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David Coleridge: guided Lloyd’s through the storm

January 5, 2021

David Coleridge, who was chairman of Lloyd’s for two tumultuous years in the early 1990s, passed away on Boxing Day, aged 88.

Those two years, 1991 and 1992, saw Lloyd’s caught in the perfect storm of poor – often corrupt – underwriting practices, huge losses from disasters and natural catastrophes and the chaotic unravelling of the notorious LMX spiral. Lloyd’s was staggering towards the brink of collapse and it was Coleridge that bought the market time and laid the foundations for its revival under his successor, David Rowland.

He was born in Bombay (now Mumbai) on 7 June 1932, the son of a wealthy cotton broker and a descendent of the poet Samuel Coleridge Taylor. He was an avid collector of first editions and vintage volumes of the poet’s works, the most famous of which was The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. That story of a seafarer battling his way through massive storms offered a parallel to Coleridge’s time in the chair at Lloyd’s.

After education at Eton and national service he joined a Lloyd’s broker before moving to Sturge in 1957. Over the next 20 years he built this up into the largest underwriting and members’ agency at Lloyd’s and steadily become more involved in the governance of the market.

He succeeded Murray Lawrence as chairman just as the storm broke over Lloyd’s. The July 1991 annual meeting saw the full fury of Names, many facing bankruptcy and personal ruin as Lloyd’s reported huge losses, turned on the market’s bosses. Coleridge, who had paid his own losses just the day before the meeting, bore the brunt of this anger. For six long, highly-charged hours he stood at the lectern answering every question, suffering every insult and sharing in the pain of those whose wealth was being destroyed by Lloyd’s. It was a personal triumph and, in the view of many, created sufficient breathing space for the work to start on saving Lloyd’s (This story was told in my recent review of the period for Insurance Post’s 180th anniversary series).

By the autumn of 1991 he had recruited David Rowland to head up a Task Force with a brief to review everything, including the cherished unlimited liability, and, crucially, the capital structure. When this reported the following year, with its radical proposals to introduce corporate capital, Coleridge was initially hesitant but he eventually recognised that Rowland’s proposals offered the best hope of saving the market. He also realised that it would need a new man at the helm and stood down as chairman at the end of 1992 with Rowland taking his place.

Coleridge was approachable and patient with anyone he believed wanted to listen to what he was trying to do to turn the market round. He was brutally dismissive of those he identified as the market’s enemies.

Rowland is often, rightly, credited as the man who saved Lloyd’s but without Coleridge there would have been no Rowland era. Indeed, there may have been no Lloyd’s to save.

He remained one of the dwindling band of individual Names at Lloyd’s to the end of his life.

• This tribute was first published on the Insurance Post website on 29 December.

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