When you’re a smaller athlete competing with giants, sheer determination and sharp reflexes are tools you might use to glide past opponents—and a winning formula in business isn’t too different, according to one insurance leader.

Executive Summary

A culture of responsive risk takers sets Allied World apart from larger competitors, according to Lou Iglesias, who explains that a recent organizational change, creating a Global Insurance operation, will help him—as CEO of the worldwide segment—to ensure that the culture is consistent around the world. Related article: At about the same time as Iglesias quietly took the reins of Global Insurance without any formal public announcement, Allied World was capturing headlines externally, with Toronto-based Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd. closing a $4.9 billion deal to acquire all of Allied World. (See related article: "New Uniform, Same Team Culture: Allied World Post-Fairfax Deal")

“We punch way over our weight,” Lou Iglesias, the chief executive officer of Global Insurance for Allied World, told Carrier Management several times during a recent hour-long interview at the company’s New York offices in late September. In the world of insurance, Iglesias describes Allied World as a midsize insurer operating in a large-account world against insurers with 20-times as many employees.

“We don’t have the 20,000 people, 30,000 people running around and pushing our products. So, we’ve always had to fight different ways,” he said, comparing the staffs of commercial lines behemoths to Allied World’s workforce of 1,074 employees devoted to insurance worldwide (1,433, including reinsurance operations).

“We’ll do three-and-a-half billion dollars all in this year,” he said, referring to gross premiums for both the insurance and reinsurance operations globally. “But we compete with the big players.”

Since Iglesias joined the company in 2012 with an initial charge to build out Allied World’s U.S. insurance operations, gross insurance premiums in the region have jumped almost 50 percent, from less than $1 billion at year-end 2012 ($994 million) to $1.5 billion in 2016—an average growth rate of 10 percent. Having a good number of people on staff who have dealt with large accounts and sophisticated insureds partially explains Allied World’s ability to stay in contention with bigger competitors to win and retain business, according to Iglesias. More to the point, he said the culture of the organization is key. “We have always had to have a culture of being responsive because we haven’t had the huge size.”

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