Willis Corroon Group plc
Willis Corroon Group plc
Incorporated: 1828 as Henry Willis & Co.
Total Assets: £692 million (US$1.41 billion) (1997)
Stock Exchanges: London New York Pacific
Ticker Symbol: WCG
SICs: 6411 Insurance Agents, Brokers, & Service; 6719 Holding Companies, Not Elsewhere Classified
Willis Corroon Group plc. is a world-leading provider of insurance and reinsurance brokerage services. Headquartered in London, England, with U.S. headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee, Willis Corroon operates more than 250 offices in 69 countries around the world. The company offers an extensive range of insurance products to major corporations and public sector organizations, private and public associations, as well as to individuals.
In the late 1990s, Willis Corroon reorganized its operations around six major divisions: Global Reinsurance; Global Specialities; U.K. Brokering; North American Brokering; U.S. Wholesale; and International. A seventh division, Fine Art, Jewellery & Specie, was added in January 1998. The company’s global specialities focus on the aerospace, marine, and energy industries, with an emphasis on global reinsurance and global brokerage packages. Included among the company’s areas of expertise are industries including: environment; construction; healthcare; mergers and acquisitions; leisure; food and drink; and “unusual and niche” fields such as the company’s 1998 launch of its Fine Art, Jewellery & Specie division. The company’s International division guides its operations in countries outside of the United Kingdom and North America. In the late 1990s, the company has been moving to increase its position in other European markets, especially Germany and France.
Since the completion of a merger with Corroon & Black in the early 1990s, the formerly British-focused company has become a major insurer in the United States. While England continues to represent some 40 percent of the company’s total revenues, North America accounts for approximately 50 percent of annual sales, which totaled £692 million (US$1.4 billion) in 1997.
Willis Corroon is led by Executive Chairman John Reeve, the first outsider to be appointed head of the company. After an extensive reorganization in the mid-1990s, Willis Corroon has posted strong profits in the late 1990s, with net earnings reaching £57.4 million (US$94.7 million) for 1997.
Roots in the Industrial Age
The modern Willis Corroon Group originated in Industrial Era England and grew through a long series of mergers. In the early 19th century, British industrial expertise established that country as the world’s leading manufacturer, while the kingdom’s merchant fleet continued its long reign over the world’s oceans. These factors gave rise to London-based financial and insurance industries that dominated the world market.
One of the founding members of Willis Corroon was Henry Willis & Co., formed in 1828. Henry Willis, then 28, oriented his business primarily towards Britain’s shipping industry, operating as a broker and an agent for marine hull insurance offered by Lloyd’s, then already one of the world’s leading insurers. The mid-19th century saw the appearance of several other later members of the Willis Corroon group. In 1863, another firm, formed by George Henry Smith, began doing business for Lloyd’s. Smith’s sons, who changed the family name to its Latin form, Faber, set up their own insurance business in 1886. These three firms would form the core of the first development of what would eventually become Willis Corroon.
At the same time, other branches of the future Willis Corroon group had made their appearance. One of these was the merger of two London-based insurers, Galbraith and Henderson, in 1848, which, together with the firm of Fletcher and Welton, would grow into the Stewart Wrightston group of insurers. Another was the formation of C. Wuppesahl & Co. Assekuranzmakler, based in Bremen, Germany. In 1843, Henry Dumas opened the Dumas and Wylie firm, which also brokered for Lloyd’s. Yet another branch was represented by the 1865 founding of Gibb & Maclntyre, later known as James Gibb & Son and then Bray Gibb.
The 1890s set the scene for the first wave of Willis Corroon mergers. By then, Willis had begun expanding beyond the United Kingdom, entering especially the Italian market as agents for Italia and Generali. In 1892, Henry Willis & Co. reached an agreement with US-based Johnson & Higgins to broker their marine insurance services through Lloyd’s. The growing Willis company soon after merged its business with the Faber family, forming Willis Faber in 1898. Another boost to the company came the following year, when it became an agent for Tokyo Marine & Fire Insurance Company.
Family Tree in the 20th Century
At the turn of the century, Willis Faber opened a new subsidiary, the Cornhill Insurance Company, and moved to increase its international operations, with agencies in Montreal, Canada, and Hamburg, Germany. The period also saw the appearance of several new Willis Corroon branches. One of the principal of these was brokerage specialist R.A. Corroon & Co. Inc., based in New York, as that city’s prominence in the world insurance and financial markets grew alongside the overall developing economic power of the entire United States. Two more London companies made their appearance in the first decade of the 20th century: Matthews Wrightson and Arthur Bray & Son, both to become major components of the Stewart Wrightson Group. Stewart Wrightson would later form one of the three principal components of the Willis Corroon Group.
Over the next decades, Willis Faber continued to grow both internally and through acquisitions. The early 1920s were marked by the acquisitions of two British companies, Brodrick, Leitch & Kendall and Henry L. Riseley, enabling Willis Faber to expand its British presence into the cities of Cardiff, Liverpool, Bristol, and Birmingham, while also adding the Riseley subsidiary British & Irish Plate Glass Insurance Company, later known as the Sovereign Insurance Company. Internationally, the company was given the London agency representation for Chile’s Caja and for the U.S.’s Atlantic Mutual companies. Willis Faber also formed a treaty with the newly established Soviet State Insurance Organization. At the end of the decade, Willis Faber became Willis Faber & Dumas Limited, after its merger with Dumas & Wylie in 1928.
