In the interview below we discuss these changes with Dr Christian Hinsch and his designated successor Dr Edgar Puls.
Dr Hinsch, what are the reasons for handing over the reins to Dr Puls?
I turn 64 this year. The way forward has been mapped out in several key respects. I feel that now is a good time to make the generational shift in Industrial Lines. With that in mind, one of my major goals last year was to play an active part in the search for a suitable successor and, ideally, to find an internal candidate. I am very happy that with Edgar Puls such an outstanding successor has been chosen from among our own ranks. The generational renewal can now be completed on the Group Board of Management of Talanx AG. Mr Haas has been succeeded by Mr Leue, Mr Wallin is passing the reins to Mr Henchoz and I am now handing over to Edgar Puls.
When you look back and take stock: What particularly notable achievements do you see in your career at HDI?
Industrial insurance is an incredibly fascinating challenge. I have tremendously enjoyed the blend of people, business, technology and legal aspects over the past 35 years. There are three things I would like to highlight as milestones.
At the end of the 1990s five out of six HDI foreign subsidiaries had been unprofitable for quite some time, while a seventh was already in run-off. The Supervisory Board lost patience and in June 2000 the Board of Management resolved to give up on international business. Along with my Board responsibility for liability business, I was assigned the additional task of "polishing up" the companies abroad and getting them ready for sale. Contrary to expectations, the rehabilitation efforts went so well in a short space of time that the sale plans could be scrubbed and by the end of 2002 we were even able to make a new acquisition in Poland.
The second milestone was the purchase of the Gerling companies in 2005, a move that was viewed with considerable scepticism among customers, employees and the public at large. Given the large areas of overlap, doubts were expressed as to whether one and one could make two in industrial business. In what was truly a major accomplishment we worked with a small, loyal team to successfully bring about the integration in industrial lines despite substantial internal and external resistance – and in so doing we laid the foundation for our market position today.
The third point is internationalisation. Up until 2011 we were reliant on access to the Royal Sun Alliance network, which we could have lost at any time. That was something that gave me many sleepless nights back then. It was clear to me that an industrial insurer would not be able to survive going forward without a network of its own. The development of our own international network – for which the first two accomplishments served as the cornerstones – was therefore not an option but rather a necessity. Our success in building this network in the course of a 15-year marathon since 1996 has assured our independence as an industrial insurer. And that now gives us the opportunity to expand specialty lines on a global basis as well – the next big thing.
In all of this we have achieved something, as I see it, that others can only aspire to with the support of expensive consultants: keeping the focus on the customer.
What didn't work out or where would you like to have achieved more?
There are two areas where I would have liked to have made more progress. One is the modernisation of our processes and our IT, the other is the rehabilitation of fire insurance. In both respects, I am confident that in our new configuration we have really turned the corner now. We must, however, consistently stay the course to the very end. It will not be easy, but I know that the future management team is well placed to do so.
In retrospect, I feel incredibly fortunate and appreciative that my superiors always placed a great deal of trust in me. It's not something you can take for granted. If you can stay grounded, remain open to criticism and willing to change, there is a chance that missteps can be corrected before it is too late.
What should change at the industrial insurer HDI following the transition?
That's a question best addressed to Dr Puls. Generally speaking, though, and as already stated: our market, the competition, customers, technology – everything is constantly changing. This is especially true for us as an industrial insurer: it is only by embracing change and acting proactively that you can be successful over the long term.
Mr Puls, what plans do you have as the future Chief Executive Officer of HDI Global SE? What will remain the same – and what is going to change?
Dr Hinsch has transformed HDI from an insurer rooted in Lower Saxony to a global player in industrial lines. That is a magnificent life's work that I hold in the highest regard. Building seamlessly on this success story is a challenge that I am now taking on with great respect. At the same time, I am very much looking forward to this task. At HDI Global SE we have a really great and highly motivated team – more than three thousand employees spread across every continent. I thoroughly enjoy working with people and making a difference for our company as part of such an international team. In this context, continuing to grow our business and expand our locations around the world are two of our most important goals. But the number one item on my agenda for this year and next is the rehabilitation of the fire portfolio …
… which you set in motion around a year ago …
… that's right. Our 20/20/20 programme has been ongoing for about a year. We are well on the way and took a major step in the right direction last year; but we are still a long way from achieving our goal. Working together with David Hullin, my new colleague on the Board, I now intend to forge ahead with this project with the utmost urgency. We must stay very focused here if we are to bring this project to a successful conclusion.
What other topics do you consider important?
Certainly digitalisation and continuous process optimisation with a view to cutting costs. In this regard, too, we are on the right track. Most notably, with the addition of my colleague Thomas Kuhnt to the Board we have been able to attract an extremely experienced specialist who can make us an industry leader in this area.
Furthermore, we need to consistently question our business model and ask ourselves what value added we – as an industrial insurer – can deliver for our customers going forward. Simply making capacity available won't be enough over the long term. We, too, must ask ourselves what added value we can offer our customers along the value chain in the age of the IoT, Industry 4.0 and global networks.
What new points of emphasis will you bring?
We need an even stronger culture of responsibility and performance with a focus on increased profitability, clear management ratios and complete transparency – extending also to sub-portfolios. It needs to be clear to everyone when we are successful and when we fall short.
Not only that, as I see it, we must think in even more international terms because we do the lion's share of our business abroad. At the same time, we should certainly retain our flexibility and our hands-on approach: getting to grips with the task at hand, thinking along practical lines, acting independently and at our own responsibility. Nevertheless, we need to break down departmental boundaries and eliminate existing "silos". The primary concern is always with the customer and their needs – wherever they may be in the world.
Last but not least, I also attach special importance to the ongoing development of our organisational culture. We must all be quicker and bolder in engaging with the new and we need to not merely accept but rather demand an increased pace of change. Only then will we be able to enjoy lasting success in a world of growing complexity, volatility and uncertainty.
Are you already able to comment on any short-term measures?
I am a friend of flat hierarchies, I want to engage in a more intensive dialogue with all employees and managers, to involve them more actively, to speak to them very frankly and especially to listen to their feedback on what is good and what is not so positive. We shall adopt new forms of cooperation and communicate with one another in a faster, more uncomplicated manner. This is something that I'm looking forward to and I would urge my colleagues to join me on this journey. HDI Global SE will then be fit for the future; we shall successfully maintain the course that we have set and develop into one of the leading Global Players in industrial insurance.