-year stint at the company enough time to become fully immersed in its culture? “Absolutely,” responded Gareth. “I have not only become immersed in the Centriq culture over the past three years – but have been integral in creating some of the new culture that we see developing throughout the company.” The group has evolved a high performance culture where sub-standard performance is not accepted.

A kind farewell to the outgoing CEO

It is rumoured that outgoing CEO, Michael Blaine, has accepted another management challenge in the domestic insurance industry. Is Centriq concerned that his skills and talents may be put to work at one of its competitors? “We are not concerned about this. We know where he is going and currently Centriq does not have a big play in the same space (the life insurance industry). The parting of ways was completely amicable and Michael is a person of such integrity, that it would unlikely ever be the case that he would part ways with a company other than on an amicable basis,” said Gareth.

Michael leaves with the blessing of the current Centriq board, who acknowledged the key role he played in establishing Centriq as a leader in the niche market segment in which it operates. Michael led the company through the merger and integration of [then] Nova Risk and Santam Risk Finance, among other achievements. “Centriq has seen a strong increase in gross premium levels under Michael’s leadership to date. We wish him all of the best for the future as he takes up a new challenge in the life insurance industry,” said Ian Kirk, Chairman of the Centriq Group.

As for the rest of the executives, it is business as usual at Centriq. “We anticipate seeing the executive management team continuing to deliver innovative solutions for customers and forming value-add business partnerships for all our business partners under Gareth’s leadership,” said Ian. “We are also confident in the great depth of talent that exists in the broader management team!”

Editor’s thoughts: FAnews would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Gareth Beaver on his appointment as CEO at Centriq. We wish him all the best in this challenging role – and hope the company grows from strength to strength over the coming years.

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