Wales

Profile: Admiral's Henry Engelhardt to step down in 2016

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Media captionEngelhardt has been at the helm since the insurer opened in Cardiff in 1991

With one careful owner from new and nearly 25 years on the clock, Admiral is to say farewell to the man who has driven it to the position of being one of Britain's most valuable companies.

American chief executive Henry Engelhardt will hand over the keys in a year's time.

Started in 1991, the company now employs 7,000 people, most of them in south Wales.

Admiral's idea was to target motorists who found it hard to get cheaper insurance, including younger drivers, those with higher performance cars and those living in cities.

Engelhardt initially looked at setting the business up in Brighton, as he wanted somewhere within two hours of London.

"Cardiff - we had to get the map out to find where it was," he said.

But he was impressed by the "sell" of the old South Glamorgan County Council and a £1m set-up grant by the then Welsh Development Agency to settle on the Welsh capital for his headquarters.

Challenging times

Admiral has seen record profits every year since it became a public company.

Although 2014 was an exception, it still made a £357 million profit.

Engelhardt has a taste for food analogies - following on from describing the company's performance as "jacket potato" (comforting - but not exciting like a steak) in 2013, 2014 was "Baked Alaska" (hot and cold in a single bite).

In reality, Admiral is facing challenging times as competition in the insurance market drives down prices and makes it tougher to make a profit.

It also operates price comparison site confused.com but the UK market has become "saturated," in the words of Engelhardt, with few new customers.

That is why Admiral is become increasingly focused on foreign markets such as the USA, Spain and France.

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Media captionThe new headquarters in Cardiff opened in 2014
Image caption Staff leave for a meeting at the nearby Motorpoint Arena on Thursday
Image copyright Admiral
Image caption A superhero day - the company has a Ministry of Fun to underline its happy workforce philosophy

The way the company does business has also attracted attention.

"People who like what they do, do it better" is the company's philosophy.

With that in mind, the firm has a Ministry of Fun, which organises events for staff including fancy dress days and pantomimes, while a community chest distributed £114,000 last year to charities and good causes staff were involved in outside work.

The group also sponsors the Wales rugby team's shirts.

Senior managers sit in open-plan offices with staff and they can email Engelhardt directly through the "Ask Henry" company intranet.

Neither Engelhardt or his senior team have company cars.

More seriously there is the share scheme for workers, with some long-serving staff receiving the equivalent of £30,000 in shares.

In February, Admiral was placed number five in the Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work.

FACTFILE - HENRY ENGELHARDT

Image copyright PA
  • Born Chicago, USA, January 1958
  • BA from University of Michigan and MBA at Insead, Paris
  • Married with four children
  • Sales and marketing manager with Churchill Insurance before brought in by Lloyd's Insurance to co-found Admiral in 1991 with David Stevens before its launch two years later
  • He led a management buy-out in 1999. Confused.com was launched in 2003
  • Awarded a CBE
  • Seventh in the Sunday Times Richlist for Wales - his fortune valued at £590m

Mr Engelhardt, who owns 11.7% of the company, said he was leaving to make way for a younger management team to take the group forward.

"It's a transition - I'm probably starting a downward slope and we've a lot of managers on the upward slope."

"Don't bury me yet, Guys! I still have 12 months on the job and lots to accomplish in that time."

His successor, co-founder David Stevens, 51, said he was ready to build on Mr Engelhardt's "formidable legacy" but is also talking with him about how he might continue to make his "unique skills" available.

Engelhardt added: "I can't go cold turkey, I'll help David as best I can."

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