“I didn’t want to regret not having done my best”
10 May 2022
Matteo Scagliarini made headlines last year when he sold his family business to Howden. He explains why he took the leap of faith.
My uncle and I had always agreed that we would never sell our business to a multinational broker. We knew that they would destroy our identity, our company, and our values – everything we had built.
When my uncle started the company in 1976, Andrea Scagliarini SPA was one of the first registered insurance brokers in Italy. It stands on the shoulders of the generations that came before us: my grandfather and great-grandfather built their lives in insurance, and their legacies helped create our business. As a family we span more than 100 years of insurance history, and we didn’t want that erased by an impersonal corporate.
So when we first met Howden, I wasn’t thinking of selling the business. I didn’t even want to join a network partnership! But a mutual friend convinced me to meet Isabelle Cadignan, then Managing Director of the Howden One network, who was looking for a partner in Italy. The conversations went really well, and Howden offered diversification I knew we could benefit from. In just a few weeks we had become one of Howden’s first network partners, and the relationship grew from there.
A changing market
At first it was good vibes and a little business, then good vibes and more business. I’m used to having good relationships with good companies and brokers, but this was different somehow. Howden felt fresh, with the same values as our company, and the people were ambitious without being arrogant. In the back of my mind I started to think that maybe I could see myself on a different kind of journey with these people. I could see how being part of a bigger group could really help our company grow.
From a business perspective, I think every single company in the world, regardless of the industry it’s in, has four main challenges. Those are attracting and retaining good people, technology and data, specialisation, and scale. We were experiencing great years at Scagliarini, with 10 years of excellent organic growth. But even with our business in such a strong position, I felt that we needed to address these challenges pretty urgently.
I felt that pressure because the market is changing, very fast. For the last ten years we’ve seen big brokers offering discounts, then gradually draining the quality of their coverage and service. It’s been like the Truman Show, with everyone living in a bubble. But I think that now people are waking up to that – they are starting to see the value of true specialism and expertise.
Scagliarini has always been a specialist corporate broker, but there are niches where we’re not experts. I could see that being part of Howden could help us to fill those gaps, giving our clients access to the kind of specialism they need but that Scagliarini just didn’t have before. They could also help us with our other challenges – scaling up, investing in data, and the battle for talent.
The long engagement
After working with Howden for four years, I knew that this was the future for our company. While we had always said that we wouldn’t sell to a multinational, Howden was different – a unique player in the market. David, Howden’s founder, talks about it being the biggest family-owned international broker, and it’s true somehow. That spirit is in the group.
The final decision came when I attended Howden’s all-employee Group conference, when Howden’s CEO JMG said “If you ever have power, use that power to make people happy.” That’s something I have always believed in, in my company and career, and hearing it from the CEO of a big company was amazing to me. It was so authentic, and it was truly Howden.
So from everything I had seen of Howden, all the people I had met, and all the opportunities it offered our company, I had no doubts. It was like being engaged for four years, and then getting married – the path was clear, and I knew what to expect!
Winning the Champions League
Of course selling was a risk, but I like to play out of my comfort zone. Change is risky, but so is refusing to change when the world around you is shifting. That’s why I think we joined Howden at the perfect time – they can help us stay ahead of that curve. If we had held off because of emotional reasons, we could have been left behind.
In Italy we’ve always had a very good reputation, and always punched above our weight. But now it’s red carpets. Carriers are looking for an alternative to the American brokers, and now we’re part of Howden, they know we can deliver. We’ve seen the same with attracting and retaining talent – people knew who we were before, but being part of Howden has completely changed the game.
I wanted to join Howden because it was the right decision for my company. I’m 52, and I still have one third of my professional career ahead of me. I didn’t want to spend that time regretting not having done my best. As CEO I had the most to lose from the sale, but business decisions aren’t about personal greed. They are about trying to create sustainable value with good companions, within clear ethical boundaries, and trying to make a difference.
Sometimes people say to me “That’s all well and good, but you aren’t independent anymore.” But my attitude is, we’re all dependent on someone or something. If nothing else, we’re all dependent on the market. I feel as in control of my company now as I always have. And joining Howden has allowed us to level up.
I think of it like football. Before, we were playing a few games in the Champions League, winning one or two. How we’re in the League for the whole season, and we have a shot at winning!