Simons retires after four-decade career with Argus
Gerald Simons knew this day was coming. Since the late 70s, the long-time head of The Argus Group knew today, May 31, 2012, would be his last day at work, at a company for which he has been employed for more than 40 years.
Today he will retire as president of Argus Group Holdings Ltd after having served as CEO from 1998 until 2010.
Im a pension planner by training, I knew that the date of 31st of May, 2012 marked my retirement — I knew that in 1978 when I was running the pensions area of the business, said Mr Simons, who turned 65 this month.
The company he started his career with, he has ended it with, rising through the ranks, and working in various departments of the company, starting directly out of university.
The former managing director of the Argus Group, JEP Stewart, recruited the young Mr Simons at the age of 19, when his mind was focused on pursuing a degree in physics and chemistry with the aim of becoming a teacher. But Argus had other plans for Mr Simons, paying for his education at the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada, from where he graduated with a degree in economics in 1971.
The company, said Mr Simons, has changed significantly since he started. Computers werent omnipresent as they are today and the company had scheduled morning and afternoon tea breaks. Life, he said, was a lot simpler then.
In the early 70s, there were only 30 or 40 employees, we had just moved into the new building 12 Wesley Street, which is now our former headquarters. It was just a simpler time.
This was a time when the Health Insurance Act of 1970 had just been passed, coming in affect on April 1, 1971, making health insurance plans compulsory for businesses.
We had an easy time selling health insurance then, he said. The product offering was much more limited in health insurance and pensions.
Today, tea breaks are the thing of the past — and Argus is now one the largest players in the local insurance industry offering employee benefits as well as property and casualty insurance, pension plans and investment services. Mr Simons has become one of the leading experts in health insurance in Bermuda.
One of the most memorable moments in his career, said Mr Simons, was the closing of a sale that became effective on the day that he became the manager of Bermuda Life Insurance Company team on July 1, 1977.
I closed a sale covering a company that had over 300 employees and I bought my first brand new car with the commission. A Fiat 127 Estate in an ugly orange colour, he said.
While that was a memory that particularly struck him, what he is most grateful for is how Argus allowed him to serve his community in Government as a UBP Senator and Minister starting in 1982.
The company was very accommodating and allowed me to retain my employment benefits here but for 13 years, and certainly for 11 years when I was in Cabinet, I would say three days out of every five, was spent on Government business for much of the year, he said.
Over the years, Mr Simons has watched many employees he personally recruited or mentored move into senior positions and go on to run major departments at the company — something that he finds very satisfying.
Ive had a wonderful opportunity to contribute, he said. Argus, I believe, has a well-deserved reputation for developing individuals whether they come in as messengers in the admin department or university graduates — people have the opportunity to advance and to grow.
Over the past three years, Argus has no doubt faced some challenges, posting combined losses totalling $144 million. Most of the losses have been a result of the fall in the value of its investments, rather than the performance of its operating units.
Despite a rough few years, Mr Simons believes the challenges the company has faced are largely behind them and the view ahead is ripe with opportunity.
The future for Argus is very bright, he said. The management team of Argus has never been stronger, the board of directors of the company has never been stronger, the business units have never performed better. The fundamental business of Argus is very sound. We have opportunities to grow especially in Europe, in markets much larger than Bermuda.
As he enters into a new phase of his life, Mr Simons retirement plans might sound quite busy to the average retiree. In addition to serving on multiple boards, including the Adult Education School and participating in one of task groups to help develop the National Health Plan (designed to provide universal access to healthcare), Mr Simons will continue to serve on the board of Somers Isles Insurance Company Ltd.
In his free time, Mr Simons plans on enjoying playing golf and tennis, gardening, as well as spending time with his wife and visiting with his three-week-old granddaughter Lauren, who was named after an Argus colleague.
Looking back over his career, he said he has no regrets, and will be smiling on the way out the double doors of their new headquarters, knowing that he is leaving the company in the hands of many people he has mentored.
All change has potential to have a sad dimension but the company is in good shape, he said. When youre in, youre in — when youre out, youre out. There is little point in refusing to recognise that reality. I enjoyed my time as CEO running things and am enjoying this phase of my life as well.
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