Keynote Speaker: Dennis L. Mahoney, Former Chairman and CEO of Aon Group Limited and Chairman of Aon Global
Date: 24 November 2015
Venue: Cholmondeley Room and Terrace at the House of Lords, Palace of Westminster, London, SW1A 0PW
Host Peer: The Earl of Kinnoull
Time: Reception: 7.30pm; Dinner: 8.00pm; Carriages: 10.45pm
Chair: Robert S. Childs, Chairman of The Bermuda Society and Chairman of Hiscox
(IT SHOULD BE NOTED that the views are Dennis Mahoney’s own rather than reflecting or representing any of the companies or other entities with which he has connections)
Dennis Mahoney thanked the Society for the opportunity to speak at its 29th Annual Dinner in the Palace of Westminster.
He reflected on his 40+ years as a broker and the fact that, some 12 years ago …at the age of 53, he sustained a heart attack in his office at Aon and was rushed to the A&E department at The Royal London Hospital. He quipped: “I know that despite the fact that my London flat is directly opposite Westminster Abbey and tucked behind Methodist Central Hall ……it may be the closest I ever get to Heaven ……on the other hand, my front door is no more than 50 yards from Conservative Central Office …so could that help?
“Since that near-death experience, I have promised myself to always be totally truthful to myself and others…..regardless of the consequences ….that does not mean lacking respect or being rude….. it does mean saying what you truly feel. I must stress therefore that my comments are strictly my own personal views ……they do not represent or reflect any of the companies or other entities I am involved with.
“So ……..what’s a nice East End boy like me doing in Bermuda, you may ask? “Let’s see …….no income tax, no capital gains tax, wonderful people, great weather, beautiful island, excellent fishing, scuba diving, golf …and easier to get to my weekend home in Miami than when I lived in London during the week and had to drive down to my Sussex home on Friday evenings.
“I chose to live and then retire to Bermuda …I consider it a privilege to have been allowed to own a property in Bermuda and live there for most of the year. “Of course, I knew Bermuda well because I have been doing business there since the early 70’s. Aon’s operations there ultimately reported to me for many years. Today I often play golf with old colleagues and one-time competitors I have known all my professional career. So for me it was a very obvious choice. “Upon retiring, I purchased an apartment on the ocean….. on the 11th hole at Tuckers point!
“Of course when you visit a place regularly and/or do business there…. it is not the same as living there. I must confess I had never read the local Bermuda press during any of my visits prior to being based there.
“Sadly the first thing that struck me when reading the local press and listening to the local radio was what appeared to me to be total obsession with race.
When I was born into the East End of London in 1950, the principle concern was getting enough to eat. We kids played on conveniently located adventure sites…… kindly provided by Mr Hitler and his Luftwaffe! My kids are all astounded that rationing was still in place for some goods ……that we did not have a car, a television, a refrigerator, central heating, or even carpet in some rooms. When I explain that my father was one of 14 children and I am one of 4 kids, they quickly realise what we did for entertainment of course. When people talk to me of poverty in either Bermuda or the UK today I do wonder if that means relatively…..and relative to what?
“I mention all of this to place in context my own life’s experiences. In the pre and indeed post-war period the East End was and still is the most likely first landing for immigrants from around the world. There is an excellent book entitled “East of the Thames” which chronicles this phenomenon. As a child I grew up enjoying Jewish and Chinese food because along with the Irish and Scottish populations, they were the most predominate. I never did acquire a taste for jellied eels…. but I adore bagels.
“I do not recall any overtly racist tensions…..perhaps because the Germans provided the perfect common enemy?
“So the fact that so many Bermudians of all descents appeared to view their lives through the prism of race was an unpleasant shock to me. As time went on and I made more and more local Bermudian friends of all descents, I learned that as an ex- pat, I was considered to be at the very bottom rung of the social ladder….which starts with either white or black Bermudians and then Portuguese Bermudians, Asian Bermudians and finally we ex-pats. Having started at the very bottom of the social ladder in England in the fifties…. this felt like familiar territory to me.
“Now in 2007, having commenced the wind-down of my career and towards retirement, I became an avid investor in the stock markets. Most of the time I would have the Bloomberg channel on my TV during the day as I went about my flat. At the time, I had a delightful Bermudian assistant named Jill. She was introduced through a work colleague at Aon. Both ladies are black and are good friends. We talk about race very openly and easily. My own partner is Canadian but of Indian parentage and so often assumed to be Bermudian. The point being that we are all comfortable discussing the issues of race objectively and without rancour.
