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Matthew Moore: High and low

He quotes Marxist philosophy and evolutionary psychology; he loves the films of Kurosawa. Matthew Moore is the atypical London market guy who never expected to be leading an international insurance business

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Matthew Moore, president and managing director of Liberty Specialty Markets - Credit:
Andy Lane

He may be missing fine dining in the City, but Matthew Moore believes there are compensations to lockdown life. “My wife is a good cook,” he says with evident relish.

He’s also enjoying the relative freedom from that “classic business executive paradigm”.

“I haven’t missed that at all – the hotels, the airports. I get to spend more time with my family, which is fantastic. I miss seeing people around the world, but I don’t miss my commute.”

The president and managing director of Liberty Specialty Markets (LSM) is a London market man, through and through. And perhaps it is that sense of belonging that he misses alongside the eating out.

That said, it didn’t stop him from venturing into Chelsea to visit his favourite Japanese restaurant on the first day it re-opened. “My withdrawal symptoms were such that I was prepared to go high-end straight away,” he says wistfully.

However, when it comes to the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on his business, Moore is more matter-of-fact.

“I think the crisis management process so far has worked incredibly well – both Liberty and the market have done well in their crisis response,” he says. “I fully subscribe to the benefits of remote working, but it’s largely been through the lens of crisis response.”

“We can’t put at peril some of the things that make the London market so effective,” he goes on. “Ultimately we are here to solve our customers’ problems, help people build careers, and get some great results for our investors, and the jury is out on whether you can do that remotely at scale, to the exclusion of face-to-face collaboration.”

This continues a theme that Moore introduced on his appointment as chair of the London Market Group (LMG) in January this year.

“I absolutely believe that London is unique, and our ability to co-operate for the wider good is a great strength,” he said at the time. “But it needs to go hand in hand with a sense of reality that we can organise ourselves better for the good of our clients, our people and our shareholders.”

Postgrad to president

Back in the mists of time, when pop princelings Hanson were slugging it out with the likes of Puff Daddy, Oasis, Will Smith and Olive for the top of the UK music charts, Moore was working as a broker at Miller – a role he held from 1997 to 2001.

However, in the new millennium he moved over to underwriting, working his way up to class underwriter of a political risk and trade credit book, before establishing himself as CUO of Liberty Mutual’s Lloyd’s operation, Liberty Syndicates, in 2009.

In early 2015, he took up the post of group CUO at Liberty Specialty Markets – the entity forged in 2013 from the integration of Liberty Syndicates, Liberty Mutual Insurance Europe and US-based Liberty Mutual Reinsurance.

Along the way, he established further London market credentials by joining the board of both the Lloyd’s Market Association and the LMG.

However, it wasn’t always destined to be this way. He recalls his first major setback following university, having previously not considered a career in insurance.

“My post-graduate studies came to rather a shuddering halt. I had to completely refocus my life onto what else I wanted to do and regain enthusiasm and focus. That was a life lesson and probably gave me a much-needed dose of humility.”

Given this apparently inauspicious start, Moore upped the ante once he got going.

“I was the active underwriter of a large Lloyd’s syndicate when I was 35, and we were a couple of billion dollars syndicate, so that was a big deal and it was a real turning point for me,” he recalls.

“That was a quantum leap because you’ve got to learn a lot of new lines of business and a lot of executive skills very quickly.

“Then, becoming the leader of Liberty Specialty Markets – that was the first genuinely global leadership role. And all the while, I’m a London market person – I joined the industry through the Lloyd’s graduate trainee scheme, so I have that stamped on me.”

Putting people first

For Moore, the journey to the top has also involved some tough lessons about what it means to be a manager and a leader.

“The hardest things are always people-oriented, because people invest a lot of themselves in the business and then sometimes you have to give [them] bad news or news they don’t want to hear,” he says.

One of LSM’s stated values is ‘Put people first’ and Moore reiterates this sentiment, but at the same time, he notes: “You might have to close down a line of business, you might have to turn off an investment – you might even have to part ways with people.”

He also stresses the importance of learning change management skills. And in his near-20-year career at LSM and its predecessors, he has seen plenty of change.

“The syndicate I joined was about $300mn [in premium] and now the organisation I lead is about $6.5bn – and it’s a global business with 23 significant operations across the world.

“That’s involved a lot of organic growth but also some degree of acquisition. You want to lead the business and make it better, but everything you do has an impact on how people operate.”

However, that process of change is also the thing that gives Moore lasting satisfaction about the role.

“Continually giving yourself new challenges is very stimulating, very rewarding,” he says. “We can talk about the profitability, which is great, and the growth – but really it’s about building a common culture where people actually like coming to work.”

Pessimism vs optimism

Moore describes his own leadership style as “pretty high energy”, adding that: “There’s that [Marxist philosopher Antonio] Gramsci phrase about ‘Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will’. I’m very thoughtful about the business, but I do have an optimism about our best days being ahead of us.”

LSM currently employs in excess of 1,900 people in 60-plus offices spread across more than 20 countries. As such, maintaining the firm’s high engagement and retention rates is very much on Moore’s mind.

He references “Dunbar’s number’ – the theory proposed by anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar, which suggests that the maximum number of people an individual can maintain effective relationships with tops out at around 150.

“I’m quite interested in that. The old syndicate I used to run was about 180 people, and now the business I run is over 10 times that. So the challenge you’ve got is how do you keep the same sense of common endeavour, the same values, the same culture,” he explains.

“The people and talent agenda is huge,” he adds. “We came from a Lloyd’s environment where pretty much everyone looked after themselves and often the HR department was really the payroll department. Now we’re in an environment where we really are supporting our people, giving them great careers, opportunities and training.”

Moore’s cultural references are also suggestive of the thoughtful, contemplative approach he takes to leadership.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, he says: “I virtually don’t watch television. I’m more of a reader.”

However, that doesn’t preclude watching the odd movie. In keeping with his fondness for high-end Japanese food, he is also “a big fan” of Japanese movies, in particular those of auteur Akira Kurosawa – and not necessarily the obvious samurai films. His favourite is crime drama High and Low.

While he is, true to London market form, a keen football fan (QPR in his case), he again bucks the blokey stereotype with his passion for art.

LSM is currently sponsoring the Titian exhibition at the National Gallery, and Moore has been free to indulge his passion after the exhibition re-opened at the beginning of July.

“It’s one of the best things that is going on in London at the moment, and is getting five stars all around the world,” he enthuses.

Different perspectives

When it comes to management, Moore characterises his style as “open, collegiate and hopefully with a good dose of dry, London market humour thrown in”.

“[I’m] eager to learn as well. Management styles have changed from that omniscient, doubt-free, fearless style of projecting onto the business, to one [that is] engaged, curious, energetic. It’s about [getting] some different perspectives.”

In both looking back at his career and looking ahead to the kind of leadership skills he wants to instil in others, Moore says: I’ve always had good bosses, that have allowed me to take responsibility and to flourish, and that’s left a mark on me.

“If you look at the roles I’ve had running big organisations, people have put a lot of trust in me, at a relatively young age, and hopefully I [can] do the same for other people – [be] supportive, but allow people the space to come to their own conclusions.”

“It’s not a command and control culture that I seek to lead,” he says.

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