van Rossum, Anton 1945–
Anton van Rossum
Chief executive officer, Fortis
Education: Attended Erasmus University, Rotterdam, The Netherlands (date of graduation unknown).
Family: Married; children: three.
Career: McKinsey & Company, 1972–2000, variety of roles including cofounder of the Brussels office, senior partner; Fortis, September 2000–, chief executive officer; Fortis Bank and Fortis Insurance, chairman; Fortis, Inc., 2001–2003, chairman.
Address: Fortis, Rue Royale 20, 1000 Brussels, Belgium; http://www.fortis.be.
■ In 2000, Anton van Rossum was selected from an outside company to become CEO of Fortis, the Belgo-Dutch financial-services giant born in 1990 of a merger between the Belgian insurance company AG and the Dutch banking and insurance group AMEV/VSB. Focusing on the fields of banking, insurance, and investment, Fortis offered a comprehensive range of products to private individuals, businesses, and institutions through wholly owned distribution channels and intermediaries. Through a policy of mergers and acquisitions and by creating an operating niche in specialty marketing segments, van Rossum led the corporation to realize a net profit of EUR 1,275 million in first-quarter 2004—its bestever quarterly result. Early that year, the corporation's market capitalization was EUR 24.8 billion, its assets EUR 523 billion; it employed approximately 54,000 people in some 200 companies worldwide and ranked in the top 20 European financial institutions.
Van Rossum was personally chosen and recommended to the Fortis board by the corporation's cochairmen, Hans Bartelds (former chairman of AMEV/VSB) and Maurice Lippens
(former chairman of AG). Factors contributing to van Rossum's selection included his outstanding leadership abilities and people skills and extensive experience gained in his 28-year career with McKinsey & Company in The Netherlands, Belgium, and Scandinavia. At McKinsey he cofounded the company's Brussels office, which he ran for seven years. His primary responsibilities were in the banking and insurance industries. When he left the firm, he was a leader in its European banking and insurance practice.
Van Rossum was elected CEO of Fortis on September 1, 2000, assuming responsibility for the day-to-day management of the corporation; he also served as chair of the executive committee. Fortis's entire upper management supported van Rossum's appointment, believing that it would help the company to become one of Europe's leaders in providing bancassurance (insurance products sold through banks).
"THE ROAD AHEAD"
In December 2000 van Rossum announced in a statement titled "The Road Ahead" that Fortis would follow a clearer strategic direction. His plan included streamlining management and holding managers more accountable. He introduced performance targets and tied executive pay scales more directly to the performance of individual business units and of the group in its entirety. He also announced that allocation of capital would be reassessed, that some businesses would be dropped or sold, and that in some instances the emphasis would shift from one line of product to another. He said the corporation would also consider mergers and acquisitions to enhance its overall growth and stability. Fortis would look to consolidate its position in the Benelux region (Belgium/Netherlands/Luxembourg) and expand its regional presence in the United States and Asia. He stressed a renewed focus on enhancing customer interaction, improving brand perception, and increasing product distribution channels. In discussing the need to achieve greater overall operating efficiency, van Rossum referred to recent acquisitions and mergers that brought a cost savings of EUR 900 million, including the 2000 acquisition of Dutch insurer ASR shortly before he took over at Fortis. That particular acquisition made Fortis the industry leader in the Benelux countries.
Brendan Noonan reported in the International Insurance News Update (December 26, 2000) that some analysts questioned whether van Rossum's statement actually brought anything new to the strategy Fortis already had in place, while others called for more specificity. According to Noonan, analyst Lewis Phillips with Fox-Pitt, Kelton, said that the statement contained "a lot of generalities" that revealed "precious little that hadn't already been said." Phillips compared Fortis with its Dutch rival the ING Group, which usually "set[s] the flags out as to what they want to do." However, Noonan also quoted analyst Ton Gietman with HSBC Securities in Amsterdam: "I think the change with the past is that they are going to make management much more accountable for their actions." He also said that van Rossum's strategy of not divulging what businesses Fortis planned to sell was smart in that it "lowers the exit price" when Fortis decided to sell those businesses. Noonan wrote that although van Rossum acknowledged, the CEO also told critical analysts to "judge us by our deeds" over the coming months.
STRATEGY NETS HUGE PROFITS
Just one month after presenting his "Road Ahead" strategy, van Rossum announced that Fortis, Inc.—one of Fortis's financial-services companies with leadership positions in several specialty insurance market segments in the United States—would sell its annuity and variable life insurance business, Fortis Financial Group (FFG), and FFG's proprietary mutual fund. In the company's press release, Van Rossum pointed out that FFG was a "niche business" in variable universal life and variable annuities in the late 1980s and had experienced solid growth and profitability in that arena. However, the products had since become so popular that they were no longer specialty businesses, and FFG only held a small market share in each. Selling FFG, he said, was "consistent with Fortis' strategy in the United States to build and manage a select portfolio of specialty businesses that are leaders in their respective markets" (January 25, 2001). The sale, to the Hartford Financial Services Group in the second quarter of 2001 in a cash transaction of $1.12 billion, produced significant profits that improved Fortis's balance sheet, in part by reducing recently incurred acquisition debt. Fortis also retained FFG's $200 million statutory surplus.
