Profile: Clive Cowdery
Wednesday 12 August 2009
Having pocketed a fortune of close to £150m after the sale of the first incarnation of Resolution to Pearl for £5bn, Clive Cowdery is back in the hunt for a second.
Still only in his mid-40s, Cowdery wants to create a new UK super-insurer, with Friends Provident as the first piece of the jigsaw. But does he really deserve the title entrepreneur, or is he simply a sharp-suited salesman with an eye for the main chance? Cowdery is one of those businessmen who has succeeded on the basis of his talent rather than his education. He left school with no A-levels and went to work as an insurance salesman in Cornwall, before moving into consultancy developing insurance products. He then set up an insurance business for the Rothschild family and also worked with Scottish Amicable before moving on to General Electric, the US conglomerate which operates on ruthlessly Darwinian principles. Despite his entrepreneurial bent, Cowdery he thrived in GE's hothouse atmosphere but walked out in 2004 to set up Resolution after spotting an opportunity in the life insurance industry.
His plan was to buy up life insurance companies that had been closed to new business – so-called "zombie funds" – and bolt them together, saving millions by cutting down on back-office costs. It worked a treat and Cowdery became a made man in the City.
Cowdery has always shown an impressive ability to sell himself and his ideas to financiers of the highest echelon. He has also picked up friends along the way to whom he has remained fiercely loyal: Mike Biggs, the beer-drinking, cigarette-smoking former Norwich Union finance chief, Alex Child-Villiers, the suave (if rather aloof) PR man and, more recently, John Tiner, the former boss of the Financial Services Authority. Supporters speak fondly of Cowdery's enthusiasm, energy and intelligence. However, he also has a dark side and has picked up his fair share of enemies along the way. Cowdery is very much the boss and frontman of his organisations – it is either his way or the highway. His cohorts have to be happy with being henchmen. He also has a temper and, put under pressure in interviews, the smile can fade quite quickly, as he becomes irritable and snappish.
The first Resolution saga came to an end after one of the more entertaining takeover ding-dongs in recent years. Cowdery had agreed to merge Friends Provident with Resolution to form Friends Financial, turning a zombie insurer into a live one with a platform to generate new business.
But he had lost control of the company he created – rival entrepreneur Hugh Osmond tabled a counter-bid and took Resolution off him. But the victory was a pyrrhic one because it now looks like he paid far too much.
Cowdery initially retired from the fray with his millions to run a foundation but few expected him to remain on the sidelines for long and so it proved with the launch of a reincarnated Resolution, controversially domiciled in Guernsey, and a fresh bid for Friends Provident. He is now on the way to fortune No 2 – but controversy is sure to follow.
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