Avia Collinder, Business Reporter
Jeffrey Mack, who has battled ill health for about a year, is bowing out as head of Guardian Holdings Limited (GHL) at year end.
Mack, who suffered a heart attack late in 2012, says he has fully recovered his health and is ready for new challenges after five years.
Ravi Tewari has been promoted to group chief executive officer and takes over on January 1, 2014.
Tewari has worked with GHL since 1999 and is president of the life, health and pension (LH&P) businesses across all markets in which the group operates. He is also president of subsidiary, Guardian Life of the Caribbean Limited. The LH&P portfolio is the group's largest business segment.
Mack was appointed CEO of GHL early in 2009 at a point when the insurance conglomerate was haemorrhaging under recessionary conditions. That year, the company made its biggest loss in history as chairman Arthur Lok Jack reported it then.
The following year, Mack and Lok Jack reported one of the best-performing years for Guardian following the turnaround from TT$824 million of losses to a profit of TT$425 million.
The period was marked by debt conversion and a capital infusion from International Finance Corpo-ration and the IFC African Latin America and Caribbean Fund in exchange for a 13% stake in GHL, as well as disposal of assets in the United Kingdom, whose losses had been mounting since 2008.
Mack said in response to Wednesday Business queries that after five years at Guardian, he thought it was time to pass the baton to a younger chief executive. He has worked in insurance for more than three decades.
35 GOOD YEARS
"I have thoroughly enjoyed the 35 years of my professional career. The last 10 years in particular have been focused on major and successful corporate turnarounds, and I think it is time now to contemplate the next phase of my life," he said.
"In terms of my health, I have never been in better shape. I've always been a stickler for fitness and exercise, a fact that greatly helped me with my heart attack last year, and since then, I've been even more focused on staying in the best condition I can. So yes, my retirement has everything to do with moving into and taking on fresh new challenges in my life and nothing at all to do with my health."
Mack's best performing year at GHL was in 2010 when he delivered TT$425 million of profit, followed by 2012, when the group made TT$352 million.
Year to date September, however, nine-month profit of TT$198 million is down 35 per cent year on year. The company has said it hopes to regain ground in the fourth quarter.
Mack said he would remain a director of the Guardian Holdings Board until the 2014 annual general meeting and will assist with the transition to the new CEO.
Guardian chairman Arthur Lok Jack said Mack skilfully steered the company out of trouble; shed loss-makers in the United Kingdom, including the disposal of Zenith; and grew the company's markets elsewhere during his tenure.
"When Jeff joined us in 2009, the world was in deep financial crisis, presenting insurance companies with formidable challenges. He led the group through the ensuing difficult period with great success," said Lok Jack in a media release announcing the leadership change at GHL.
"He skilfully managed the disposal of our operations in the UK and our asset management company in Jamaica, as well as the expansion of our Dutch and Jamaican insurance businesses," the chairman said.
Tewari takes over in the midst of several large projects, including construction of a 21-floor commercial complex for office leases at Pointe Simon in Martinique - a project Lok Jack reported as 85 per cent complete in the September quarter - and a resort/condominium development.
The conglomerate also continues its rebranding under one identity, Guardian Group, and has recently concluded the amalgamation of two general insurance businesses in Jamaica. The newly acquired Globe and West Indies Alliance have been merged into Guardian General Insurance of Jamaica Limited.
GHL remains on the hunt for acquisition targets, which Tewari reaffirmed last Friday, saying any new business investment must fit within the overall strategy for expansion of the group.
"This, coupled with operational efficiency and continued investment in our customer service and distribution platforms, is expected to provide the impetus we need to achieve the challenging goals we've set ourselves in the medium term," he said.
Tewari is upbeat about the job ahead but notes that there are macroeconomic constraints to consider.
"The biggest challenge facing a group like Guardian as an insurance and financial services provider is the very low interest rate environment in which we operate coupled with sustained high levels of liquidity in some instances," he told Wednesday Business.
"As we seek to invest our surpluses on behalf of all our stakeholders, our ability to generate the high levels of return overall for our shareholders is significantly impacted."
The more recent investments in Jamaica are expected to start paying off soon, he said. Investments have totalled US$50 million over two years in the core insurance business operation and real estate segment, said the CEO-designate.
"This is a strong statement of our confidence in the resilience of the Jamaican economy and market, and it indicates our expectations for eventual growth going forward," he said.
Jamaica accounts for about 20 per cent of group revenue and is consi-dered "a key market" for GHL, Tewari said. Local holdings also include Guardian Life Limited.