On Renaissance Men

Nick Prettejohn: shortly to pursue a future outside regulation
Nick Prettejohn: shortly to pursue a future outside regulation

This week the Bank of England announced that Nick Prettejohn is to step down from the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) board. Since he had only been there for a few months, the news was unexpected although the reason given that he is ‘to purse a future outside regulation’ perhaps less so. A management consultant originally, since leaving Lloyd’s as CEO in 2005 Nick has held senior leadership positions in Prudential, Brit and L&G in addition to non-executive interests at the BBC and Royal Opera House amongst others. His is an example of a fast paced high-flying career fashioned on skills and talent honed in a wide range of roles in markedly different types of organisation.

Nick is one of  a rare breed. Those whose expertise spans a variety of subject areas and bodies of knowledge, the ‘Renaissance Men’, are struggling to get a look-in at the industry top table these days. It is not hard to see why. For an unschooled outsider, even if intellectually gifted, taking the reins of a modern insurance company is an immense challenge. The business has become highly complex, technically demanding and immensely arcane. Instead insurers have mainly been conservative in their selection of bosses; mostly favouring long-term insiders, turning to external bankers and accountants out of necessity and rarely dipping their toes into a corporate gene pool beyond the borders of their comfort zone.

Unsurprisingly insurance leaders are starting to appear a bit grey, all cut from the same cloth or at least that is a view commonly held in the media and particularly by politicians. Improving the gender and ethnic mix in the upper echelons of the industry has been one response but despite some progress it is clear that genuine diversity in the workplace, especially at a senior level, will take some time.

Of course safe pairs of hands are required in the boardroom for companies to preserve what they have and respond to the here-and-now, protecting investor and consumer interests along the way. Whether the same sorts of chiefs can tackle the bigger long-term industry challenges which are global, climatic, demographic, technological and societal in nature is an interesting question as yet unanswered. One suspects it will be difficult unless ‘new polymaths’ are attracted into our world who can bring insight, vision and invention to the solution.

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