Fri | Jan 19, 2018

Byles to become chairman of Sagicor after Zacca steps in as CEO

Published:Friday | March 17, 2017 | 12:00 AMSteven Jackson
Chairman of Sagicor Group Jamaica, R. Danny Williams, speaks at a press conference on the leadership succession at the company. Retiring President & CEO Richard Byles is at centre, and incoming CEO Christopher Zacca is at left.

Sagicor Group Jamaica, under new executive leadership, will look to expand within the Spanish-speaking Caribbean while seeking out a wider clientele in Jamaica on expectations of future economic growth.

President and CEO Richard Byles will demit office April 30 after 13 years in that position, while Christopher Zacca will assume that role on May 1.

A month later, on June 1, R. Danny Williams will retire as chairman but remain a director of the group, at which time Byles will become chairman.

Zacca's selection to succeed Byles was a surprise to the market. While Zacca's track record is varied, spanning both the public and private sectors, he has no experience in the business of insurance, which is Sagicor's flagship business, having began as Life of Jamaica (LOJ) before it was acquired and rebranded by Sagicor Financial Corporation of Barbados.

Additionally, it had been widely expected that the successor to Byles would have been one of his current lieutenants at Sagicor, among them Donovan Perkins and Rohan Miller.

The financial conglomerate operates in Jamaica, the Cayman Islands and Costa Rica, but its businesses are heavily skewed towards its home market where 92 per cent of its assets reside and 95 per cent of its revenues are generated.

Area of expansion

Sagicor Group last reported audited assets of $341 billion, while its annual revenues last year topped $56 billion.

"We see Central America as an area of expansion. Indeed, the whole northern and western area of the Caribbean is a massive market and the only thing that separates us, is language, and a little cultural difference. We have a good partner in Costa Rica and we intend to leverage that relationship. So we are very optimistic about the outlook not just for Jamaica, but the region," said Byles in response to a Financial Gleaner query at a press conference to lay out the succession on Thursday.

Zacca added that he would adopt new technologies and expand within the region, but that initially he needs to gel with his executive team.

"My first approach is to build on the sound foundation that I have inherited and embrace the team. I believe that Sagicor is founded on its people, coming from when Mr Williams founded LOJ. One of my tasks will be to ensure that the team feels it's together and that there is no issue with the change of leadership," he said.

Zacca is an MIT-trained engineer, business executive and investor. As a business leader, he was twice elected to the presidency of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica from 2006 to 2009, and again from June 2012 to December 2014.

He has been an adviser to the government and served on public boards, but Zacca is most known in the private sector as the former vice-chairman of the ATL Group of Companies, founded by Gordon 'Butch' Stewart, and one-time head of the national airline Air Jamaica, when Stewart and his partners had taken it over.

Zacca's most recent position was that of chairman of the state-owned National Health Fund, an appointment he gave up at the end of February.

In discussing immediate challenges, both Byles and Zacca slammed Government's plan to charge GCT on group health insurance premiums as an unfortunate means of aiding it to fill a revenue shortfall.

"I think the tax on health insurance is a very short-term problem and we have to look at that. I fully support Sagicor's position on that. Speaking as the former chairman of the National Health Fund, I have some experience with the public health sector and I think it would damage the public health sector by putting more burden on the public health sector, which is totally underfunded," said Zacca.

During his 13 year tenure as president and CEO, Byles oversaw the acquisition and assimilation of a number of entities, including the First Life Insurance Company, Blue Cross, PanCaribbean and RBC Royal Bank Jamaica operations, as well as the evolution of insurance giant Life of Jamaica, to insurance and banking conglomerate Sagicor Group Jamaica.

"The executive will focus on new markets and products, so there is never really any shortage of growth prospects. I am interested in seeing Jamaica grow quicker so that opportunities open up for greater growth, rather than taking somebody's market share, but expanding the pie. So I am very interested and enthusiastic for economic growth," said Byles.

Added Williams: "Richard has served brilliantly as president and CEO of Sagicor and with great distinction. With his appointment to the post as chairman, we will continue to benefit from his expertise in an elevated capacity."

Sagicor Financial CEO Dodridge Miller, in a message delivered at the press conference, expressed regret at Richard's "stepping down" but welcomed Zacca. PanJam Investment Limited, which owns nearly one-third of Sagicor Group, indicated through its Chairman & CEO Stephen Facey that they backed Zacca's appointment.