JOE Plumeri, who has headed global insurance broker Willis for the past 12 years, yesterday paid a final visit to the company’s Ipswich office before stepping down in the New Year.

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Mr Plumeri, who is 69, has been chairman and chief executive of Willis since 2000, since when he has overseen its return to public ownership, with a listing on the New York stock exchange, and a period of significant growth, including the US$2.1billion acquisition of Hilb Rogal & Hobbs, the biggest insurance brokerage deal of the last decade.

It was announced in February this year that Mr Plumeri would be leaving the group when his contract expires in July 2013.

His final six months will be in the role of non-executive chairman, with his successor as chief executive, Dominic Casserly, an Englishman who has been with global management consultancy McKinsey & Company since 1983, taking up the post on January 7.

Mr Plumeri said he had a “special fondness” for the company’s Ipswich operation due to the long service of so many of its staff.

“Old values like loyalty seem to have gone away in our society but they exist here, and they are very alive and very well,” he said. “Ipswich is an important operating centre for us, but I think of it most for the dedication of its people.”

Mr Plumeri is a baseball fan – he owns two sides in New Jersey – and by way of a parting “gift” from the staff at Ipswich, an area of grass outside the company’s Greyfriars office and roughly the shape of a baseball diamond, has been named “Plumeri’s Field”.

A model of the plinth which is to be erected on the site, across the road from the main Willis building, was presented to Mr Plumeri by Mark Parker, leader of the group’s Global Services Centres, including the Ipswich site.

Although Mr Plumeri concedes that Wilis’s most recent quarterly performance was below expectations, he says the issues involved have been dealt with and will not be “baggage” carried into the final quarter of 2012 and beyond.

“But you do not measure a company over two quarters,” he adds, pointing to a 253% increase in total shareholder return since took up the reins at Willis – some four times the sector average – and a market-leading performance according to many other measures besides. “I would say I did OK,” he adds.

While his final departure from Willis next July will coincide with his 70th birthday, Mr Plumeri says he does not believe in “landmark” moments and, while he has no specific plans for life after Willis, he has no intention of retiring.

“I will get up in the morning and I will ‘suit up’, because that is what I do. Where I will go in that suit I have no idea but, to me, suiting up in the morning means you have a purpose.

“Willis will always have a special place in my heart but I will pursue other things, and I will ‘suit up’.”

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