FRIDAY, JUNE 1: Gerald Simons is one of a select few local business leaders in Bermuda who have spent their entire career at one company. He proved what could be done by rolling up and sleeves while learning all aspects of a company business.
Yesterday, was Mr Simons last day at work at the Argus Group after spending more than 45 years at the company.
The former CEO and president was first recruited to come to Argus in 1966. Former managing director JEP Stewart, had a favourable recommendation from Col Tucker of the Bermuda Regiment about Mr Simons, who was already obligated to go away to university on a Government scholarship. But Mr Stewart “bought out that contract” and sent him away to study economics at the University of Western Ontario.
Having a keen interest in the pensions side of the business, Mr Simons is well-prepared to enjoy his golden years.
Don Burgess spoke to him about his career.
What was your first job at Argus?
My first summer I worked in health insurance and then I switched into life insurance and sales. Then I had a stint at property and casualty insurance so I moved about the company. That was the intention of JEP Stewart — to create a manager who was comfortable in any area of the company.
Was there one department you enjoyed more than the others?
I spent more time in life insurance and pensions administratively than others, but I’m more comfortable in employee benefits so my insurance training and my professional designations are in the area of health insurance and group life.
When did you have an inkling you might end up as president of Argus?
From my first interview, and long before I went to university. As part of JEP Stewart’s pitch to encourage me to work for Argus, he said ‘I can almost guarantee that if you get your degree and come back and get an insurance qualification that you’ll be head of one of the departments one day. And who knows, you might even become managing director.’ That possibility was always present in my mind.
How has the insurance business changed from when you first started?
The products have become much more sophisticated and complex. That’s best illustrated by looking at the pensions area. When I started we offered group deferred annuities. About 1980 we offered a defined contribution plan at a fixed rate of interest. In 1995 we offered in addition to the fixed interest option, we offered the opportunity to invest in equities.
Are there any other significant changes?
Pensions are now compulsory. The marketing people no longer have to go out and sell the need for a pension as the law says you must have a pension. The only choice the employee has is which provider to get his pension.
How significant was your Wellness Programme to get people to think about health insurance in a different manner?
Year over year, health care costs have risen by eight, nine, 10, 11 or 12 per cent. Premiums have gone up correspondingly, and often more because in addition to increase of costs going up, we have seen utilization go up. We at Argus are aware of well run wellness programmes that have led to declines to health care costs in individual groups. We recognize that healthy people don’t run up as many bills — there’s no rocket science to that.
If there was one thing that could bring down health care costs in Bermuda, what would you do?
I’ve been asked that question before, but it’s very complex and it doesn’t lend itself to a simple solution. We have to look at a number of things. There aren’t any silver bullets in this.
What are you most proud of in your years as president?
What pleases me most is the number of people who have joined Argus who are now doing very responsible jobs heading departments. But I am also very proud of people who have come in as juniors and have moved up into customer service; who have gone back to school.
If you had to make one decision over again as president, what would it be?
I don’t know. I’ve made so many decisions in so many areas of the years. I haven’t spent much time second guessing myself.
What are you going to miss most about working at Argus?
The people and seeing the children of employees grow up. What I won’t miss is all the increased regulation and scrutiny of everything we do. We answer to the health council, pension commission and the Bermuda Monetary Authority. Things have become increasingly bureaucratic.
As a pension planner, how will you enjoy your retirement?
I have a number of things I need to work on in retirement, including my physical health. So I have my fitness; I sing in two different musical groups; I am going to work on my vegetable garden but I am going to continue to serve on a number of boards of public and private companies as well as charities.