Axel Schmidt, Argo Group

Axel Schmidt

Brand & Performance

Editors’ Note

Axel Schmidt joined Argo from Aviva. Prior to joining Aviva, he spent 20 years at Zurich in its international business, where he held a number of senior underwriting and management positions. He also served as a member of Zurich’s Group Underwriting and Group Reinsurance Board. Schmidt graduated from Westphalian Wilhelms University in Munster, Germany, with a degree in Law Studies. He also earned a J.D. from the State Supreme Court in Dusseldorf, Germany.

Can a brand actually generate business?

All companies change, but the staff we have now – including those on our functional teams – are all a part of a known direction the company has chosen. They deliver on Argo’s well-understood strategy. They make individual contributions to our brand, which then stands as a prominent reminder to others of our combined value to them and, yes, that does generate business. Right now, the two largest reinsurers in the world say that Argo is “a very, very important partner to them.” We’re as important as the big guys because they can partner with us in a different way. They’ve selected Argo for strategic reasons even though we’re not the largest. We’re small, but because of our image, our education, and how we execute, execs at the very top level say Argo is one of the best partners they work with. What they see and experience is all part of our brand.

Is Argo’s brand known even in new target markets?

Definitely. In smaller markets, it may be even easier to be noticed for doing something innovative. In Brazil, for example, we designed, prototyped, refined, and rolled out a digital distribution model called Protector. In that smaller, less saturated market, Argo’s product took off. With significant up-take, we gained widespread brand recognition. It helps that we won awards there for our innovation. We also got quick and enthusiastic feedback, which we used to make substantial improvements to our first iteration. We’ve since taken that model to America, and again people are talking about us. Protector didn’t exist four years ago, yet became a dominant player because our brand is strong. People talk about our new platform. That’s brand recognition.

You had an impression of Argo when you joined. Was it accurate?

When Mark Watson, Jay Bullock, and others told me how entrepreneurial Argo is, it seemed too good to be true. Open to change, entrepreneurial, courageous, committed to each other’s success, dedicated to professional and personal development. Really? But when I joined, I soon saw that it really is true. That was a fantastic experience. When we have our major conferences twice a year, I hardly ever hear anyone talking negatively. Most of our employees have huge enthusiasm and passion for what we’ve done and are doing. Even in challenging times, the glass at Argo is always half full, never half empty.

What special qualities do you look for and encourage in your underwriting team?

Technical skill in product development and pricing is the first. Second, I need people who are competitive and performance driven – the kind of people who like being successful at sports. Once you’ve learned how to compete successfully on the football field or whatever, you know how to bring those skills to your business as well. Third, I need people with an entrepreneurial mindset and the drive to step up to it. I need the right balance between commercial acumen and technical acumen – that’s especially important for those in underwriting.