MAPFRE Middlesea plc CEO Felipe Navarro started working in the financial markets in 1991, and spent just over 10 years specialising in derivatives, training in equity, bonds and brokering. Then, in 2002 he had the opportunity to move from the financial market to the insurance business, and that’s when he chose to change path completely.
“In a way that means I will always be a newcomer to the insurance world,” he smiles. “At least by MAPFRE standards anyway! Most people in the company have worked here for upwards of 25 years. In the insurance sector you often start and end your career in the same company – so I guess I will always be the strange guy with a history outside the Group!”
Felipe certainly moved between two sectors that do things very differently. While the insurance markets deal with long-term goals and products that will last a lifetime, financial markets are the absolute opposite – dealing with the very short-term and products that have a maturity of just three or four months. But this was something he quickly embraced. He joined the company in the mergers and acquisitions department and, after five years, went into the bank assurance business – largely taking care of agreements in Spain. “The whole process fascinated me and, since then, I have become very fond of the insurance industry, and grateful for the opportunities at MAPFRE,” he says.
Then, having been based in Spain for his entire life, Felipe was offered the chance to lead the MAPFRE Middlesea team in Malta, and he opted to take on the role. “It was in November 2011 that MAPFRE acquired the majority shareholding in Middlesea plc, at which point I was invited to become one of the directors on the Board of MSV Life,” Felipe continues. MAPFRE International is in fact the majority shareholder of Middlesea with a 54.56 per cent shareholding, while Bank of Valletta plc has a shareholding of 31.08, and the Group is listed on the Malta Stock Exchange.
“That was my first contact with Malta,” he adds, “and I started attending meetings here in 2012, before being made one of the directors for MAPFRE Middlesea in 2013. My predecessor was then given the opportunity to move to Turkey and I was offered the position of CEO here because I was already heavily involved in activities on the island.”
But Felipe wasn’t the only one to make the move to Malta; his wife and four children joined too. “It was a big move for all of us. My wife made a huge sacrifice in giving up her job in Spain, and I owe her a lot for that. Plus, as always when you make children move, the first six months are a little challenging but, at the end of the day, they are very happy. This is a delightful country to raise children in.”
Looking at his role within MAPFRE Middlesea, Felipe says that, as CEO, he considers himself to be a leader, as well as the reference point for the rest of the company when it comes to implementing the strategy decided by the shareholders through the Board.
“To me a CEO is the person who is ultimately responsible for everything that happens within the company,” he says. “And that role comes with a lot of responsibility because it is important for the CEO to give peace of mind to the rest of the team, fulfilling the goals set by the Board. I try to be that person."
"Being CEO isn’t about laying down the law, but about trying to make the team understand how things could be better and to propose solutions to them. Across my career I have found that, by listening to people, you will discover that they know what needs to be done perfectly well, but that they might need a confidence boost or push. Enabling and empowering our team is definitely a driving force for me.”
Meanwhile, Felipe explains that there are many changes afoot in the months and years to come, both for MAPFRE Middlesea and for the wider insurance sector. “One of the core challenges for many insurance companies is the fact that, until recently, certain lines of business weren’t sustainable in the long-run because of technology challenges. Now, new core IT changes will help to make this sector more profitable because processes can be faster with better pricing strategies and more sophisticated approaches. We are making that technology change at the moment and I believe it will make a huge difference across the whole company.”
Felipe outlines how a focus on widening service offerings will help to make MAPFRE Middlesea more effective in 2019 and beyond. “Right now we’re trying to make our business more service-oriented. For instance, there’s the roadside assistance that forms part of our car insurance offering, or the home assistance package for our home insurance, both of which should be included in our policies more and more. If something goes wrong in a client’s home, our plumber will be able to come and fix it as part of the service. To me that’s definitely an important part of our future strategy and a manner in which we can add value for clients.”
Finally, when asked about what drives him on a daily basis, Felipe says that it is both the day-to-day challenges and the long-term development of the company’s strategy. “In five years’ time, I see us retaining our leadership position in the market, and my goal will be to ensure we keep providing stable results over that time and beyond. I trust that we will provide peace of mind for both our shareholders and our policyholders; that is the combination that I will keep striving for.”
MaltaChamber.org.mt is proud to be serialising MaltaCEOs 2019, a high-profile publication consisting of 50 in-depth interviews with leading CEOs in Malta. Celebrating the most influential business minds in the country, two different interviews will be featured on this business news portal week by week. MaltaCEOs was created by Content House Group in collaboration with the Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise & Industry.