Canadian Underwriter

Job opening: Lead this global Top 3 brokerage’s Canadian operation

October 14, 2021   by Greg Meckbach


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If you think you have what it takes to lead Willis Towers Watson’s Canadian corporate risk and brokerage business, the job is open and it’s not too late to apply.

“We’re currently interviewing,” said Ofelia Isabel, managing director, Toronto market leader and Canada co-leader for Dublin-based Willis Towers Watson PLC, the third biggest commercial property and casualty brokerage in the world.

“We’ve already got a good list of candidates but we want to be as inclusive as possible,” Isabel told Canadian Underwriter Wednesday.

So the firm is still actively looking for a new leader for its Canadian risk and broking operation.

Brian Parsons had joined Willis Towers Watson in 2014 as Canadian CEO but left in early 2021. Parsons is now president of the risk management division of Montreal-based BFL Canada, one of the largest Canada-based commercial P&C brokerages.

For its part, Willis Towers Watson has about 1,000 employees in Canada (including but not limited to commercial P&C risk and broking), with offices in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary, Isabel said Wednesday.

In addition to placing commercial P&C insurance, Willis Towers Watson offers a variety of other services including human capital as well as benefits delivery and administration, among others.

Willis Towers Watson announced this past August that Kate Mead is the head of its Canadian property and casualty broking team. Mead was previously Willis Towers Watson’s practice leader for the United States midwest, northeast U.S. and Canadian environmental business.

In Canada, Willis Towers Watson is recruiting for a variety of positions, including candidates to work remotely, Isabel suggested.

“We are actively recruiting across all levels and across all of our locations across the country. As an organization, we are completely embracing this hybrid way of working, so we don’t necessarily need people to work with us that live where we have an office,” she added. She was alluding to the fact that in multiple industries worldwide, many employees have been working remotely since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in early 2020.

The past 18 months have been “very interesting” for Willis Towers Watson, both because of the pandemic and also due to the now-terminated agreement to merge with Aon PLC.

“On top of the pandemic we spent 18 months anticipating that we were going to merge with Aon. I think it’s very sort of public information that we lost a fair amount of talent in those 18 months, most of it sort of earlier this year. To date, we are back to the same numbers that we were before. We’re still in growth mode,” said Isabel.

Aon and Willis announced July 26 they are terminating their US$30-billion friendly merger agreement. In early 2020, the deal was approved by both brokerages’ boards. Then it was approved by shareholders in August of 2020. But in June of 2021, the United States federal justice department announced it was asking an American court to block the merger.

Although both firms are domiciled in the Republic of Ireland, a merger would have required approval in the other jurisdictions in which Aon and Willis Towers Watson operate. Instead of contesting the U.S. Department of Justice anti-trust division in court, Aon and Willis Towers Watson called off the merger, with Aon owing a US$1 billion breakup fee.

The global nature of Willis Towers Watson is a key factor in its search for a new Canadian corporate risk and brokerage business leader.

“We are really now sort of looking for a leader that’s going to embrace that global approach – that is going to be a naturally inclusive leader so they’re going to be committed to building diverse teams,” Isabel said.

“They’re going to look for different voices different opportunities they’re going to listen just as much to the colleagues that are with us today as they will to the new people that they will bring into the organization.”

So Willis Towers Watson wants to ensure the successful candidate truly appreciates what it’s like to operate in a global organization with all of its complexities.

“There’s a lot of really great things that come from it, but there’s also a lot of things that for the wrong leader would really just frustrate them,” said Isabel.

“Our culture is also really collaborative, and I know a lot of organizations say that, but at Willis Towers Watson, you always have force yourself to have one more conversation to bring everyone along. And we’ve found that it’s not everyone that really sort of embraces and enjoys that type of culture and perspective.”


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