“Now before I came to live in Bermuda, I was not aware of the relative rawness of the scars engendered by segregation which persisted into the 1970’s. Many older Bermudians can be forgiven for feeling that it is too soon to consign their personal experiences to history.
“Over time, Jill started to ask me questions about what she was seeing and hearing on Bloomberg……economics…..finance…..and so on. Jill is a staunch supporter of the PLP and so we began to talk about economics versus politics. Now, I have no particular political views …….but quite firm economic ones. I think for Jill, I seemed very different perhaps from the sort of stereo types that some…… and I stress some ….black Bermudians perceive white ex-pats to be. I did not go to a private school nor go to full-time university…..I do not have what might be called “posh accent”…..I suppose she almost thought me normal? In any event, we became great friends and remain so She now works for the tourism authority.
“As a result of our conversations, Jill suggested I meet with the PLP leaders – Mr Bean, Mr Burt and Mr Commissiong. Now what I took from that conversation was that all three gentlemen are highly intelligent, articulate and passionate in their beliefs. At one point they simply asked ‘so, what’s your interest in the affairs of Bermuda?’ to which I immediately stated…..’I paid $3,500,000 for this condo and gave your government $700,000 for the privilege …I would like to see my property go up in value …not down’…….just like most of their property owning supporters. Now here’s the rub ….if politicians of either the left or right allow their ideology to overcome their intellect ……which should, of course, drive their economic decisions…… then we are all doomed everywhere. Every study I have read clearly demonstrates that immigrants add more value to their adopted country than they take. I repeat: every study……from every respected institution. Angela Merkel is brave and smart in my view.
“Two years ago, your guest speaker at the Bermuda Society’s 27th Annual Dinner here at the House of Lords addressed this issue in the context of Bermuda. Most recently following the present Government’s decision to amend the rules for PRC, a very sad political discourse has arisen. The letters, blogs and other social media have been full of vitriolic exchanges. It’s as if no one understands the stark mathematical reality set out in detail by Mr McDonagh ….we are all potentially on the Titanic ….and it’s not as if PRC status confers the right to vote ….it does not.
“To ex-pats who love Bermuda, as I do …..it is tragic ……the message it sends out to the world is ‘we want your investments….. we even want your brains and hard work …but we do not want you to stay’.
“Now in the past 6 months, my private equity partners and I have acquired an insurance entity. I will now serve as the CEO of that company. I wished to both base our company and my office in Bermuda and invest in building our resources there. I had to go along with my partners to meet with the Irish inwards investment officers …….you cannot imagine what a welcome they gave us …work permits? …no problem! …assistance with locating offices? …no problem! …recruiting talent? …no problem! …acquiring licenses? …no problem! You have only to see the incredible resurgence of the Irish economy as set out in an Economist article this past week.
“The bottom line is that politicians in all countries need to present a unified face to the outside world ……to potential investors …….to potential outsiders coming to live and work there. I’m pleased to advise that I won the argument with my partners and we will be expanding our Bermuda operations substantially. “I have read books on the history of race relations in Bermuda …..I am aware ofthe past …..it is appropriate to continue the debate within the country ……but is it really smart to present a fractured society?
“I think not ……the most recent set of proposals from the PLP contained some interesting thoughts around creating an even better incubator environment for financial innovations ……Bermuda’s successful insurance / reinsurance industry and its ground-breaking development of the ILS sector are examples of what it can do. Other sectors of international business would benefit from a more robust and economic communications and energy infrastructure. The PLP’s most recent papers on this and the desperate need for investments in education are surely correct ……but why wrap them up in political / racial overtones? “I must tell you that an OBA politician once advised me that ‘we have as many xenophobes in our ranks as the PLP’ …….shame!
“I want to leave you, however, on the question of relatively…..to which I referred to earlier in the context of poverty. For much of the past 18 months, I have actually lived in the Netherlands ……..a country most of us – I dare suggest – believe to be liberal, tolerant, open-minded, fair, with a just legal system ……..a country in which everyone is a linguist …or at least speaks conversational English. We could not be more wrong ….. on all counts! “I love Bermuda and all its citizens…..it has the potential to be Singapore in the Atlantic….. I will do all in my power to make that happen.
“I thank you for allowing me to address you today and would be very happy to respond to questions.
Dennis L. Mahoney
Former Chairman and CEO of Aon Group Limited and Chairman of Aon Global
24 November 2015