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Insurance Exec Memoir

Brian O’Hara shares stories and wisdom from his career as the founding president of XL Capital.
  • Meg Green
  • October 2020
  • print this page

It's Not the Score, It's the Trip: One Man's Journey to Building a Global Franchise


Brian O'Hara

Brian O'Hara


One of the forces that helped establish Bermuda as an international insurance hub is Brian O'Hara, the founding president, former CEO and chairman of XL Capital, now AXA XL.

Brian retired in 2009. Following is an excerpt of an interview with AMBestTV.

What was it that you really enjoyed about insurance? I know at first you were hesitant. You thought it would be boring, but right out of college, then you really got involved.

The industry had a very bad PR back in the day. It didn't have a very exciting image, but it belied what it really was I found, that taking risk is a lot of fun. It's real exciting. When you win, it feels really terrific. You have to be able to deal with losing because it's the nature of the beast.

You're going to lose when you're taking risk, especially large risk and especially things like when you're in the catastrophe business, where it's really out of your control. One thing that I learned along the way was that if you did lose, you always had an opportunity to make it back.

The industry cycles, which we're going through right now. Some companies or leadership, after they take big losses, retreat and withdraw. That's the worst thing you can do. Then you miss the whole opportunity to make all the losses back.

What I did and what you should do is double down when you go through a bad loss period and you know the rates are going to be going back up. You double down. That's worked tremendously.

What was it like in the early days of the insurance market in Bermuda?

I first got here in 1979 with Trenwick. I was the chief underwriting officer. There was no infrastructure. They had a bunch of captives and stuff. AIG was in Bermuda. They had moved from Shanghai, Cornelius Vander Starr, to Panama and then to Bermuda. I think it was around 1969 that Hank Greenberg actually moved the headquarters to Delaware, United States and New York.

AIG had created some infrastructure of creating some underwriters, a few, but that was about it. There was no real indigenous experienced talent on the island except for that. You had to import it all, back in those days.

Now, all these years later, our industry has been very intelligent and generous in creating major scholarship programs that have educated Bermudians into actuarial and financial and all kinds of areas. Now, the predominant insurance/reinsurance workers in Bermuda are Bermudian.


AM Best Trilogy

AM Best details the history of AM Best, credit rating agencies and the life of Alfred M. Best.

The Company—A History of AM Best

The Industry—A History of Credit Rating Agencies

The Man—A Biography of Alfred M. Best


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