Faith is my inspiration, says Duperreault on retirement from Marsh
Brian Duperreault is learning how to say ‘no’.
After decades of saying ‘yes’ — to the boards of publicly traded companies looking to leverage his golden managerial touch, to non-profit organisations hoping to benefit from his wisdom and guidance — the 65 year-old executive, who has just stepped down as president and CEO of Marsh & McLennan Companies, is taking the next few months to figure out what he’s going to do with the rest of his life.
“One thing I’ve decided to do is to say ‘no’ to everybody, regardless of the worthiness of the institution or the charity. Rather than be scattered in 20 different directions, I’m going to step back and reflect.
“I still feel I’ve got more to do. I’m just not sure what it is right now”.
By any measure, Mr Duperreault’s career occupies a unique corner of the executive firmament. He’s had just three jobs in 40 years, but their cumulative success and the esteem in which he’s held have made him one of the most admired businessmen in the world.
From his ascendancy to the top echelons at American International Group (AIG) to his triumph at transforming Ace Ltd from a Bermuda-based insurer to a global powerhouse and, finally, to the acclaimed turnaround he oversaw at Marsh, accolades seem to be the order of the day when talking about Brian Duperreault. People admire him, and they like him — a lot.
“It’s hard for anybody in the business not to be completely in awe of everything Brian does and continues to do,” says former head of XL Group Brian O’Hara who has developed a close friendship with Mr Duperreault. “It’s an honour to be one of the two so-called Brians, but I’m the lesser of the two.”
Don Kramer, a longtime friend and former vice-chairman at Ace, says three things set Mr Duperreault apart from his peers.
“First, Brian is a visionary. He sees things like the CIGNA deal we did at Ace and he acts on them even if he faces intense criticism, which we did,” says Mr. Kramer.
“Second, he listens to people even if he doesn’t agree with them. When I was looking to diversify at Tempest, I talked to Brian about a deal with Methuen at Lloyd’s. He flew to London, listened to what they had to say and ended up buying the syndicate.
“Third, he’s a people person. He connects with people because he really cares about them. And with this comes an extraordinary ability to identify a successor. He did this at Ace when he brought in Evan Greenberg and he’s done it again with Dan Glaser at Marsh.”
Aside from his impact in the insurance industry, Mr Duperreault has played a significant role in developing Bermuda’s charitable sector, chairing The Council Partners Charitable Trust, The Centre on Philanthropy and BIOS among other non-profits, and establishing the Duperreault Fellowship, an annual scholarship for professionals looking to enhance their credentials in the field of substance abuse. In the process, he’s forged lasting friendships with Bermudians from all walks of life.
Eugene Dean, one of the founders of The Emperial Group, says he and his partners Corin Smith and Gladwyn Simmons have collaborated with Mr Duperreault on community projects off and on for the last eight years. The multimillionaire businessman attracted the attention of the grassroots entrepreneurs in 2004 when Mr Duperreault, as keynote speaker at a UBP banquet, called for collaboration across social and political divisions in Bermuda, a position that struck a chord with the group whose mantra is Unity in the Community.
“Corin arranged a meeting with Brian at his office at Ace shortly after the banquet based on the premise that we could help him move forward with the agenda he had outlined,” Mr Dean said. “We had many more meetings after that. Each time the mutual respect grew and grew.
“What was extraordinary was how down to earth he was, how this man who was looked up to and revered by many was, in our exchanges, just like any person in the room. There was no energy to suggest that he’s any better than us. He’s a caring, compassionate man”.
Mr Duperreault, whose upbringing in Trenton, New Jersey as the only child of a working single mother was far from affluent, has a simple answer when asked about his success. He doesn’t discount his management ability or business acumen, credits his Jesuit education at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia and pays loving tribute to his late mother, Margaret, for the values she instilled in him.
But, he says, the constant wellspring from which he draws his insight is his faith.
“It’s everything. It’s the essence of who I am,” he says quietly. “He guides me in every way. I try to pray for guidance all the time. It’s the best counsel you can seek.”
The Bermuda-born, America-raised executive says the impact of his faith was never more apparent than when he was offered the opportunity to rehabilitate Marsh, the global broker/consulting firm that had been malingering through organisational and financial woes.
