Co–chief executive officer, Assicurazioni Generali
Born: 1958, in Italy.
Career: Assicurazioni Generali, 1983–1989, insurance-operations department; 1989–1992, head of Swiss branch; 1992–1995, head of International Activity of Europe Assistance; 1995–1996, area manager for German-speaking countries and France; 1996–1998, assistant general manager and head of group-insurance operations; 1998–2002, deputy general manager; 2002–, co–chief executive officer.
Address: Assicurazioni Generali, Piazza Duca degli Abruzzi, 2, 34132 Trieste, Italy; http://www.generali.com.
■ Sergio Balbinot became the co-CEO of the Italian insurance company Assicurazioni Generali in 2002 after nearly two decades with the firm. After acquiring a degree in business management, Balbinot went to work for Generali in 1983. He held positions throughout the company's European offices, working in Munich, Trieste, Zurich, and Paris. It was this expertise in international operations, along with his quiet and diplomatic management style, that earned him the appointment as co-CEO.
Balbinot joined Assicurazioni Generali, one of Europe's largest insurance companies, in 1983, taking a position with the firm's Munich office. In 1986 he moved to Generali's main offices in Trieste, where he joined the insurance-operations department. In 1989 Balbinot took over at the Swiss branch of Generali in Zurich. In 1992 he relocated to Paris to take responsibility for International Activity of Europe Assistance. Balbinot returned to Trieste in 1995, becoming the area manager for the German-speaking countries and France. In 1996 the company appointed him to the positions of assistant general manager and head of group-insurance operations. In 1998 Balbinot moved up to the post of deputy general manager.
In 2002 Balbinot joined Giovanni Perissinotto as co-CEO after a shake-up of the company's board of directors. The changes were a result of a feud between Vincenzo Maranghi of Mediobanca, Generali's biggest shareholder, and Antonio Fazio, head of Italy's central bank. Mediobanca, Italy's most-influential investment bank, increasingly had sought to dictate decision making at Generali, especially in regard to choosing top-level management. Fazio sought to limit the growing power of Mediobanca, and Generali was caught in the middle.
As a result of the shake-up, Generali reduced the number of CEOs from three to two. The appointment of Balbinot to join Perissinotto was designed to make the top management at the insurance company younger and more dynamic. The Balbinot appointment also seemed to be an indicator that the firm sought to expand outside of Italy, since he had previously headed Generali's non-Italian operations.
Along with Perissinotto, Balbinot did a good job of explaining Generali's strengths and strategies to investors. Known as a quiet diplomat, the new co-CEO promised change at the company by cutting costs, and promoting younger managers. Balbinot needed to restore the reputation of a company that had not performed as well as its rivals in the late 1990s and early 2000s. For example, Generali's market capitalization in 2002 was half of what it had been in 2001. "We still have a lot to do," Balbinot reported to the Financial Times (November 25, 2002).
The co-CEOs created a new sense of openness, transparency, and coherence at the company. Before the shake-up, the company's top executives rarely spoke openly, and they avoided meetings with investors. Balbinot and Perissinotto presented a three-year strategic plan for Generali, the first time the insurer had ever done so. The new plan set targets and sales goals, along with a new compensation system to encourage productivity.
Balbinot's main role as co-CEO was to oversee Generali's international operations. He immediately went to work on cutting costs by streamlining dozens of international companies under Generali's control, and he expanded Generali's presence beyond Europe. He helped to create Generali China Life Insurance, a joint venture with China National Petroleum Company. Generali opened offices in Canton in 2002 and in Beijing in 2004. Balbinot considered China fundamental to the company's future and envisioned it as one of Generali's biggest markets within 10 years of entering the country. He told Insurance Day that "our group is among the first to enter the important Beijing area and thus gain a significant competitive advantage over other qualified international operators" (February 9, 2004).
In April 2004 Generali's shareholders gave three-year mandates to its co-CEOs as well as the chairman, Antoine Bern-heim. They hoped to create a degree of stability in the company's management after several years of turmoil and rapid change. Past managers had failed to stand up to the principal shareholder, Mediobanca, and many investors assumed that the investment bank called the shots at Generali. Among Balbinot's main early goals was to persuade shareholders to take a more active role in order to free the insurer from Mediobanca's meddling.
See also entry on Assicurazioni Generali SpA in International Directory of Company Histories .
Caswell, Nim, "Generali Reshapes Board in Shake-Up," Financial Times , April 29, 2002.
"Fiasco," Economist , March, 8, 2003, p. 69–70.
"Generali Steps Out," Economist , November, 23, 2002, p. 71.
"Generali Venture Gets Key to Chinese Capital," Insurance Day , February 9, 2004.
Kapner, Fred, "Generali Chiefs Get 3-Year Mandates," Financial Times , April 26, 2004.
——, "Generali MDs to Put Emphasis on Clarity," Financial Times , November 25, 2002.