This move was matched on the U.S. side when R.A. Corroon—which by then had expanded beyond brokerage to include underwriting services as well—merged with another company to form Corroon & Reynolds. In 1929, Corroon & Reynolds became the first insurance broker to obtain a listing on the New York stock exchange. Corroon became the third primary component of the future Willis Corroon Group.
In the 1930s, the final branches of the Willis Corroon Group appeared. In 1931, J. H. Miller founded a construction bonds surety agency in California; that company took on the name Miller & Day in the following year. At the end of that decade, Miller & Day expanded to become Miller Day & Ames. That name was simplified to Miller & Ames in 1947.
While Willis Faber, established as a leading London broker, appeared to rest from its line of acquisitions, the other branches of the later Willis Corroon Group continued the pattern of mergers. In the mid-1960s, Corroon & Reynolds made the decision to sell off its underwriting operations and concentrate on expanding its brokering activities. That move was followed by its consolidation with another prominent New York brokerage house, C.R. Black Jr. Corporation, in 1966, forming the Corroon & Black Corporation. Miller & Ames’s operations were added two years later, as Corroon & Black moved to establish a national position. Corroon & Black would continue to build via acquisitions and mergers throughout the 1970s and 1980s. The most prominent of these came in the 1970s, with the reinsurance business of G.L. Hodgson, based in New York in 1970; in 1976 Corroon & Black doubled in size witlj its merger with Nashville, Tennessee’s Synercon Corporation, the largest such merger in the U.S.-based brokering sector at that time. By the late 1980s, Corroon & Black would hold the position as the United States’ fifth largest insurance broker.
In the 1970s, Willis Faber went public with a listing on the London stock exchange. By the end of the decade, Willis Faber had established its headquarters at the Ten Trinity Square address. Meanwhile, the formation of Stewart Wrightson—through the consolidation of the activities of Matthews Wrightson, Bray Gibb, and Stewart Smith—brought that company to the London stock exchange as well.
Joining the Branches in the 1980s and 1990s
Willis Faber hit the acquisition trail again in the early 1980s, adding U.K.-based companies Carter Wilkes & Fane, a reinsurance specialist based in London, and Yorkshire-based Rattray Daffern. At the same time, Willis Faber underwent a change in strategy. Traditionally, Willis Faber had built its business around a core of agency brokering and reinsurance operations. In the 1980s, the company sought greater independence, especially in terms of revenues, by repositioning itself further into the direct brokering market. With the shift of the world financial and insurance industries’ focus to New York, and the British economic crisis of the 1980s, Willis Faber also recognized the need to establish a presence in the U.S. market.
Our goal is to meet clients’ needs in managing and reducing the cost of risk to the highest attainable standard.
The merger of Willis Faber with Stewart Wrightson provided the company a strong boost in this direction. Renamed Willis Wrightson, the company became the largest direct broker in the U.K., gave the company a strengthened position among the global reinsurance market, and added a strong entry into the United States. By the end of the decade, the third component was in place: Willis Wrightson merged with Corroon & Black, forming the Willis Corroon Group.
Through the early 1990s, the company worked to restructure its operations, expanding its international presence through the opening of offices worldwide, while building its position throughout Europe with the establishment of a network of subsidiary and related operations. The company’s U.S. headquarters was also moved from Corroon & Black’s former New York offices to Nashville. Willis Corroon’s transition was realized by 1993. The company was then one of the world leaders in risk management and brokering services.
The cost of putting the company’s new structure into place—at a time when the worldwide market had gone sour with the extended recession of the first half of the 1990s—cut into the company’s profits. The company turned to John Reeves, who became the first company chairman brought in from outside the company. In 1995, the company took steps to reorganize its operations, reforming the company into five primary divisions: U.K. Retail, U.K. Wholesale, International, North American Retail, and Global Specialities. These divisions were later refined into the company’s late 1990s structure. The reorganization of the company helped lift profits by 1996.
By then, Willis Corroon had begun to position itself beyond its traditional insurance brokering core into becoming, as stated in its annual report, “a global knowledge-based professional services firm.” Beyond simply offering insurance services, Willis Corroon expanded its definition to include problem-solving and other risk management consulting activities. In the late 1990s, the company also began to concentrate on the rapidly opening European market, with a focus on Germany and France. As such, the company concluded an agreement with Germany’s Jaspers Wuppesahl to increase Willis Corroon’s position in the German company to 30 percent at the beginning of 1998, and to 44.6 percent by the end of 1998—with an option to build a majority position in the early years of the next century. In late 1997, the company also enhanced its position in India, with the joint-venture Willis Corroon Tower (Private) Limited, based in Mumbai.
Willis Corroon International Holdings Limited; Willis Faber North America Inc. (U.S.A.); Willis Faber Re; Willis Corroon Limited; Willis Corroon Commercial; Willis Corroon Tower (Private) Limited (India; 50%).
Global Reinsurance; Global Specialities; U.K. Broking; North American Broking; U.S. Wholesale; International; Fine Art, Jewellery & Specie.
Willis Corroon Group, “Our History,” Internet: http://www.williscorroon.com/history.htm.
—M. L. Cohen