Into his second year of full retirement from Ace and with no plans to return to the corporate world, Mr Duperreault was in a car on his way to a golf tournament in New Jersey when he says God spoke to him.
“It wasn’t like hearing a human voice. It wasn’t auditory. But it was clear I was being told to run Marsh & McLennan, and I was to speak to a woman named Gerri Losquadro.”
This was October 1, 2007. No one from Marsh had contacted Mr Duperreault. No one was suggesting that he should come out of retirement and lead Marsh’s turnaround.
Mr Duperreault knew Ms Losquadro — he’d worked with her 20 years before at AIG — but hadn’t had any contact with her since. Although she worked at a Marsh subsidiary, he knew she wasn’t in a position to influence who the company’s next CEO might be.
“So, I think ‘Wow! This is an amazing moment’ and keep on driving to the tournament, which was a fundraiser for the School of Risk Management at St John’s University. I was the honoree.
“We arrive at the club house and I walk in, and the first person I see is Gerri Losquadro. I haven’t seen her since 1988. And she comes up to me and says ‘We have to talk’. And I say ‘Yes, we do. Apparently, that’s three of us who know this’.”
Mr Duperreault’s wife of 41 years, Nancy, who shares her husband’s abiding spirituality, says the invitation to join Marsh came three months later.
“The board called in January, he signed on the 29th, and he was doing an earnings call two weeks later,” Mrs Duperreault said.
“You know, he really felt it was a preordained destiny. Sometimes, there’s this intelligence you get that you just know.”
While his hire at Marsh was welcomed by analysts as “a masterstroke”, Mr Duperreault says that “this wasn’t a steady up” as far as the company’s stock price was concerned.
“We had legacy issues, excessive capacity, shareholder and client lawsuits,” he said. “They’re distracting. We’d take one step forward and two back.
“The stock price languished. In fact, the stock price went down after I came on board. The Street was sending us a vote.
“But if you have an idea of what the right course is, you keep going.”
Mr Duperreault says he quickly discovered that the multibillion-dollar company, with a workforce of 52,000 employees in over 100 countries, was “fundamentally fine”.
“It had great people, great products and great customers,” he said. “But it was misdirected, there was a problem with expenses and the people were dispirited. So things weren’t working cohesively. But fundamentally, this was a good company.”
Mr Duperreault had to make tough decisions at Marsh, much as he did at Ace after leading a series of acquisitions between 1998 and 2004. Reorganising units and letting people go are two of the most unpleasant aspects of restructuring, and there’s a downside to every decision.
“But you ask yourself, ‘What’s the greater good?’ You have to spend the time gathering information and then there’s comes a time when you have to make a call.
“If you figure out the greater good, you steel yourself to live with the negative that comes with the decision. But you have to do it. You have to make the call.”
As he ponders the rest and relaxation stretching before him, Mr Duperreault says there are some types of activity that beckon him.
“I do enjoy running things,” he said. “I‘m pretty good at it and I get a lot of enjoyment out of it. And at this stage in my life, I get more satisfaction out of helping others become more successful.
“The mentoring side of a job is more interesting to me than doing it myself. If anything, I would be drawn to something where I could help develop talent.”
Aside from visiting his ranch and two sons in Texas, and spending more time in Bermuda where he and his wife have their home and where their third son lives, Mr Duperreault will also be focusing on Morgan’s Point, the redevelopment project he’s undertaken with partners Craig Christensen and Nelson Hunt.
“We all bring a different skill to the table,” Mr Duperreault said. “We counsel together and make decisions together. We’re so different, but we’re so tight.
“And we share a love of Bermuda. If we were motivated by less than that, we’d have given up a long time ago. We think Bermuda needs this, and we’re in a position to do it, and we’re working hard to get it done.”
Mrs Duperreault, who’s happy to have her globe-trotting husband in one place for more than a few days at a time, doesn’t believe he’s about to retire.
“The Japanese say that once you have your 60th birthday, it’s a kind of rebirth. You may have done everything you had to do as far as work is concerned, but when you turn 60 you get to choose what you want to do.
“For the next four months, Brian’s going to rest a bit, spend time with our boys, brush up on his golf game. I know he’ll try to rid the ranch single-handedly of pigs.
“But a lot of people are putting money on when he’ll be back doing something.”