When Edwyn O’Neill was appointed CEO of Zurich South Africa five years ago, he had a clear vision for the commercial risk company. His foresight went way beyond mere expansion; instead, Edwyn wanted to create something special. His opportunity came following the acquisition by Canadian-based Fairfax Financial Holdings Limited last year.

“I wanted to turn the company around and create a special place. I had an image in my head of shining a light on risk, focusing all our energy onto it, and approaching it with purpose,” Edwyn explains. “So the name Bryte, such a beautiful, warm name, evolved over time. We took a positive opportunity and rebranded.

Our greatest asset, our people, have been true brand ambassadors for us.

“It’s been a great journey for us with the change in shareholding from Zurich to Fairfax,” Edwyn adds. “Our greatest asset, our people, have been true brand ambassadors for us and the way they have accepted this new brand has been fantastic. Not only have they embraced it internally; they have taken it to our brokers, our partners and our clients. It has been a magnificent push, and in return we have received enormous support.”

Edwyn O’Neill takes on the competition

Edwyn is a qualified chartered accountant who honed his skills during 16 years at KPMG, half of them as a partner, and later with ABSA (now Barclays Africa Group). He is acutely aware of the competition in the market for protecting businesses and improving their risk profile.

Edwyn O’Neill CEO of Bryte Insurance

“It’s a very mature, competitive market,” Edwyn concedes. “Of course, the focus is absolutely on how you differentiate yourself and how you position yourself. But we believe that the talent we have in our people, as well as our unparalleled insights and proven track record of paying claims, gives us a strong and very clear point of difference.

“We’ve utilised those strengths and focused on our niche specialist lines, as well as our partnership approach to distribution partners and underwriting management agencies. Then there is the long history behind the company where the original policies were issued more than a century ago. We have longstanding relationships with brokers and customers based on loyalty and trust. We have looked after them in times of need when unexpected events have happened.”

Bryte Insurance knows its niches

Keen to take advantage of Africa’s strong market growth, Bryte is investing in innovation, automating processing through technology; and, to ensure its entire insurance value chain is transferable across countries and companies, it recently embarked on a project to replace its legacy operating platform. The company is looking to support growth in the marine liner business, property, engineering, and in the more specific areas of transport and heavy hauling.

“We will also focus on the niche areas surrounding hospitality and tourism,” adds Edwyn. “Big progress has been made on capturing a larger market share in our specialist niche areas. We have a number of supporting partners, or underwriting managers, who have provided niche opportunities and value propositions to certain customer segments. Partnering is a key and critical part of our business. Without our partners, our business would not work.

“Another important focus for us is customer care and how we measure customer satisfaction, most importantly through the independent ombudsman, who issues statistics. Just recently, among our peers, we received recognition for having the lowest number of referrals to the ombudsman for claims and claims complaints. We’re really pleased with that outcome.”

Leading with passion

Edwyn is passionate about leadership, admitting he’s driven by many of the values and principles that lie at the core of Bryte’s foundation. Integrity and honesty are fundamental, as is an entrepreneurial instinct to achieve results. He adds to that his own personal style, which is all about promoting teamwork and tossing in a bit of fun at the same time.

“The other aspect for me personally is servant leadership, the ability to be humble and to listen; to be a team player and hear what your teams are saying; to be there for them in their times of need; to show care, but also to set direction and make decisions when they need to be made. No egos, just being humble. You receive two ears and one mouth, so use them in their proportion: listen more, speak less.”

You receive two ears and one mouth, so use them in their proportion: listen more, speak less.

For Edwyn, his job is all about passion and energy, getting up every morning enthused and keen to make a difference. He achieves a healthy work–life balance through planning, prioritising, and setting goals. “I absolutely love what I’m doing,” he says.

“You need to live a certain way, right? We’re equally hard working and committed, but not at the expense of our families and the commitments that we have in our personal lives. “You need to live a healthy way. It is about your career. It is about your family. It is about your health. It is also about your spiritual beliefs. The balance that you find between each and every one of these pillars needs to be in harmony, in sync and content. Contentment is the key word.”