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Dana Williams started her career in a
completely different line from insurance,
but for the past 15 years has worked in
broking, insurance and reinsurance.
She grew up in Montreal and
followed her father into engineering,
obtaining a degree in mining engineering.
After working in mining communities
for several years and gaining an MBA,
she joined Deloitte Consulting, working
with the company in Canada, the US and
Australia before joining Marsh.
Later she worked in senior roles at a
North American broker, a Bermuda-
based reinsurer and an Australian
She credits Deloitte with introducing
her to both insurance and Australia.
“I had lived here about 15 years ago
and I liked it so much I came back three
years ago. I have always loved it here. I
fell into insurance originally on the
captive side in the Cayman Islands and
on the reinsurance side in Bermuda, and
then I came into broking with Hub
US-based Hub is one of the world’s
largest brokers, and Ms Williams worked
in the operations of brokers and
“That experience has really helped
inform some of the work I do here at
Steadfast,” she says. “I really, really
know how brokers and underwriting
agencies work and that is very helpful in
a head office environment.”
She has experienced the risks that
go with brokerages and has seen the
pros and the pitfalls of acquisitions, both
with Hub and Steadfast.
insuranceNEWS April/May 2015 39
Steadfast chief operating officer Dana Williams says
cultural fit and great people are key to the group’s
By Jan McCallum
IT HAS BEEN A HOLD-ONTO-YOUR-HATS
ride for Steadfast over the past couple of
years, with a public listing and a series of
The role of chief operating officer
involves bringing acquisitions into the com-
pany and ensuring seamless integration,
and Dana Williams can tell early on if a
potential purchase is going to work for
“A large part of it, in my view, is cultural
fit, great leaders and great staff, because it’s
essentially a people and relationship-ori-
ented business,” she says. “We’re really
buying the whole entity – the clients, the
people – so we get a very good sense early
on if that’s going to be a fit with us at
There is also the number-crunching,
and Ms Williams is responsible for the due
diligence on a prospective addition.
She says acquisitions involve both hard
and soft analysis, “and they both matter”.
No one hears about the times Steadfast
walks away, but it does happen, usually for
“non-fit” reasons or price.
“We’re fairly streamlined, so there’s the
initial meetings then a discussion around fit
and then price,” Ms Williams tells Insurance
That discussion can take two to four
weeks, but the due diligence will take a
month or two and the whole process gener-
ally takes one to three months.
It has been a rapid journey for
Steadfast, which listed on the Australian
Securities Exchange in August 2013, and
for Ms Williams, who consulted to the com-
pany in 2012 on its initial public offer.
She joined Steadfast as executive gen-
eral manager acquisitions in January last
year and became Chief Operating Officer
Ms Williams enjoys the technical com-
plexity of insurance, and having worked in
(re)insurance and broking says it has
offered plenty of variety.
The job of chief operating officer can
encompass many roles, but at Steadfast
there are two primary components: opera-
tions, which is working with equity brokers
on improving their operations; and acquisi-
tions, “which is bringing new companies
into the Steadfast family”.
Once a company is acquired, she has
responsibility for its integration and
ongoing results. “I like that connection,”
Is there potential for a culture clash
when brokers, who are often entrepre-
neurial individualists, join a listed corporate
entity with responsibilities to shareholders?
“We are an entrepreneurial company,”
she says. “Many of us have worked in these
entrepreneurial companies ourselves, or
“We have the right leaders in our opera-
tions who grow with us as we become larger,
but we don’t have a lot of bureaucracy or
infrastructure that would stifle that entre-
Ms Williams says Steadfast attracts entre-
preneurial brokers who, having set up their
own businesses, can see themselves pro-
gressing further with a larger, growing
Some see career possibilities opening,
and Steadfast has a career-planning project
insuranceNEWS April/May 2015
under way to enable head office staff to
move into brokerages and broker staff to
come to head office roles.
“There’s quite a breadth of career
opportunities for people and I think they
enjoy being with us. We’re entrepreneurial,
we’re fun, we’re growing.”
Some brokers are selling as they look
towards retirement, which raises the risk of
the person who makes the business valuable
taking the money and walking out the door.
But Ms Williams says brokers want to
sell for a variety of reasons and retirement
can be managed so the principal hands
over to someone who is passionate about
growing a business.
Her team will look to match one of
those people to a business whose principal
is looking to leave.
“It’s like a mentorship.”
The younger broker might shadow the
principal for a year or two during a han-
dover period, being introduced to clients
and getting to know them while ensuring
continuity for Steadfast.
Although there is talk in the market of
fierce competition between broker groups
keen to make acquisitions, Ms Williams
finds this is generally not the case.
Steadfast attracts brokers and under-
writing agencies that are already affiliated
to the company and which see it as a nat-
The parties already know each other.
Bidding wars don’t work well and the field
is fairly disaggregated, she says.
“There are quite a lot of small and
medium brokers still out there and if you’re
attractive to them, then they approach you.”
Sometimes Steadfast makes strategic
approaches, and occasionally there will be a
phone call out of the blue.
After looking at hundreds of compa-
nies, Ms Williams says “you get a pretty
good sense if that person is going to be a
Steadfast has rapidly become a major
player in the underwriting agency sector,
buying eight Calliden agency businesses last
December and QBE’s underwriting agen-
cies in March.
Ms Williams says expansion into under-
writing agencies does not seem so unusual
when Steadfast is recognised as the largest
distributor of insurance products in the
country. She sees brokers and agencies as
the two parts of distribution, with similar
Rapid growth via acquisition always
raises the issue of integration risk, but Ms
Williams says it is a matter of resourcing for
growth, such as hiring former Lloyd’s
Australia general representative Adrian
Humphreys as General Manager Business
“We want to stay lean, but you have to
add a little bit of support as you grow,” she
says. “We resource for acquisitions. When a
couple of large ones come along we
resource to integrate them properly.”
She says the primary risks for acquisi-
tions of brokerages and underwriting
agencies are revenues and people in the
“Like any integration, it’s important
that as they join our family, people are
happy, integrate and settle in well.”
Competitors may be attacking, and
people need to be reassured that business is
going to continue, so revenues are pro-
tected in the first year.
It will typically take three to six months
for the change to settle down, but Ms
Williams notes the business will still have its
own leader running day-to-day operations.
She does not see the acquisition
pipeline dwindling, although it does ebb
and flow, with a few quiet months and then
a burst of activity. “But the process keeps
In the meantime, there are the daily
operations, such as working with brokers to
overcome the challenges of a soft market.
“In a soft market it’s even more impor-
tant to have client retention and new
business, so we’re trying to support our bro-
kers better on the revenue side, both in
client retention and new business,” she says.
With Steadfast now 18 months into life
as a public company, what keeps the job
“There’s a lot going on and these are
very, very interesting times,” Ms Williams
says. “It’s very interesting for me – and
for everyone – to be part of a growing
She says the team knows there will
be more opportunities as the company
grows, but that Steadfast will retain its
entrepreneurial spirit, in which individuals
have an amount of autonomy and the
chance to create a role that will facilitate
“We have become quite a large com-
pany with quite a small office, but it gives
you a lot of responsibility and a lot of
autonomy. There’s a lot of energy.” *
“We have the right leaders in our operations who
grow with us as we become larger, but we don’t
have a lot of bureaucracy or infrastructure that
would stifle that entrepreneurship.”