Meet John Boylan, CUO of Excess Liability Insurance for Markel Global Insurance

What is your role at Markel?

I am the Chief Underwriting Officer (CUO) of Excess Liability insurance for Markel Global Insurance. My role involves all aspects of our Excess Liability business, but the fundamental objective is to underwrite to a profit—at all stages of the market cycle.

My portfolio responsibility extends to budgeting, planning, execution, account management, team building, platform building, reporting, and results.     

Tell us about excess liability insurance in the Markel context. How did we get into this business?

Large account excess liability business came to Markel with the Alterra acquisition earlier this year and fits well into the overall group. We have very little overlap with any legacy Markel operations, so the contouring of our excess liability business is a relatively easy proposition. A challenge is for us to ensure, where we do have a little overlap, that we work with our colleagues in managing this, so as to ensure account underwriting consistency and minimize clash potential.

Just as Markel heralds unquestionable success at talent retention, we, in Excess Liability, can point to longevity as a working group. Our Excess Liability teams have been together for much of the 10 years since we commenced excess liability underwriting with Alterra in 2003.  Even before this, many members of our team worked together for years at XL. So a good number of us have now worked together for close on 20 years. 

How is your team structured here at Markel?

We operate out of four business platforms—designed to mirror broker distribution. These are Dublin, London, Bermuda, and New York.  Accounts targeted tend to be Fortune 1000 companies, particularly large industrials with an exposure profile best characterized as low frequency/high severity. 

We have a knowledgeable, responsive, and world-class group of underwriters. Each underwriter has the Company and the customer at the core of each and every decision taken. 

Our aim is to structure our business and harness embedded expertise, such that senior underwriters are each allocated a major risk class, or classes, reflecting their deep understanding of the risk factors for that class.  An underwriter will, as custodian of the allocated risk class, have overall responsibility for the management and monitoring of our strategy for that class. 

What does it take to be a good CUO?

Modesty shapes my response here, but:

  • Ability to read the market
  • Ability to hold one’s nerve
  • Ability to respond to changing circumstances—quickly
  • Ability to say NO
  • Strength of character to say YES, when needed
  • Patience and a sense of humor 
How did you get to this point in your career?

Via AIG, BF&M, XL…all of 30 some good decisions on my part...some brave decisions on my part…some mistakes on my part…and a bit of luck thrown in for good measure.

What do you consider to have been your biggest personal achievement(s) during your career?

Keeping our team together…consistent book profitability…

What has been your biggest disappointment?

None really. I’ve been fortunate in my career. It was disappointing that we got to Alterra in 2003, about 18 months after the market turned. In hindsight, our Markel account could have been an even better performer.

How do you keep it fresh after 30 years? What motivates and excites you about the sector?

The challenge each cycle brings. Capital moves so quickly around our business; and risk, by its very definition, is unpredictable. I like the idea of having to be responsive to new and potentially immediate challenges.  Working with one of the best teams in the business is ample motivation.

What is the best piece of advice you have received during your career?

Always treat our broking friends with a healthy dose of disrespect.  

Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to someone that’s new to the insurance industry?

Be patient, work hard, listen, get qualified, and be flexible. 

Tell us a bit about your life outside the office. How do you like to spend your leisure time?

Married to Sarah, with four children, all girls, aged 8 to 13 years.  Unsurprisingly, this dictates my leisure time activities.

What is your greatest achievement in your personal life?

See answer to immediately preceding question!!

If you weren’t an underwriter, what job would you like to do?

A not much deviation there!
Given complete freedom of choice, where would you like to spend next week?

Augusta National…