26. September 2012

Martin Senn
Of Values and Added Value

How CEO Martin Senn wants to turn the Zurich Insurance Group into the best insurance in the world.

(Text) Marc Schäfer(Photo)

Since 2010, Martin Senn has been the CEO of the Zurich Insurance Group, which achieved a net gain of $3.8 million in 2011. In the interview, he speaks of standards, staff, and incentive.



Your key values are integrity, client centricity, excellence, teamwork and the creation of sustainable value. What does that mean for you and your management team?

Those are our standards of measurement. If something fails to fulfill the highest standards of integrity, serve our clients, and create sustainable value for our shareholders, we don’t do it. At the same time, we strive for excellence and work together as a global team. This kind of commitment can only come from colleagues who feel empowered to make their own decisions, enjoy coming to work, and consistently push themselves to give their best.

We have to motivate our employees, take them seriously and build trust in order to create something great together.

You worked your way up from bank trainee at the bank corporation at that time to the top of the Swiss executive management. How did that shape your leadership style?

It gave me a deep understanding of every angle within the organization and taught me that you must respect every single person in the company, listen to people’s views on things, and always ensure that they share a common understanding of the direction in which the organization wants to go.

You once said: “The Zurich Insurance Group will become the best insurance company in the world.” What does that mean to you?

It’s our stated ambition to be the best global insurer in the eyes of our clients, shareholders, and employees. That’s why we’re expanding our business in a sustainable way—the “Zurich way,” with discipline and focus. We want to offer outstanding products and help our clients understand risk and how to protect themselves against it. Through our global capabilities, we’re becoming more efficient, resilient and versatile. To further this, we need to attract, keep and develop the best employees, optimize our processes and systems, and establish a competitive edge in exchange for best practices.

You lead roughly 60,000 employees in over 170 countries. What’s your focus in this regard?

Sixty thousand employees can accomplish a huge amount. But to do this, everyone has to work together toward a common goal. One of the first things I did as CEO was to simplify our management structure and reporting lines in order to give employees a clearer idea of their place in the company. And to be better able to show them how their job can support us on the way to becoming the best global insurer.

Ann Haugh has been your new chief of staff since August 2012. Does the company have a specific philosophy in relation to women in the top cadre?

We want the right person with the right qualifications in the right job. At Zurich Insurance, women are represented on all management levels, e.g., on the board of directors and in group management. With our trainees, we strive for a balanced ratio.

You’re the successful leader of a worldwide corporation, but you still got the nickname “Martin who?”—a reference to your reserve with the media. Does that offend you?

No, it doesn’t offend me at all. When I assumed the position of CEO for Zurich Insurance, I deliberately limited my media presence. This helped me to concentrate fully on my new job during my first year as CEO.

If intangible assets could be insured, what would you want to insure?

Community. One of the worst effects of major disasters is that they don’t just destroy property but often the community along with it. We can rebuild houses, but if it were possible to resuscitate the spirit of a place and the ties of the people who lived there ... that would be wonderful.