Yesterday we posted a link to a speech (also available here) given by Lloyd’s Chief Executive Officer, John Neal, on 29 January. In this, having completed 100 days in the role,  he gave his early views on the reforms needed to embrace the challenges that the market faces. A number of Argenta team were present for the talk and all left quietly impressed by what he had to say.

Happily, the Insurance Insider has put some of our thoughts into much more eloquent words than we would have managed. We would like to thank the Insider for their permission to use the following opinion piece.

Insider 29 January: It was George Bernard Shaw who famously said that it was impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him.

Historically Shaw’s observations on the rigid British class system of the early 20th century would be doubly applicable within the stratified and highly tribal Lloyd’s market. Here judgment calls on one’s peers and betters can be very damning very fast and come with a brutal lack of restraint. First impressions really matter.

The market’s 50,000 crew rarely hold back if they think the captain is on the wrong tack and needs to change course. So well developed is this reflex on Lime Street that many new leaders at Lloyd’s have been able to alienate large swathes of the market without saying a word or launching a single policy initiative.

Shaw’s maxim held true until today.

For in his first engagement with an audience of his peers and key constituents within the market at our Lime Street Perspective event today, Neal demonstrated a disarming honesty, understanding, awareness and nimbleness that will serve him extremely well as the challenges of market leadership reveal themselves.

Neal was able to conjure up an almost impossible impression. He came to the market with an insider’s deep understanding - but without any dogma - about how it should be run, or where exactly it should be headed.

He successfully straddled the contradiction of a true believer who is also reassuringly agnostic.

He acknowledged the failings of the recent past but didn’t dwell on them.

He swiftly moved onto a positive vision of the market’s future as the essential global insurance marketplace, yet he didn’t then fall into the trap of disappearing into the blue skies of a grand long-term vision, with far-flung goals that he wouldn’t be around to be held accountable for if they were not achieved.

While expressing ambitious visions he articulated clear short, medium and long-term goals.

But far more important was the audience’s reaction to him.

When he said that everything was up for consideration the audience believed him and engaged with him. They knew straight away he was one of them, but also left in no doubt that he had come to challenge them to face many home truths.

The ambition is clear and the skills and instinct strong.

It’s clear that Neal doesn’t want to merely tinker with Lloyd’s current book, shrink it a bit, bring the combined ratio below a hundred, collect a medal and retire.

No, he wants the market to retake the lead on new product development, on technology, on capital efficiency and alternatives, on client responsiveness, on speed to market and on right-touch regulation. He also understands the collective psychology of the people he has to bring with him and the importance of consistent delivery against regular, achievable goals.

He rightly identified the work to get Lloyd’s back where it should be as a collective endeavour.

As we finished the room was buzzing with a positive energy that this publication hasn’t noted for a very long time. There was a palpable lack of the usual grumblings – the “yes, buts…” that we are all so used to.

On a call immediately following the event a prominent CEO noted our description of Neal’s ambition and quipped: “No-one shows up at the Olympic Games aiming for a bronze medal.”

This is a long race and it contains many hurdles - but Neal is off to a very, very strong, assured and classy start.

The ability to act as a catalyst and a lightning rod is what the exactly right sort of Lloyd’s CEO can bring to a market.

Carnegie-Brown should be commended on his choice because Neal clearly has the right stuff in abundance