- In This Issue
A Legacy of Integrity, Service and Core Values
Aon’s retiring visionary founder Pat Ryan grew a small Chicago insurance agency into a multinational consulting firm while holding on to the values that set it apart
This article was published in the Q1 2008 issue of Aon One, March 2008.
Aon has evolved tremendously from its creation in 1964 as an adviser and managing general agent specializing in the retail automotive industry. Thanks to the vision of founder Pat Ryan, the firm's integrity, service and values have consistently remained at the core of its operations. And today, Aon is the world's leading insurance and reinsurance broker and human capital consultant.
Pat Ryan retired from Aon on Aug. 1, 2008, having built the firm through organic growth and the integration of more than 425 acquisitions. More important, though, Ryan built Aon in a manner that ensured long-term, sustainable success for the firm and its clients. Every organization Pat Ryan targeted to join Aon had its own story, but also shared a dedication to client service and to a culture built on solid values.
Those who have known and worked with Pat Ryan over the years say his vision of how to service clients has always been clear. Five years after he graduated from Northwestern University, Ryan started Ryan Insurance, which began as a broker/general agency focused on serving auto dealers. It was a leader in its space, providing advice and services to clients, and in the early 1970s Ryan extended the adviser role to include management of captive insurance companies for clients. He expanded it in 1977 into brokering specialty markets through the acquisitions of three specialty brokers: Scarborough, Youngberg Carlson and American Benefits Corporation.
The retail insurance brokerage business quickly became as successful as the original business. In 1981, the directors of Combined Insurance approached Ryan and said that they would like to buy his company, asking him to succeed Combined's founder, W. Clement Stone. Ryan declined. But the directors of Combined wouldn't give up. Having seen his success in growing Aon, they told him he could build the brokerage business, but they also needed him to lead and grow Combined as well. After careful consideration, Pat Ryan accepted the proposal, which was, in effect, a rare "upstream takeover" of a much larger company.
Wall Street liked the merger, which led to further acquisitions. In 1987, Ryan bought his first employee-benefits company, Miller Mason & Dickinson, to further diversify his business. In the same year, to give new meaning to the growing firm, he renamed his company "Aon," Gaelic for "oneness."
"At that time we were bringing several companies together through organic growth coupled with strategic acquisition into one entity. Therefore, the name Aon was a perfect fit," he says.
Ryan Takes Aon Global
Through the late 1980s and into the 1990s, the company continued its strategy of acquisition, expanding its international footprint in the U.K., Europe and the Far East with acquisitions of Hudig Langeveldt and Frank B. Hall, among others. In 1996, the acquisition of Alexander & Alexander made Aon the world's largest insurance/reinsurance brokerage and human capital consulting firm. Today, the company operates from more than 500 offices in more than 120 countries, generating revenues in excess of USD7 billion.
According to Ryan, "The most memorable aspect of Aon's growth has been the fact that the companies we bought all had a choice when it came to being acquired, and all of them selected Aon for our culture. Each of these companies viewed Aon as entrepreneurial and client focused; a place where they could continue pushing themselves to excel as professionals."
Aon's culture truly reflects the entrepreneurial spirit and values of its founder, Pat Ryan. Known for its tradition of service, Aon puts a premium on a culture built on values. Like Ryan, Aon actively supports community programs throughout the world in the cities where it conducts business, from helping earthquake-torn communities in Indonesia to fighting HIV and AIDS in Botswana.
While he has retired from Aon, Ryan is far from sitting still. In addition to serving as chairman of the Board of Trustees of Northwestern University, Ryan is serving as chairman and CEO of Chicago 2016, the effort to bring the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games to the Windy City. He is also a proud husband, father and grandfather.
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