Meet the head of insurance services and one of the architects of Pro Global

Richard Emmett could have had a very different career - in the music business - but instead he has helped shaped a hit of a very different kind, a Gloucestershire business which has become a go-to for some of the world’s biggest insurance firms.

By Andrew Merrell  |  Published
Richard Emmett, head of insurance services at Pro Global.

After years enjoying drumming with his group, Richard Emmett suddenly faced a major decision; the group had just won Battle of the Bands and the music business was interested, but then he was newly married, there was a baby on the way and an intriguing promotion.

Emmett chose family, Gloucestershire, business and the chance to help shape a firm which might not trip off the tongue in the county but among the biggest insurance firms in the world is very probably on speed dial. And after the best part of four decades there is quite a story to tell.

About the expert - Richard Emmett, from Pro Global

Richard Emmett, head of insurance services at Pro Global.

The root of what is now Pro Global goes back decades, during which it managed to acquire some of the most expert staff in its specialist sector - the re-insurance and insurance markets, and as it morphed into the global firm it is today, one of the architects of its success has been Richard Emmett.

Today the Gloucestershire-based firm has offices in the USA, Europe and Latin America, serves some of the UK’s biggest insurance firms, has 350 staff at its offices overlooking Gloucester Docks (650 in total), and Emmett is head of insurance services at the ever-expanding business. But his career could have been very different indeed!

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Before you really began to to rise up the ranks at Pro Global, you were in a band. How did you come to the crossroads where you had to decide between a career or the dream of rock n roll glory?

It sounds wonderful, I know.

I had left school with not quite the qualifications I wanted and decided rather than accept the university or Polytechnic place I was offered instead of the course I wanted to, I would re-sit one of those A-levels, which would give me a chance to do the course I wanted – and give me a chance to continue to play in the band.

Which is what I was going to do, but then I saw an advert in the newspaper for a job at English and American (the business that would eventually become Pro Global) – I just saw the words ‘aviation’ and ‘marine’ and though that sounded interesting.

I think I saw the advert, applied, got an interview two days later. I had to borrow a friend’s suit! I had the interview on a Thursday, got a letter on Saturday morning saying I had got the job and started the following Tuesday. It happened very quickly. And I’m still here 37 and a half years later!

So that’s how your career at what was later to become Pro Global started, with the band running alongside, but what happened to force the decision between the two?

We had won battle of the bands, had an agent and were getting some interest. It was great, but by that time I was 29, I had got married the year before, my wife was expecting our first child and I had just landed a really good promotion at work. There was only once choice.

Which brings us well and truly to Pro Global. Except when you started it wasn’t Pro Global, in fact it quickly looked like a company that was soon to be wound up?

It was called English and American and was complicated company, a pool of about 26 firms, serving the likes of Swiss Re (the Swiss reinsurance giant). It was full of some real experts in their profession and handling complex business, but then it got hit by some of the biggest blows of its age – the oil rig disasters of the 1980s and saddled with the historic asbestos claims.

It became a business handling ‘run off’, essentially winding up all these old claims and it was not expected to exist after that. My wife worked there at the time as well, and we thought ‘well, we might get two years out of the company, but that would be it’.

What was a specialist firm like that doing here in Gloucester?

It moved out of London. I think probably because there were other firms here in a similar sector – Zurich, Eagle Star, etc in the county, mainly in Cheltenham. One or two of those remain, of course.

So, one minute the firm looked doomed, and yet here we are four 30-odd years later and the company is thriving, growing, and taking on apprentices and graduates. What happened?

To start with a lot of staff left, but as it began to look at the work it did differently, there was suddenly opportunity to rise up the ranks.

It became very good at what it did to the point other firms became interested and asked it to handle work too, and then it was bought out by Tawa which saw value in it.

It began to win business, not just run-off business, but other complex high value business, and at that point Pro Global was born. E&A actually still exists, in fact that company will come to an end possibly only next year or so, but as Pro Global established itself as a creative and clever, it won the new business and began to grow.

How would you describe Pro Global now?

It works with some of the biggest names in the world. It handles everything from oil rigs to aircrafts and racing cars. It is dynamic and it handles some of the most interesting and diverse work in the insurance sector.

Without meaning to be disparaging to any of the other firms out there we don’t do motor and home insurance. No one policy is the same.

And as a place to work?

It is a great place to work, or to start work, with good people. If you train with us we have so many departments and areas that you can learn from, skills that can either take you further in the business or serve you well you decide to go off and work elsewhere within the sector. Our training is really good and our name is strong.

It sounds like Pro Global is on a continual journey. What is your role today?

People do raise an eyebrow sometimes when I say I’ve been at the same firm for 37 years, but it has been in a state of continual change. I don’t feel I’ve been working at the same business as not only has the business changed, but even now the type of work we do, the relationships we have with all sorts of businesses, is fascinating, challenging and ever interesting.

My role today is about sustaining relationships. I’m head of insurance services at Pro. Today we deal with the top five re-insurers in the world outside of China as well as household names, like Lloyds of London.

You originally moved to Gloucestershire from London back in the 1970s. Did you not hanker after a return to the capital?

I lived in London until I was about seven when my father and mother moved out to Churchdown for work and I went to Churchdown School.

Pro Global has allowed me to work in London and stay in touch with what was quite a large family we had there still, but to live here in Gloucestershire. In other words, to get the best of both worlds.

What’s so special about Gloucestershire?

I think Gloucestershire is incredible and Gloucester (where Pro has a major office overlooking Gloucester Docks) has so much potential. I think it is only just starting to realise the potential it has, but you can see change all around and we are very happy to be based in the heart of it.

We can’t let you go without returning to your first love - music and drumming. Do you miss it?

I never actually stopped in the end.

We formed an in-house band at Pro Global, to play the Christmas gigs and the like, which has been fun, and because I’m in London a lot we have another band who play in the city - but only charity events. To date we’ve raised something like £150,000 for charity. Which has been great.

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