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New AIG chief brought local arm through GFC crisis

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Former Sydney-based AIG CEO Australia-Pacific Chris Townsend has returned to the group as CEO International General Insurance.

Mr Townsend earned admiration in the Australian market in 2008 for his fight to preserve the local operation’s business as the parent teetered on the edge of collapse in the early weeks of the global financial crisis.

“We all woke on a Monday morning to find a scenario in which the world’s press and the market here expected us to be the next big US company after Lehmann Brothers to fail,” he told Insurance News (the magazine) in 2009.

He said the local operation “lost some clients in the early days”, but an innovative communications strategy involving face-to-face meetings across Australia helped to allay brokers and clients’ fears.

The basic message pushed by the AIG team was that the Australasian business was highly capitalised and had no exposures to the US operation.

Mr Townsend found that access to the directors of client companies – rather than just senior executives – was essential to prevent AIG losing businesses to rival insurers.

Employees were also kept fully informed of developments via regular “virtual town hall” meetings.

Mr Townsend ran AIG Australasia from 2007 to 2010, after which he became CEO Asia-Pacific, based in Singapore and overseeing operations in 15 countries. In 2012 he moved to MetLife in Hong Kong as President and CEO Asia.

His return to AIG early next year will see him take up a pivotal role in the restructured group, with General Insurance CEO Peter Zaffino praising his “proven track record in delivering strong financial and operating results”.

“He is a highly experienced leader in the insurance industry who knows our company well,” he said.