60 seconds with Bill Knight OBE

Bill Knight, OBE

Former Lloyd’s deputy chairman Bill Knight, who was awarded the OBE last year for services to financial regulation, talks to lloyds.com.

Congratulations on receiving an OBE in 2012. Tell us about the day – was it fun?

You are allowed to bring relatives so it is a great family day out. We had a really good time, my wife, my son, my daughter and I! Surprisingly, you are allowed to arrive in your car which means you have the peculiar and exciting experience of driving right through the gates into Buckingham Palace.

I received my award from His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales and I was impressed that he knew a lot about me. There were a number of people picking up honours so he did well to find something out about all of us.

What have been the highlights of your career to date?

What really stands out from my days in the legal profession is the work I contributed to privatising the British railways. It had never been done before and it was extremely complicated to design a structure that separated the infrastructure from the operating companies. And then the infrastructure part was floated. The whole process took five years of my life.

As a solicitor in the Eighties I also worked on some of the biggest City scandals, such as the Guinness share trading case and also Blue Arrow, which was very exciting.

As a solicitor you spent some time in Hong Kong and have travelled widely - what have you learned about doing business internationally and in local cultures?

Show respect and give value for money. Be open and be honest and be prompt. If you behave that way you will build good relationships. It seems obvious that these values will be recognised everywhere whether in China or in the US. But, I’m sorry to say that they are not universally practiced. Also, never forget that the people you are dealing with are just as smart as you are. 

You were on the Council of Lloyd's from 2000 - 2009 and also Deputy Chairman. But what was your first involvement with Lloyd's?

I started working with Lloyd’s on the legal side after I got back from Hong Kong in 1982. As a solicitor I was involved in sorting out legacy of problems in the market that are happily all history now. We were involved in cleaning up a number of managing agents and making sure that Names got a satisfactory deal. We were fortunate to have some very good people working on the project with us and we formed strong relationships with them.

Bill Knight OBE spent 34 years as a City solicitor, joining Simmons & Simmons as an articled clerk in 1967 and retiring as Senior Partner in 2001.

He was until recently a director of the Financial Reporting Council where he chaired the Financial Reporting Review Panel. He chaired the Enforcement Committee of the General Insurance Standards Council until its functions were taken over in 2005 by the FSA.

He was also a special adviser to the Treasury Select Committee on the FSA enquiry into the failure of The Royal Bank of Scotland. He now works as a business coach with Praesta.

Working as deputy chairman must have been a less intense time?

Not at all! When I became deputy chairman Lloyd’s was still suffering major losses. We decided underwriting couldn’t continue in the same way and that led to the formation of the Franchise Performance Directorate and the appointment of Rolf Tolle to head it.

It has been a tremendous success, thanks in large part to chief executives Nick Prettejohn and then Richard Ward, getting behind it. I’m pleased to say that I chaired the Nominations Committee that recruited Richard Ward. It turned out to be a good move!

What have you been doing since leaving Lloyd's?

I’m a business coach with a firm called Praesta. Our clients are senior executives – chief executives – or lawyers often. They may have been promoted or recruited to run a division. We also do transition coaching for people who are thinking about leaving a position. It is training for people who are about to experience big change in their lives or who want to improve their performance. It isn’t about remedial coaching: it’s about improvement.

Lloyd's has a vision to become the global centre for specialist insurance and reinsurance. How do you think Lloyd's can best make progress in developing markets?

It is worth remembering that the US was once a developing economy. By paying all claims in relation to the earthquake and fires following the San Francisco earthquake in 1906 Cuthbert Heath cemented Lloyd’s reputation in that country. So my advice is to target the key producers in a market and make long term relationships with them by paying valid claims eagerly and quickly.

You have held different advisory positions concerning regulation and oversight: what approach do you think the new Prudential Regulatory Authority should take towards regulating the insurance industry?

There is an opportunity to build a new relationship with insurers through this new structure. The PRA, which will be part of the Bank of England, needs to make an effort to understand insurance and make relationships at the highest level to do so. Dialogue at a senior level and knowledge is the key. I’m optimistic this will happen.

You have many interests outside work, from school governorships to being a trustee of National Life Stories at the British Library. What motivates you to get involved in these projects?

What I like about these roles is how much you learn. You learn how expert other people are. Primary school teaching for example is a very skilled profession and it is good to see it close up. In fact a primary school isn’t different to any service organisation and they have to be careful not fall into the same traps. So there’s always been a lot of extra-curricular experience to carry over into my ‘day jobs’.

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