On May 7, 2001, Fortis announced that, in addition to his other responsibilities, van Rossum had been elected chairman of the board of directors of Fortis, Inc. At that time, Fortis, Inc. managed approximately $25 billion in assets and provided individual, small group, temporary health, group life, dental, and disability insurance as well as credit-related insurance services. Little more than two years later, in keeping with strategies presented in his "Road Ahead" plan, van Rossum announced that Fortis would spin off Fortis, Inc. "Given the non-core nature and the independent organization of our U.S. insurance business, we have decided to divest these activities," he was quoted as saying on the Insurance Newscast Web site (September 25, 2003). "By focusing on our key strengths and skills, we will continue to develop our businesses by investing in autonomous growth opportunities, value added acquisitions and partnerships to achieve improved returns over time." While Fortis retained its presence in banking products and services in the United States, the objective behind the insurance business spin-off was to focus resources and assets on further developing banking and insurance businesses in Fortis's Benelux home markets and on expanding selected businesses beyond the Benelux borders, particularly in Europe and Asia. "We cannot do everything everywhere," said van Rossum (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Online, September 30, 2003.)
Fortis, Inc. thus began the process of becoming Assurant, a publicly traded company, and in October 2003 van Rossum resigned as chairman of Fortis, Inc. to allow the position to be filled by an outside director. The February 2004 IPO on the New York Stock Exchange netted Fortis a total profit of over $2 billion. Fortis also retained an approximately 35 percent stake in Assurant.
SPECIALIZED IN SPECIALTY MARKETS
Fortis's presence in Asia began in 1902 when its ancestors opened a banking branch in Shanghai, China. Van Rossum considered the region a major growth platform for his corporation, particularly in bancassurance. In an August 28, 2003, interview printed in The Cantos Transcript, van Rossum was asked about Fortis's expanding life assurance business in Asia. His response reflected his concept of creating and operating specialty markets: "We do that in a very modest way by not spending significant amounts of money but creating very nice initiatives that can flourish and develop…. And all of our ven tures, be it in bank insurance in China, in asset management in China, or in Malaysia in bank insurance, are doing very, very nicely and over-delivering in terms of promise."
Encouraged by its successful entry into insurance activities in Malaysia and China, in March 2004 Fortis signed an agreement with Muang Thai group, a leader in the Thailand insurance sector. Fortis acquired 25 percent of Muang Thai Life Assurance, 25 percent of Muang Thai Insurance, and 20 percent of Muang Thai Holding. Announcing the agreement, van Rossum said: "Muang Thai is the ideal strategic partner to jointly develop Fortis' presence in Thailand, which is one of Asia's most promising countries in terms of economic growth potential. We are delighted about this new strategic step [which] will help us make the partnership a resounding success" (Start-up.es, March 8, 2004).
PRAISE AND SUPPORT
On June 11, 2001, BusinessWeek announced its choice of fifty European business leaders with exceptional expertise in managing change in an economic environment of both great promise and great uncertainty. Van Rossum was one of those selected. The article noted that his greatest success up to that point was creating a giant insurance sales operation of Belgium's Generale Bank, which Fortis acquired two years before he became CEO. The bank sold more than $900 million in life insurance in the final quarter of 2000—$500 million more than Generale had predicted. The BusinessWeek article noted that Fortis was "known for its knack in executing one of the trickier acts in finance—selling insurance products through a bank," and that "Fortis owes a good bit of that success to its CEO, Anton van Rossum." The article pointed out that, inspired by Fortis's success, other companies were tempted to enter the bancassurance arena. As van Rossum commented, however, "It took us a long time to get there"; he added that cultural differences between the banking and insurance industries made success in the bancassurance business difficult and that a great deal of persuasion was necessary to get them to cooperate. "You have to show you get better results by unifying the whole range of products and selling them through all the distribution channels," he said.
Following speculation in a Belgian newspaper in early 2004 about the security of van Rossum's position with Fortis, the company immediately posted a statement that read: "The Chairmen of Fortis, Jaap Glasz and Maurice Lippens, hereby want to expressly confirm their trust in Anton van Rossum as CEO and in the strategy being implemented" (La Bourse, January 16, 2004).
See also entry on Fortis, Inc. in International Directory of Company Histories.
sources for further information
"Fortis Announces Proposed Initial Public Offering of U.S. Insurance Operations," Insurance Newscast, September 26, 2003, http://www.insurance-portal.com/092603.htm#6.
"Fortis CEO Open to Bids for U.S. Insurance Ops," Insurance Newscast, September 26, 2003, http://www.insuranceportal.com/092603.htm#5.
"Fortis Chairmen Confirm Trust in CEO Anton van Rossum," La Bourse, January 16, 2004, http://bourse.tf1.fr/detail_actualite.phtml?news=153781.
"Fortis—Interim Results," The Cantos Transcript, August 28, 2003, http://www.cantos.com/system/newtypes/eurotopwrapper.jhtml?mainStoryId=24400072&_requestid=197248.
Manning, Joe, "Fortis to Spin Off U.S. Insurance Arm in IPO," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Online, September 30, 2003, http://www.jsonline.com/bym/news/sep03/173830.asp.
"Muang Thai Is the Ideal Strategic …," March 8, 2004. Start-up.es, http://www.start-up.es/affiche_noticia.php?l=LAN&source=IN_84537.xml.
Noonan, Brendan, "Fortis Reveals Few Landmarks as it Maps Future," International Insurance News Update, December 26, 2000, p. 5.
"Press Release: The Hartford to Purchase Fortis Financial Group for $1.12 Billion," January 25, 2001, http://ir.assurant.com/pressroom/releaseDetail.cfm?ReleaseID=127825.
"Stars of Europe—Financiers: Anton van Rossum, Chief Executive, Fortis," BusinessWeek Online, June 11, 2001, http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/01_24/b3736628.htm.
—Marie L. Thompson