Grasp of detail was chief's policy

OUTGOING QBE boss Frank O'Halloran is known to always keep details of the insurer's top 200 risks close by whether in his desk drawer or his battered briefcase when on the road.

OUTGOING QBE boss Frank O'Halloran is known to always keep details of the insurer's top 200 risks close by whether in his desk drawer or his battered briefcase when on the road.

This was part of his obsession with the detail in running the global insurer over the past 14 years.

From the New South Wales border town of Albury, O'Halloran's unpolished delivery in investor briefings often concealed a phenomenal grasp of numbers and impressive knowledge of the company that now spans more than 50 countries.

The 65-year-old could jump from discussing relative risks in the Colombian liability market, to car insurance premium rises in Poland to the annual cyclone count in the US midwest.

And with more than 125 acquisitions to his name, O'Halloran personally involved in all deals built his reputation on not overpaying.

The biggest irritant for him remained not being able to take a bigger slice of the Australian market, which makes up just a quarter of QBE's insurance book. For years he had his eyes on Insurance Australia Group. That led to an $8.7 billion share and cash offer in 2008, but IAG preferred to go its own way.

For much of the 2000s it appeared O'Halloran had not put a foot wrong, particularly through a string of counter-cyclical deals. But the shine had started wearing off in recent years after a string of disappointing results, due in part to a relentless expansion into the depressed US market.

More recently there were persistent questions about QBE's need to top up capital. And following a brutal profit warning in January, it seemed the announcement of O'Halloran's retirement was a matter of time.

Colleagues are quick to point out how much he loves the role and the business itself. "Frank's heart is in QBE he lives and breathes the place," one said yesterday.

For his part, O'Halloran said there were no plans to ease the pace until he stepped down later this year. "I will still be in the office at six in the morning and leaving at eight at night until I deliver that last result on August 17," he said.

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