Bermuda’s lost opportunity

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  • <B>Brian Hall</B> is shown with BFIS administrator Cathy Lapsley.

    Brian Hall is shown with BFIS administrator Cathy Lapsley.


July 17, 2012

Dear Sir,

It has taken many years to write this letter. My background is Bermudian, arriving here when I was 11. I had no chance to go to college, so joined AIG in 1958; left them in 1963 to join Fred Reiss’s International Risk Management (captive management); left them in 1969 to found Inter-Ocean Management Ltd (IOM), which turned out to be most successful due to the firm retaining a contract with Johnson & Higgins, which led on to them buying their business back from IOM in 1979, and appointing me president of J&H Ltd, Bermuda.

The company became the largest captive manager by far, and I was responsible for growing the business internationally, which ended up with 17 offices and 400 employees, around the world, with 160 people in Bermuda. In 1989, I became the first non-American partner to join the board of Wall Street giant, Johnson & Higgins. To conclude, Johnson & Higgins chose to merge with Marsh & McLennan in 1997, which prompted my retirement.

I lead in with the above only to establish credentials. I was responsible for the founding of the Bermuda Insurance Managers Association; the insurance industry’s presence at RIMS; and the insurance industry’s presence at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. In 1981 I joined the Insurance Advisory Committee of the Bermuda Ministry of Finance, and shortly after became its Chairman until the end of 1998.

As an employer, it saddened me that, to avoid the Bermuda College, parents were sending their children to some distant relative, primarily in the US, to go to a college near the relative. They came back with inappropriate qualifications, but wanted the corner office in an insurance company, with their prime qualification being “Bermudian”.

Therefore, in 1996, I rounded up some of the business leaders for a sandwich lunch, and raised, initially at that lunch, some $2.5 million in five-year pledges to found the Bermuda Foundation for Insurance Studies, (BFIS). We developed a synergy with the Bermuda College (first two years), and the College of Insurance (now St John’s University) for the second two years, to ensure that our Bermudian scholars got the appropriate education to work in the insurance industry.

Since that time, more than 120 Bermudian scholars have acquired jobs in the industry, some actuarial, some underwriting, some financial, etc. They have interned in Bermuda, and travelled to major markets: Chicago; New York; London, to expand their knowledge. They each also had a one-on-one mentor (my mentee, Gino Smith, just called from Sao Paulo, Brazil, where, as vice president of XL, he now heads up the underwriting department, and lives with his wife, and daughter — who is totally trilingual!). BFIS also arranges an intern programme during the summer break, and over the holidays, so the scholars can work in the industry.

Because of my interest in the “next generation”, I was appointed to the Board of the Bermuda College in 1997, and became Chairman in 1998. Because of my previous view of the negative “virtues” of the Bermuda College in the minds of parents, as well of those heading up high schools, I was bound and determined to improve the public perceptions of the College. Because of the networking with the College of Insurance, particularly, I had developed a notion how to make the Bermuda College internationally accredited. My Board and I met with all student bodies, faculty members, department heads, and designed a strategic plan. It was to develop a campus (not a place to go on your bikes at 9, and leave at 3:30!). The campus would be surrounded by dormitories, so the Bermudian student could really experience “going to College”.

This would also attract students, particularly from the East Coast, to study insurance and finance subjects, which would have been accredited by the College. This would create an international flavour to the Bermuda College, which would have encouraged international networking, teamwork, and sports activity.

In the summer, the dormitories could have been provided for a business school to study and review the financial and insurance community in Bermuda. We also thought that we could acquire Loughlands, across the street, as part of this plan.

In presenting this proposal, I raised over $5 million in pledges from the international sector. The public enthusiasm was there.

On November 9, 1998, we had a dramatic change in Government. I did everything I could to see our new Premier, who was also Minister of Education, to present our vision, only to be blocked by Colonel David Burch. I never got to see her, but did get a one-line letter from her on December 31, 1998, thanking me for my contribution to education. On the same day, Randy Horton was appointed Chairman of the Bermuda College. I tried to see Randy for three months, and finally got him to have breakfast with me, at the Hamilton Princess, where he worked, apologising for being late, then not paying attention to my proposal, but chatting to the staff. The boxes of the research we had undertaken were sent to the Chairman’s office at the Bermuda College, and probably trashed. The $5 million went away!

So there is the College today, and sadly I dream of where it could have been. Of course, I am offended by the attitude of the then/now Government, and I am sure many parents have gone back to sending their kids to relatives abroad to further their education.

This experience helped me set my mind to alternatives. When I retired from J&H, I maintained an office in Bermuda, which took care of all my business activities, and I had taken my Bermudian secretary to run the office for me. When she chose to retire, I appointed ISIS Ltd., to manage my businesses for me. They had an outstanding experienced executive assistant, who thought ahead of me and “took charge” of my businesses and relationships. She lost her work permit rights in June last year. My family had moved out of Bermuda over the years, with the last departure in 2000. As a result, in 2000 I had bought a home in Virginia to be close to them, and the grandkids. It was only logical, due to my assistant’s work permit loss last year, for me to move all of my business to Richmond, Virginia, where my son has a family office practice, and we have hired an executive assistant who is also outstanding.

Other than friends, I have little interest in returning to Bermuda. I read the headlines daily, and generally get dismayed and turned off. Nowadays, I am helping with education programmes for the Boys and Girls Club of Virginia, and financially supporting the Free Clinic, Piedmont Regional Dental Clinic, the Montpelier Foundation, and other worthwhile foundations to benefit education, and the “next generation”. My contributions to Bermuda charities have declined significantly, and have been replaced up here.

I know that I am only one “observer” of Bermuda’s plight, but I do dream of what it could have been. I truly hope that all is not lost, and that there is still a future for Bermuda.

BRIAN R HALL OBE

Richmond, Virginia

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Published Jul 20, 2012 at 8:00 am (Updated Jul 19, 2012 at 5:18 pm)

Bermuda’s lost opportunity

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