“There are millions of other insurance brokers in the world. Why we crush them all? Knowing that culture is the most valuable thing.”


In the latest of our 2022 Rockstar Series we invited David Howden, CEO of Howden Group Holdings, into Home Grown’s stunning business lounge to share the lived-by mantras that took his business from 3 mates with an idea to the UK’s largest insurance provider. Our Rockstar series showcases big names and big personalities in the business world, providing a space for featured guests to share their challenges, successes and lessons learned for fellow entrepreneurs on their growth journey.

As our members join for a glass of complimentary wine and get comfy, facilitator and branding expert Barnaby Wynter introduces one of the largest names in the insurance world to discuss:

  • How Howden came to lead a company, employing 12,000 people, spanning 50 countries and turning over £2 billion a year.
  • How he built the ultimate ‘people-first business’.
  • Why culture is everything.
  • How we insure planet earth against the climate crisis.
  • Words of wisdom for fellow entrepreneurs.

We are a people-first business

David tells the room he set out to create a business “about the people”. In the early days, he was given the advice to “look after your clients, and the money will look after itself”; for Howden this evolved into: “Look after your people, they will look after the clients, and the money will look after itself.”

How does this manifest in Howden Group Holdings today?

  • The leading insurance group has taken employee ownership to new levels. As a company, they have expanded employee ownership to a capital volume and harnessed it with massive leverage, huge stakes in private equity, and harnessed it to the internal market.
  • Of their 12,000 employees, 3,500 of them are shareholders in the business. And critically, all of these shareholders are dotted around their 50 offices worldwide.
  • Having made connections in Tanzania and Iceland, they opened offices there before doing so in France, an example of how they truly are led by the people.

“Empowerment is to give agency and accountability to your employees.”

The value of culture

No matter the industry, our guest speaker believes culture is what matters.
“We are just insurance brokers, and we’re not the smartest business in the world. Why we crush them all, knowing that culture is the most valuable thing?”

How to create a good culture

  • Get good people and empower them. “People first” does not mean “person first”. Empowerment at Howden Group is to give agency to their employees to be paid forward to the greater collective of the business.
  • A culture is created in the way you behave with yourself, your colleagues and your clients. It does not need to be complicated, simply ask yourself: “How would you like to be treated, how would you like to be rewarded?”, and act accordingly.
  • As the company grows and evolves, how do you ensure the culture remains intact? If the fundamental values of trust, friendship and empowerment are set out strongly from the start, they become embedded within the DNA of the business as you scale and grow.

Why insurance?

Howden tells the room he “fell into the industry through luck” but as he and host, Barnaby chat about the insurance world it becomes clear that this is a man who believes in the substance of what he does.

The value of insurance

  • Insurance is the bedrock, the foundation underpinning any entity. At the end of the day, almost no capital will come in and invest unless the assets are insured.
  • The real value of insurance is in facilitating the development of people, countries and technology. It underpins everything within a business and can be applied to some of the largest crises we are facing today.
  • Can we insure planet earth against the climate crisis? Yes, as we move to clean energy, insurance can facilitate this transition. Essentially, we need tech and money, but without insurance the money will not come in.
  • Climate change is here and now. Insurance can provide actual protection when it goes wrong.
  • And critically, it provides the backstop for most of the carbon offsetting that’s now going on. Who secures carbon offsetting? Insurance companies.

The future of insurance

  • In the wake of tech innovations such as algorithmic underwriting, the industry is getting better at using machines to explore data and help us predict, but last last year they paid £100 billion in catastrophe losses – things like the floods in Germany and wildfires in California which were all unprecedented natural disasters that AI had no data on.
  • AI can help gather information from clients, saving insurance brokers from asking for this information themselves.

“Get the right people and make sure your finances are secure.”

Words of wisdom for fellow entrepreneurs
Our host brings the session to a close acknowledging the room full of budding and well-on-their-way entrepreneurs who will be keen to apply these learnings to their businesses. So let’s sum up his words of wisdom.

  • Get the right people and make sure your finances are secure. Lots of good businesses fall over because they don’t have enough cash.
  • Speaking of cash, how do you manage your cash? Wherever you are on your journey, think about how you are going to fund your business. How much cash you need in the bank depends on the industry, so know your industry and act accordingly.
  • Don’t dilute too quickly – if you are bringing someone in ask yourself is it the right time? If you do make the mistake it’s OK, just buy that equity back sooner rather than later and use other tools.
  • To cap things off our guest speaker leaves us with his ultimate tips for success:
  1. Don’t take yourself too seriously
  2. Have something that grounds you
  3. Be prepared to kiss some frogs – it takes time to build a business!
  4. Do not be too proud – self-importance ruins it.
  5. Do not judge a book by its cover – you never quite know who is going to make an impact.
  6. Buy the journey, not the end game.

Watch the entire session here

If you’re interested in enriching your entrepreneurial experience and finding a strong community of entrepreneurs, investors and business leaders then contact our membership team at Home Grown.