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Sir David Rowland: the man who saved Lloyd’s

February 19, 2019

There will be many eloquent tributes paid to Sir David Rowland, chairman of Lloyd’s for four turbulent years in the mid-1990s, who passed away yesterday, aged 85. He was, more than anyone, the man who saved Lloyd’s.

I interviewed him on several occasions and heard him present to many different groups and he was never less than impressive, always totally in command of his brief and never with a word out of place. When he stepped into the chairmanship at Lloyd’s the market was under the cosh with years of bad losses made worse by poor market practices and too timid an approach to reforming a capital structure that was no longer fit for purpose. Rowland led a process called Reconstruction & Renewal that transformed the market, in particular by replacing the individual capital of wealthy Names by corporate capital and brilliantly parcelling up past losses into a new reinsurance vehicle called Equitas. Those who want to know how this was achieved should read Andrew Duguid’s excellent book On The Brink.

Equally impressive was how he changed the mood around Lloyd’s, showing almost endless patience with its critics and gradually winning them round. This was especially the case with its vociferous Parliamentary critics. I sat through many presentations Sir David made in Parliament, especially to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Insurance & Financial Services, and they captured perfectly his success in winning people round to his vision of reform.

The first time he appeared in Parliament he was faced with a room full of angry MPs and Peers, mostly Names at Lloyd’s facing massive personal losses. It was always rather hard to have a lot of sympathy for them as I used to wonder which bit of “you are liable down to your last gold cufflink for losses on your syndicates” they hadn’t been listening to when they joined Lloyd’s. There was, however, some justification behind their anger as many syndicates had been badly run, often to the point of behaving corruptly.

Thus Rowland inherited a pretty poor relationship with MPs and Peers. His predecessor David Coleridge did not display anything like the same patience with them. He had been sued by one former Tory MP, Tom Benyon, following scathing criticism he made of him in an interview with me that was published in Post Magazine. Over the four years of his chairmanship Rowland turned their mood round completely, so much so that by the end of it Lloyd’s was able to hold a dinner for the All Party Group members to thank them for their support.

Sir David was a generous man and he was always quick to praise those who worked with him and who played a big part in bringing the ambitious reforms to fruition, people like Peter Middleton, Michael Deeny and Ron Sandler. However, it was his contribution that towers over those of other people and for which Lloyd’s, the London insurance market and UK plc should always be grateful.

Pic credit: Insurance Hall of Fame

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