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Stockholm syndrome

Dear Friend,

One strange thing about our annual trip to Monte Carlo is that it is often hell when you’re there, but as soon as you’re back, you start missing it.

This reaction is a bit like Stockholm syndrome, which is the term that psychologists use to describe the phenomenon that sees kidnap victims form a close bond with their captors.

Monte Carlo kidnaps an industry and locks it up for almost a week. The uninitiated will find it stressful and won’t like it at first.

No wonder — they have been stripped from the comfort of family and colleagues and transported to an alien and sometimes hostile environment.

But after a while, new interns soon adapt and start to relax — the steep hills and steps of Monaco become as familiar as home.

Nowhere else in the reinsurance calendar can you spill champagne on such a large and varied collection of CEOs, Chairmen and senior market figures.

And the gathering gives us journalists the chance to play ‘Chinese whispers’ by bouncing comments from one player to another and take rumours and turn them into stories by finding others to confirm or deny, over a glass or two.

So what did I learn this year?

The best bit of news I discovered concerns a new start-up to be headed by legendary Lloyd’s property underwriter, Les Rock.

Anyone who has ever walked around the London market with a stressed property risk will have beat a path to Les’s box at some point in the last 15 years. I remember in the hard market of 1993 he was one of a handful of players quoting primary business on otherwise unplaceable business such as Caribbean beachfront hotels.

Naturally he had a queue a mile long.

Les made a name for himself at Murray Lawrence before moving to DP Mann, which then became part of Berkshire Hathaway’s Faraday operation. In 2002 he joined the newly-formed Heritage underwriting as active underwriter of short-tail syndicate 1200.

At Heritage, Les oversaw growth in premium income from £32m in 2002 to £130m in 2004 and £150m for 2005. In 2006 capacity increased to £215m. Back in May he parted company with the agency in a shock resignation just before its August IPO on the London stock exchange’s Alternative Investment Market (AIM).

Since that moment I had assumed he had not retired and was working on something.

Well now I know my hunch was right – the story seemed to be the open secret of Monte Carlo. Fund-raising is ongoing for a new $500m-$1bn start up.

I don’t have any other details as yet, but I promise I’ll be back with more details as soon as I get more.

No wonder I miss Monte Carlo!

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