Where were you on September 11, 2001?
Two decades on, 9/11, remains one of those impactful events that stills has an effect on people world-wide.
In Life & Leadership, September 11th, 2001, remains one of those impactful events that affected leaders worldwide. Bermudian, Joe Rego, 🇧🇲CEO with 30+ years in the business of strategies managing the consequences of catastrophe on the riskscape, shares his insights arising from his experience of 9/11 being at ground zero.
Joe relives being in New York City on business. From a morning business meeting one moment to walking on the streets out of the Financial District of Lower Manhattan in clouds of smoke 💨 dust unable to communicate with business colleagues or family.
Imagine, how he felt, less than 2 hours later, standing on 🛣️ the 59th Street bridge around 10:30 am on looking back at a distressed city as the South tower, where his co-workers were, of the World Trade Center collapsed.
There are many unknowns. Here are some of what’s known following 9/11:
About the Guest
Joseph M. Rego, the President & CEO of the Bermuda Global Broking Center of Commercial Risk Solutions Aon.
About the Show
Life & Leadership: A Conscious Journey with Michelle St Jane, a podcast for Global and Re-Emerging Leadership creating community/tribe, a circle of influence, transcendency of compassionate leadership in the world and wider universe.
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Intro: You're listening to Life and Leadership: A Conscious Journey. The podcast that shares wisdom and strength. Join your host, Dr. Michelle St Jane's conversation on how to have a positive impact for people, planet, and the wider world. If you want to live a life of intention, to be proactive with your time, and bring your vision for the future to life one today at a time, you’re in the right place at the right time. Let's get started.
Michelle St Jane: Bermuda 🇧🇲 raises and hosts, a cornucopia of intellectual capital and an agglomeration of talent, according to J.D. Cummings. Within her shores, as evidenced by the success of the financial economy. John David (J.D.) Cummings is an American business economist. He currently chairs Joseph E. Boettner Risk Management and Insurance at Temple University.
The 2019 Insurance Fact Book writes that of the top 10 countries, Bermuda ranked number one for both US reinsurance premiums seeded:
Where do we begin?
The Bermuda market started in 1947 when American C.V. Starr chose Bermuda as part of the global insurance and investment portfolio to provide property and casualty insurance solutions to businesses and industries. Insurance development accelerated during the 1960s, but the introduction of innovative risk financing solutions, that being the Captive Insurance.
The Captive Insurance Industry was introduced to Bermuda by Fred Reiss. We will celebrate the 60th anniversary in 2022. The exchange-traded catastrophe options market continued to grow. Bermuda was by far the world's leading captive domicile by the mid-1980s. Bermuda started to play a broader role in the world's insurance and reinsurance market.
J. D. Cummings highlighted one of the Bermuda advantages as the economies of agglomeration. As said, for insurance reinsurance and the captive industry, Bermuda was responding to mega catastrophes. Providing capacity for the supply insurance companies is heavily reliant on global reinsurance markets to enable them to provide adequate primary market coverage.
Considerable progress has been made in improving risk and exposure and capital allocation. Yet we still need reinsurance for natural and man-made catastrophes. After all, it is a globalizing world with the transformation of communication and transportation technology. The world continues to shrink in time and space provoking the need to place your risk in the market. To do this you need a brokerage firm.
Bermuda is the residence of much human ingenuity. I have the opportunity of interviewing one of the key players in the market, as it matured and developed over the decades.
Joe Rego, CEO and president, Aon Bermuda. This is a leading global professional services firm providing a broad range of risk solutions to over 120 countries.
When you are in the business of the known and the unknown when it comes to life and leadership, you find Joe positioned at the intersecting terrains of realism. He has had to bring to the fore problem-solving approaches in both his life and leadership.
Joe was an eyewitness to 9/11 and the aftermath. Rated by the Insurance Fact Book in 2019 as the number one costliest terrorist act for insured property losses. I appreciate. Joe's willingness to share what he saw on September the 11th as it happened and his long journey out of a distressed Lower Manhattan.
Joe, I would really appreciate you sharing with my audience, how your career has evolved.
