David A. Olsen briefly considered a career in architecture during his college days, but it was a fair bet that he would choose the insurance business. His father was a marine insurance broker for 47 years with Johnson & Higgins, and besides, concluded Olsen, “People are more interesting than buildings, and insurance is a people business.”
Today, he is chairman, president, and CEO of Johnson & Higgins, the fifth largest property-casualty insurance broker in the world. After 25 years with J&H, Olsen has arrived at the top as rates have hit bottom and insurance company bankruptcies make daily headlines. As a broker, that leaves Johnson & Higgins between nervous clients who want reassurance about the solvency of their insurers, and underwriters pressing for their business.
Hard times or not, Olsen is building a bigger company. Revenues of the privately held broker were estimated at $833 million last year, up a respectable 6 percent from 1989. As a service organization, Olsen says, “We’ve got to hustle or someone will outhustle us.” J&H manages captive insurance companies for big corporate clients, sets up employee benefit plans for mid-sized companies, and advises those too small to have in-house risk managers.
Worldwide, Johnson & Higgins is beefing up its 200-plus office network to prepare for growth outside the
The global expansion is being financed out of retained earnings, an advantage-particularly right now-of being a privately held company. Do they ever think about going public? “We don’t lie awake nights thinking about it,” Olsen replies. Staying private “allows us to take the long-term view and concentrate on our employees and our clients.”