Christian Mumenthaler: More Than Just Swissness for Swiss Re

Christian Mumenthaler, Swiss Re

Christian Mumenthaler, Swiss Re

With the appointment of Christian Mumenthaler, Swiss Re has put a Swiss citizen in charge for the first time in more than a decade. The new strong man is more ambitious in any case than simply adding 'Swissness' to the company executive.

«The nomination of Christian Mumenthaler, 46, demonstrates both the depth of Swiss Re's talent and the importance of maintaining Swiss Re's distinctive culture,» Swiss Re said in a statement today, announcing the appointment of its new chief executive officer. Looking back over its recent past, one is tempted to say, 'maintaining Swiss Re's distinctive Swiss culture'.

It's been 13 years since Walter Kielholz (pictured below) resigned from his post at the top of the Zurich-based reinsurer, one of Switzerland's most expensive company's as measured by market capitalization. Kielholz was the last Swiss CEO before Mumenthaler. Between the two, Swiss Re ascended to claim the top spot among reinsurers and descended equally rapidly to almost fold during the financial crisis.

Today, Swiss Re is fine again, with a Swiss manager in charge – and it may soon embark on its next growth strategy.

kielholz 500

With Coomber to the Top

In January 2003, Swiss Re put another company dinosaur in charge – John Coomber (pictured below), a British citizen with three decades of loyal service. He took over at a time when the situation of the reinsurer was much less formidable than today. His main task was to return the company to steady growth after the losses at the turn of the millenium.

Coomber was more or less successful. When he passed the company on in 2006, Swiss Re was back on track and had assumed the No. 1 position within the industry by taking over GE Insurance Solutions.

 Coomber 500

Offside With Aigrain

Jacques Aigrain, his successor, wanted to use the strong capital base of the company to boost profitability. The manager, who had risen through the ranks at J.P. Morgan, launched a large-scale spending spree in derivates and managed to drive the company into the wall.

When the financial crisis hit, Swiss Re returned to losses, posting a whopping 864 million francs net loss in 2008. Aigrin had to ask Warren Buffett for a capital injection to keep going.

Lippe: Clearing Up the Mess

Aigrain (pictured below) left the commando bridge at the beginning of 2009. His German successor, Stefan Lippe, was forced to clean up the mess. The pride of Switzerland's financial services industry cut 10,000 jobs within a year, but managed to return to profit by the end of 2009.

Aigrain 500

Michel Liès, who had taken over from Lippe in 2012, has been able to build on the strong foundations laid by Lippe. Liès was a surprise choice, but profit has almost doubled over the past four years under his guidance and the capital base has been raised.

Mr. Switzerland

Now, the turn is on a Swiss manager again. The choice of Mumenthaler, 46, suggests that the reinsurer wants to strengthen the Swiss component of the company. The new CEO after all is known as 'Mr. Switzerland' within the company.

Mumenthaler has had a stellar career: a biologist by training, he studied at the two prestigious universities ETH Zurich and EPFL in Lausanne. He took a job in consulting in 1997 and switched to Swiss Re two years later. In 2005, at the tender age of 37, he was chief risk officer and member of the board.

A Young Global Leader

As expert on risks, the manager made himself a name lecturing about the dangers of obesity and hurricanes. At the WEF, he was made a «Young Global Leader», in recognition of his achievements.

His obsession about risks is well founded: Swiss Re was founded in response to the fatal fire in the city of Glarus in 1861, which gutted two thirds of the magnificent town in the namesake Alpine canton. In 2011, Mumenthaler had already taken the last step before today's nomination: He took charge of the Reinsurance division, the biggest unit and responsible for 85 percent of the company's revenue.

Kiehlholz Is Still Going Strong

Mumenthaler is now where he wanted to be. The board of directors, which elected the loyal servant, ironically is chaired by Kielholz, the last Swiss CEO before Mumenthaler.

The latest addition to the cream of Switzerland's managerial guild is ambitious. Return-on-equity targets won't suffice. Mumenthaler is much more likely to step into next gear: in the autumn, he told «insurance day» news portal, taking reference to a wave of mergers in the industry: The winners have all reason to be optimistic.




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