Joe Rego: Thank you for having me. I'm glad to be able to participate. I came into the insurance industry prior to even completing college, I attended Saltus Grammar, graduated, then went to Bermuda College for a year. Then transferred to Delphi University, Long Island, New York.
After less than a year, I decided that I should probably just take some time and reevaluate. As many people do, I took a gap year that ended up being two years. I came back to Bermuda. Then did a number of odd jobs before landing my first insurance employment with a company called Continental Re.
I spent a year working at Continental Re at a fairly low-level processing type of job. I had enough experience with it to know that the insurance business seemed like a good career choice. I ended up going back to university, finishing a degree in economics. Then I came out and was able to get a job with AIG, as many of my eras did back in the day. This is all predates companies like ACE and XL. For me, it was very much a captive insurance market. A sort of specialty niche reinsurance market. I did two years at AIG, essentially involved with their captive fronting. After about two years, I had an opportunity to join a company called Alexander & Alexander.
This was just as ACE Insurance had already started and coincided with the creation of XL. An exciting time and an uncertain time. I joined the broker side of Alexander & Alexander. They also did captive management.
Again, this was right at the start of ACE and XL. It was a very exciting, very dynamic time. It really was the beginning of the change of the landscape of insurance and reinsurance in Bermuda. Basically, the beginning of Bermuda, evolving into a major commercial and reinsurance catastrophe center for large account businesses.
I've been with AON since it acquired Alexander and Alexander in 1997. I've been continuous with the company since 1986. I have done just over 35 years.
I've always been involved in the broker side and through various evolutions. I had a great mentor when I first joined the company who then retired after five years.
Then I was given the opportunity to run the broking side of the business. We've grown, we've evolved, and we've gone through acquisitions. I've been fortunate to maintain that position. I joke with people sometimes that “I really haven't had a promotion in 30 years.” At the same time, it's been great to be able to evolve with the company.
I feel it's like a tide that rises. My career has risen with the rise of the insurance commercial insurance market in Bermuda. I'm very fortunate to be able to, to do this job, to grow with this job, and to be involved with this company for 35 years now.
Michelle St Jane: I really can see that it's a good fit because you're in the work of relationships. You're taking on the burden of insecurity. You work together to the intersection of fields between problem-solving, problem fixing.
You've been a risk manager, risk transfer strategist. Clearly, it was by choice. You were very direct in how you've done this.
Bermuda has positioned itself as an innovation sector in terms of developing and refining products and services as clients have needed them.
This is a wonderful peek into risk-scapes and risk transfer. When I look back, I had a short career in broking and I loved it actually because I like people. I like helping. When I look back at the end of the 1980s. We had the formation of ACE and XL in 1985 and 1986, which is when your career really took off.
Then we had all these capacity shortages with the hurricanes. The first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 and the managing of the risk burden.
Joe Rego: What's really been amazing to watch is how Bermuda, as a marketplace, has really evolved into a key marketplace for those catastrophe risk transfer needs, whether it be insurance re-insurance and as we've gone through various cycles.
To be able to respond to whether they be natural catastrophes, like hurricane Andrew in the 1990s, whether it’s been events like the World Trade Center that spawned the Class of 2001, as it was known. We had something like US$10 Billion capital coming to the market and to watch how Bermuda has risen and evolved, developed new products and innovations in response to those changing and those expanding needs. And that goes on.
I started off as a casualty broker. That was the need at the time, in the mid-eighties. Today we have such a diverse business. We have property-casualty, financial lines, professional lines, digital risk, we’ve got cyber opportunities.
We've got a spectrum of business. Intellectual property that's developing and things like the climate change challenges we're facing today.
Bermuda has really been a very responsive, innovative, an opt-in market. When these various challenges, these catastrophes, these emerging risk transfer needs come to the forefront Bermuda has really stepped up and evolved and become a really critical marketplace for the large accounts segment.
Michelle St Jane: Joe, you are one of my most admired leaders. I’ve had a fair whack of life and leadership challenges myself in terms of facing catastrophes.
