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Warren Heck Chairman and CEO, GNY Insurance Companies

Warren Heck, the long-time leader of GNY Insurance Companies, plans to retire at the end of 2014.

He’ll remain at the insurer as non-executive chairman. But Heck’s daughter, Elizabeth Heck, currently president and chief operating officer, will replace him as CEO. A formal announcement is expected in early November at GNY’s 100th-anniversary celebration.

Warren Heck, a vocal supporter of the federal terrorism reinsurance law known as TRIA, told Carrier Management during the annual NAMIC conference outside of D.C. that a succession plan has been in the works for a few years now. He has been chairman and CEO for 14 years but also had a long tenure as president and chief operating officer, and through his time with the company has additionally served as chief underwriting officer.

“I am 78 years old,” he explained. “It is a corporation, and you need succession and planning. I am still pretty viable [but] you need some young people to take over, and most people don’t work as long as I did.”

Elizabeth Heck herself had worked other jobs in the insurance industry, but came to GNY 14 years ago, her father said. She moved up the ranks and eventually became CFO; the board selected her as president a few years back.

The elder Heck stressed that the board, working with an outside consultant, selected Elizabeth Heck as CEO without his input, though he persuaded her to initially join GNY because he needed someone who knew the financial aspects of the business as she did.

“She really connected with the company extremely well and has just impressed the board,” he said. “Eventually we needed a president and she was selected. They interviewed a lot of people and they selected her. And then I needed a successor and the board conducted its own review. They had some professional help [with outside consultants] and the professionals recommended her. I was just told about it and did not participate in that.”

That part of GNY’s succession plan took place in 2011, Warren Heck said. The next phase of that process involved searching for a chief underwriter to replace him. GNY hired a person for that slot – Martin Brezner – a little over a year ago.

“He transitioned into that job and I am sort of winding down,” Heck said.

Heck admitted it was unusual for his daughter to succeed him, but said that the board’s focus, simply put, was on bringing on the best person for the job.

“You try to select the very best person you can for the position and the people that worked on this decided she was the best one,” Heck said. “Now they are convinced. They can see what she’s done.” As CFO, he noted, she “was able to get deeply into the operations of the company and into the underwriting.”

She really immersed herself in all the important work of the company and is a very good manager and excellent leader,” Heck said.

Heck, in retirement, leaves behind a healthy GNY. It can tout $315 million in direct written premium, a $430 million surplus and close to $1 billion in assets, he said. Its combined ratio for 2013 hit 94.8, while projections are that GNY’s combined ratio will be 99.7 for 2014. That combined ratio level has remained constant over the last decade, save for surges in 2010 for Hurricane Irene, 2011 after Hurricane Sandy and 2012 in Sandy’s aftermath, Heck said.

GNY is a fairly large enterprise. GNY Insurance Companies is based in New York City but operates in 15 states. It includes GNY Mutual Insurance Co., which writes commercial property casualty. There is also the Insurance Company of Greater New York, Strathmore Insurance Co. and GNY Custom, a non-admitted carrier.

As far as retiring as CEO, Heck stresses that he will remain as chairman, but noted that this milestone caps 55 years he’s spent in the insurance industry.

“I have enjoyed it tremendously,” he said. “If I could do it again I would probably do the same thing. I feel that the property/casualty industry supports the economy. Without having a way to spread risk it would be a tremendous detriment to the growth of the economy. It’s a very honorable way to spend your career.”

Heck said he’ll still remain active.

“I am going to work on finding something to do,” he said. “I think I’d like to work in the industry.” Options include serving on insurance company boards, but there are a “couple of other things I am thinking about,” Heck said.

Topics Carriers Market