27 November 2007

Michael Tripp, Group Chief Executive, Ecclesiastical Insurance

Yes, I have heard the actuary joke [that we make accountants look interesting]. I tend to turn it on its head and tell it about accountants.

Seriously, though, I can see why actuaries have such a reputation. I remember at a careers evening at my school being told to talk to a chap from an actuary firm because I was very good at maths. The firm had an office in the town where my school was; so I went along and it was all a bit awkward. Although I knew it was (and still is) very difficult to become an actuary, I was determined from that point to be as normal as possible.

One of the attractions of moving to Ecclesiastical earlier this year (I was previously with Ernst & Young) was its size. It is not enormous; so you can just about get your arms round it. I have always been interested in the fabric of English heritage, and here was a company working in this area.

We do not insure ourselves, for obvious reasons. It is the same with most insurance companies. During this summer’s heavy rains, Gloucester was badly flooded — which is where our office is based. We were without water for ten days, and have put in a flood claim.

It is not just about figures. I spend a lot of time dealing with people, both individuals and teams. A good organisation needs to have a visible leader. The board is a very able group of people with whom I discuss things, but I also get out to see what is happening with our customers on the ground.

I recently went to a service at St Paul’s Cathedral, where I found myself being introduced to the Archbishop of Canterbury. That was not in my original job description, but a very interesting part of the job none the less. The service was to celebrate the centenary of St Luke’s Hospital for the Clergy; we support them.


Christ Church, Oxford, is the only Church of England cathedral we do not insure. They are covered by the university. And we cover about 97 per cent of parish churches. Sadly, there is always a tale to tell: churches that have burnt down, like St Barnabas in Erdington (News, 12 October), or, further back, one in East Dulwich. And, of course, those damaged by storms and floods.

We also come across some incredible stories. In the recent spate of lead thefts, large chunks of the church roof have sometimes been removed in broad daylight. In one case, thieves posing as workmen tied a lightning conductor to a lorry, and in the process pulled off the whole church spire.

I love old churches. I can still hear my daughters groaning when they were children, when I simply could not pass a church on holiday without going in.

In September, I took part in the Wainwright Memorial Walk in the Lake District, together with a team of actuaries from other companies, in aid of the Children’s Society. This is one of the charities we sponsor.

I read all sorts of books about management and ways of working: Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey, and anything by Tony Buzan. I have also recently enjoyed Michael Mayne’s The Enduring Melody. I also like Dickens.

My family is very important to me. I have two daughters aged 18 and 21. I have just walked the South Downs Way with the younger one. It is quite funny, because as children they always moaned about walking. Sadly, my wife has died.

Choices are funny things. Some seem really important at the time, like which university to go to, and others stay important, like who to marry, and having a family. I do not really do regrets, except, of course, losing my wife.

I would like to be remembered for getting the best out of people, and as someone people wanted to work for and who took things forward.

The last one heard tends to be my most memorable sermon. I am a Roman Catholic and attend St Joseph’s Church in Tadworth, and always enjoy the sermons. We hosted a lovely priest from India recently, who preached so positively.

I like St John’s Gospel. I am sure I should read the Bible more, and I always enjoy the sense of spirit and might when I do. I am probably less keen on parts of the Old Testament.


I get angry about unfair queue-jumping — people pushing in. I am happiest when I am listening to music — preferably opera — or out walking. I am second bass in the Imperial [College] Male Voice Choir, which I joined nearly 30 years ago.

There is a particular ruined abbey in Yorkshire that I love to visit. It is where I can think and reflect. To switch off, I love a game of tennis.

I would like to get locked in a church with Nelson Mandela to talk about his work, or with Mozart to hear some wonderful music.

Michael Tripp was talking to Rachel Harden.

Michael Tripp was talking to Rachel Harden.

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