Risk, Belief – and the Entrepreneur
Robert Hiscox DL addresses the Guild of Entrepreneurs’ Spring Lunch at Armourers’ Hall on Tuesday 13th March, 2018
Mr Hiscox observed that, whilst most corporate mottos are, sadly, rather bland, he unashamedly admired the purposeful motto of the Guild of Entrepreneurs – DARE, CREATE, SUCCEED – recalling that HISCOX had made a similarly purposeful commitment – professing COURAGE as one of its values. Five years of retirement had certainly offered Mr Hiscox some perspective, and, reasonably risking hubris, he was able to say with some confidence that, by taking control of a small Lloyd’s syndicate, HISCOX had certainly dared. In growing to become an international business, certainly created. And, with HISCOX valued today at more than £4 billion, might reasonably be considered to have succeeded.
He had, he said, had a wonderful career – spending 50 years building a business through ups and downs. He had learned that it was how you faced the downs made your mark. He recounted that his father died just after Robert had started underwriting at his small syndicate at Lloyd’s. It was not, he recalled, easy to persuade the hierarchy of Lloyd’s to let a whipper-snapper of just 27 have control of a Lloyd’s agency in the days of bowler hats and three-piece suits.
Mr Hiscox remarked wryly on the supreme confidence of his youth. Though tempered by the passing years, he had never forgotten that youthful zeal is a valuable asset. He was proud to have backed youth and helped foster other entrepreneurial businesses – acting as shareholder and partner to new young businesses for a while until they could go their own way. He was particularly proud of BEAZLEY. One of only two Lloyd’s-spawned businesses remaining independent.
Mr Hiscox spoke of the importance of picking the best people. He considered that common sense was far more important than intellect, and nowhere near as common as the name implies. Delegating successfully was, he said, only possible if you have chosen the best people for your team.
Something Mr Hiscox considered imperative was self-discipline. He was lucky to have been sent to a very disciplined school – and it had been drummed into him that if you cannot discipline yourself, you are not fit to discipline others. That discipline includes honesty and punctuality – doing what you said you would do when you said you would do it.
Mr Hiscox went on to speak about the “delicious freedom” of a largely unregulated sector in the early days. He and his colleagues knew that they would make mistakes since they traded so fast, but in so doing they had to learn to be responsible and decisive. He observed that the ability to make decisions and be prepared to make mistakes is sadly lacking in most enterprises. Insightfully, he remarked that it requires as much courage to allow people to make decisions and take risks as it does courage in the decision-maker themselves. In his opinion, it had become rare to find a culture of trusting people to take decisions without obsessive punishment for mistakes.
Mr Hiscox riled against regulation, calling it the biggest threat to his business when he retired and observed that it appears to have got worse! Regulation stifles creativity and initiative. Regulation, the craven health-and-safety despotism and political correctness, have, he remarked, combined to make the City a very bland place.
It was, in his view, centrally important to encourage self-reliance, self-discipline and belief in others, and that an honest approach to risk (with courage) was the surest foundation of success. Worthy of especial significance was, however, persistence. And so he concluded with what he described as his favourite quotation. Calvin Coolidge wrote that:
Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.