On Kiln at Fifty

Sir David Rowland with Kiln CEO Charles Franks unveiling the Dent Clock on 12 July

A recent study in US revealed the average lifespan of a business had fallen from 67 years in 1920 to 15 years currently. Yale University predict that we have not heard of yet three quarters of the firms that will comprise the S&P 500 in 2020. With corporate life expectancy getting ever shorter, to reach the age of 50, as Kiln celebrated this month, is an achievement made all the more impressive.  With far fewer companies reaching this milestone intact, the Kiln story reveals a few pointers on how an insurance business can lead a full and happy life.

In the same way that human mortality rates vary between Sierra Leone, Scotland and Switzerland, the nature of the industry or marketplace in which a business operates is a big factor in determining its longevity. Fortunately for Kiln, trading in the specialist insurance sector, where by the measure of the modern day, changes in consumer appetite, product innovation and technological development are all slow moving, the external environment is reasonably well suited to sustaining life. There have been more than a few bumps in the road, not least when the Lloyd’s market faced its financial meltdown in the mid-1990s, but Kiln has passed each test of its resilience.

Since its earliest days, when Robert Kiln, Tony Barnett and Patrick Bird raised £5,000 to set up Syndicate 510, Kiln has sought a distinct culture of excellence, integrity, empowerment, accountability and innovation. These values remain unaltered over time and continue to provide the backbone of what drives the business forward. Many other companies of course have their own ethical statements as is the current fashion, some quite similar, but Kiln has put its people right at the heart of everything it does. The corporate principles do not just sit as mere words on the page but are brought to life each and every day  by the underwriters, claims handlers, support staff and of course the management.

With a clear picture of the skills, character traits and qualities that combine to make an exceptional employee, selecting suitable people in the first place is critical to Kiln. The firm was one of the first insurers to introduce a graduate recruitment programme in 1973. To this day, a grow-your-own approach to talent means that most of the senior underwriting teams joined the firm from university. Nurturing high quality performers is viewed as a core executive responsibility; employee retention rates are probably the highest in the Lloyd’s market. This year, Kiln was recognised by the Sunday Times as being the twelfth best company to work for; no small achievement given the tens of thousands of businesses active in UK.

With capital in place, at the heart of Kiln’s longevity are its teams; motivated to succeed and incentivised to deliver profit, enjoying years of shared experience, working to a common cause. The firm has reaped huge advantage due to this continuity:

First, the business relationships internationally run very, very deep. Core clients, brokers and cedants have been dealing with Kiln for decades and quite often the same people in Kiln. Especially in an industry like insurance, customers are reassured by the provision of a dependable high quality level of service that Kiln offers.

Second, the style of leadership is consistent. With just 5 CEOs in the fifty years, Kiln’s business strategy has been allowed to evolve and adapt to changing market conditions. Tokio Marine, Kiln’s parent since 2008, one of the largest of the 20,000+ companies in Japan who are over 100 years old, has assumed the air of permanence and stability that the founding partners installed.

So on 12 July Kiln celebrated the milestone of reaching 50 at a black tie dinner at the Banqueting Hall; an evening of understated quality, typical of the firm’s style; an opportunity to reflect on history but also an occasion for the current class of underwriters, brokers, clients and market makers to meet. Kiln’s sense of timing, being there for their clients, at the right time, led to the commission of a clock by Dent – one of the world’s most prestigious clockmakers – unveiled at the end of the dinner by Sir David Rowland. Now sitting proudly at the Kiln office, the clock is a reminder that time is already marching on to what promises to be a bright future. 

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