Rated by the Insurance Fact Book 2019 of the top ten costliest catastrophes, September 11th (9/11) is number four. Joe, you were there. Could you share with us about that day? How did it start with a cup of coffee?
Joe Rego: Sure. I would start by saying yes. I was there and it was a horrific experience. I was one of the fortunate ones because I survived it.
When I think about it, I think about all those, particularly the colleagues that I knew, some of whom I had seen the day before, some of whom were friends who did not survive.
AON had I think 176 colleagues that perished in that terrible, terrible, tragedy. While it certainly has had its impact, I do think of myself as fortunate to have survived that.
My experience was that I was attending a large internal meeting of Aon colleagues, scheduled for that day. I had actually gone up on a Sunday beforehand so that I could spend the day before meeting with colleagues in various facets of the operation there.
I remember the weather being very nice for a fall day. It was beautiful. I spent the day before meeting with various colleagues and attended a dinner that Monday night before with a number of colleagues.
Just to step back a bit. The intention was that our meeting, an internal meeting, was to take place in the 105th-floor conference room, in the South Tower. Basically, we had the top five or six floors of the South Tower.
Essentially, as I recall it, the day before, we got notified that that room had been double booked and the other party was a client meeting. On short notice, we moved the meeting to a room in the Millennium Hotel across the street.
At that time, it didn't seem significant. That morning the meeting started at 8:30 AM. Yes, we started off with croissants and some coffee. We started promptly at 8:30 AM. There was a series of brief presentations being done.
I was waiting for my turn. When, as I recall, there’s this loud, loud bang, that sounded like to me, like a large truck had had a very severe backfire on a string. We were down low; in fourth-floor conference rooms. If you recall New York at that time, in the World Trade Center area, the buildings were quite close together.
You really didn't know what had happened. You couldn't really see anything. But it was enough to stop the meeting. I recall people milling about wondering what was going on. Then one of the security folks from the hotel had come up to say, “Just stay calm. We believe a small plane may have hit the World Trade Center.” “We're trying to find out, but just please stay put.” So we did that and sort of talked amongst ourselves while waiting for further information.
I guess I can't remember exactly the time frame, twenty minutes or so later we heard the second loud banging noise and realized that something terrible had happened. Then we were directed out of the building onto Fulton Street in an orderly manner. There was no panic at that point in time.
From there, I would say there were about 30 of us from that meeting, people went in various directions. I went with some colleagues and we walked down to the South Street Seaport, a couple of blocks away.
We sort of milled about there for a bit, not quite knowing what was going on. Then we just started walking north along the FDR. I would say we were probably a mile and a half away walking away from the Towers. There were people in the street looking at the smoking buildings.
I saw the expression on people's faces all of a sudden change! I turned to look at the tower and that's the point the South Tower collapsed. I would estimate we were about a mile and a half away at that point. It was a terrible sight. It was obviously in many ways surreal.
I would say that being in the catastrophe business, from an insurance perspective, you’re used to hearing about tragedies. Whether they be natural catastrophes, whether they be the Exxon Valdez, earthquakes, refinery explosions. We dealt with all that. People always hear about it. You see it on the news, you don't really connect with it until you see something like that yourself. It just brings it home. That this is not something that just happens to them. This was probably the most surreal experience of my life at that point in time.
Anyway, we kept walking and ended up in Midtown Manhattan a few hours later. Where strangely enough life seemed to be almost normal. Here you are a few miles away from where this horrible tragedy had just happened.
We ended up meeting up with a friend of mine who worked in Midtown. We walked with thousands of people out of Manhattan over the 59th Street Bridge. I was able to stay with him at his house on Long Island. That was a Tuesday.
I was able to make it back to Bermuda on Saturday courtesy of XL as they had a number of their executives in New York at the time. We were able to finally fly out of Westchester Airport on the XL company jet.
Some parts of that day are so vivid. It's one of those things that you'll never, ever forget.
Michelle St Jane: Absolutely. I remember being in New York City on business in and around the World Trade Center 10 days before.
I remember walking down the Avenue of Americas thinking these would be corridors of hell if there was an attack here. At that time there was a lot of media around terrorism kept in the news. With my risk management background, as well. I would look around and go, “oh, this would be a really tough place to be.”
Joe, as you left, were you able to reach out to your office or your family? How did that go?
Joe Rego: Well, there's another aspect of this. Where again, there, but for the grace, I was very fortunate again. As I mentioned, they made a last-minute decision that my meeting would be moved out of World Trade Center and across the street.
But, it wasn't that significant of development that I would necessarily tell anybody. I hadn't told my wife. I don't think I had told anybody in the office. Of course, after the event, there was no cell service for several hours. I think the assumption was, certainly was the assumption on my wife and I think basically most people in the office that I had been in the World Trade Center when the planes hit. There was no way at that point to contact anybody to say otherwise. I think that was particularly traumatic for my wife. My children were relatively young at the time. I know that my wife pulled them out of school. But there was just no way for them to know. I couldn't contact them.
I think I was able to finally get through, at some point when we got to Midtown. I was able to use a public telephone to let them know that I was okay. But that was probably three or four hours later. For me personally, I was very fortunate that that development happened. I still think of the tragedy of the loss of life, of all the people who lost their lives.
Michelle St Jane: There were close to 3000 deaths.
Joe Rego: Yes. And in particular, the colleagues that we lost, including a colleague from Bermuda, who was in the meeting in the 105th-floor conference room that we were displaced for. So it's one of those things that you just look back and say the randomness of life and you know, that could've been so much different.
The other thing that struck me too, is. There's no way to find a silver lining in any of this. But the fact that the attacks took place at that time in the morning. New York's one of those places where a lot of people commute long distances to get into the office. For a lot of folks, they're not in by nine o'clock, they're just getting off public transportation.
I had several friends who would ordinarily have been in the building, but the train was late, or they were just getting off the ferry. I think that if the attack had been a half-hour later there may have been an even more tragic loss of life.
That, in no way diminishes what happened. You think about those things and how they could have been different. How it could have been even worse if it had been different timing and if there had been different decisions made.
This was a horrible tragedy! It still resonates today. And I, again, particularly for my family, what must've been going through their mind at that time and those several hours that I was not in communication, I can only imagine.
Michelle St Jane: Thank you for sharing, Joe. In terms of your leadership, did it change your philosophies? Like pre 9/11 or post 9/11. Do you have any sort of clarity or wisdom to share?
Joe Rego: I think it does change your perspective and not that it took away from:
But it does make you think about the other aspects of life and how you prioritize. I think it gives you a better appreciation of some of the things that we often take for granted.
From a work perspective. I think AON responded so well and so caringly to the families, to the victims, and the survivors. I think that's part of the reason why I'm still here today, the reaction of AON’s leadership at that point in time to this terrible tragedy.
As I look at it, as my career has developed, I've been very fortunate that I've been able to work with some great people. That we've been able to recruit both from within the organization, on a global basis, and outside the organizations. These are really talented people. We've developed a great core of professionalists here.
I'd like to think part of my responsibility is to help them understand the balance of life. When you have the balance between their professional responsibility and the rest of their life and the families. I try to have that perspective.
These days I spend a great deal of my time talking with colleagues and mentoring. Just trying to help them through the day-to-day issues. I try to bring that perspective to a certain degree that “listen, what we do is very important, risk management, risk transfer, it's vital to, to global commerce, but it's only one aspect of our lives.”
You have to be able to balance it against those other very important aspects of life. I like to think that I instill a little bit of that with my colleagues at work.
Michelle St Jane: Joe, we have something else in common. We've both been widowed, and I really appreciate you sharing your experience.
Joe Rego: Yeah, I mean, terrible coincidence, I suppose, but my wife actually passed away six years to the day after 9/11, September 11th, 2007. Again, it was sudden. She was quite young, 47 at the time that she passed. She had been diagnosed with terminal illness less than a year beforehand. Again, inexplicable how that could happen to somebody so young, so healthy, who lived a healthy lifestyle.
At that point, we’d been married for, I think, 23 years. We had relatively young children. My oldest was already in college at that point. My youngest was just starting.
I think the greatest tragedy, obviously, is what my wife had to endure, you know, the suffering, and the uncertainty. But also for the children.
I look at what they have developed into as far as people as professionals. I really attribute that to their mother's influence on them more than anything. Again, I spent a lot of those early days. I wasn't home. That much business was in the market and Bermuda was developing anywhere, a lean operation. I think back to all the obligations I had, and you were out to business dinners a lot and you were traveling a lot and it was the responsibility for really raising the kids fell on her.
She did just an amazing job. I still feel for them because they lost closest friend. And, you know, I just feel that when I look at the impact on them, but they've made it through, they're doing great. Thanks to their mother’s influence.
Michelle St Jane: Yes, it's amazing to see how your children will turn out. My children were nine months, five years old, and six years old when their father died unexpectedly.
My nine-month-old son is the replica of his dad, as a father and as a husband. It is amazing to see how this legacy of being a good family man continues. I'm just so proud of him as a father and how he engages with his children.
Interestingly enough, because of course, after my husband died, I needed to get a career and take control of raising my children. And I was having two daughters and two sons. I particularly wanted to ensure that my daughters got an education and opportunities.
Now I have grandchildren. My oldest grandson is an amazing musician and extremely talented. Quite charismatic as well. These are legacies from his grandfather. It's wonderful to see how this plays out. I watched this space with much delight in the merriment moment when I see these characteristics and values.
Joe Rego: I totally agree. I think the thing that resonates most with me as I think about them today, their mother would be so proud of them. In a strange way, I'm much closer to them now than I might've been because of the perspective of 9/11 and trying to rebalance priorities. It’s difficult because there's always that demand.
Back in those days, it was a lot of hours, a lot of traveling. You just couldn't be there as much as you want it to be there. Today, you know, I think my wife is looking down and seeing not only how right the kids have turned out to be, but also the relationship that exists between the three of us, I think she'd be very happy.
Michelle St Jane: Well, my hats are off to you Joe. I remember having to parent by text and email when I was traveling on business.
In terms of your life and leadership, you've had the experience of a sudden catastrophe and a slow evolving catastrophe. Really, very few people have the opportunity to walk that last mile.
I have to say doing that with my husband was a huge thing. In terms of my wellbeing and my way forward to carry on, the keeping alive of his legacy for my children.
Joe, any last words> I love your approach to balancing and rebalancing and your generosity of spirit and sharing these stories of how life and leadership can take dramatic turns.
Joe Rego: We just have to cope. I mean, we live complex lives and there are not easy decisions. You know, we have responsibilities professionally. We have responsibilities financially. We have responsibilities to our family and our friends and ultimately to ourselves. As someone who's probably not that far from the end of a career, just keep reminding yourself that you've got to see what your priorities you've got to be able to multitask. You don't necessarily have to abandon one for the other. You have to be able to set priorities, adjust those priorities, and ultimately figure out what the key is.
At the end of the day, our time is short. You've got to have a perspective that says “there is more to life than working.”
Sometimes I have this discussion with my kids. They're both very involved in their careers. They're very intense about them sometimes. I admire that because that means they're hard-working. They've got a great work ethic.
There's also another part of it, where there is more to life. You should try to make sure that that balance is always there and that you're focusing as much on your personal wellbeing, your family, and all the other joys of life as you are on your career.
Michelle St Jane: Joe. I really appreciate your investment in our global community and sharing your unique contributions to life and leadership.
Outro: Dr. Michelle St Jane is a conscious steward of meaningful leadership in the world and the wider cosmos. Tune for real talk around life, leadership, and your conscious journey. Be ready to create and cultivate your dreams and wholehearted desires. Your support is valued. Please follow, subscribe, leave a review.
Reach out. I am interested to hear from you. Do you have a topic you'd like to explore? It would be great to have your feedback.
Dr. Michelle St Jane
Podcast Host: Life & Leadership: A Conscious Journey
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