Patrick G. Ryan

Chairman and chief executive officer, Aon Corporation

Nationality: American.

Born: 1937.

Education: Northwestern University, BS, 1959.

Family: Married Shirley (maiden name unknown); children: three.

Career: Penn Mutual, dates unknown, life insurance agent; worked at father's Ford dealership; Ryan Corporation (became Ryan Group), dates unknown, owner; Aon (merged company), 1982–, chief executive officer; 1990–, chairman of the board.

Awards: International Executive of the Year, Brigham Young University, 2002; Golden Plate Award, Academy of Achievement in Ireland, 2002; Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans Award; Crain's Chicago Business Executive of the Year Award, 1997.

Address: Aon Corporation, Aon Center, 200 East Randolph, Chicago, Illinois 60601;

■ Patrick G. Ryan started out selling insurance policies at his father's car dealership in 1964 and eventually created his own company. He first sold warranties and then moved to other products, taking his business to Chicago. He hoped to "go national and create specialty insurance agents for every industry" ( Forbes , August 23, 1999). Ryan Corporation went public in 1971 with $27 million in sales.

Ryan merged his own company, Ryan Group, with Combined International Corporation in 1982 into what came to be called Aon Corporation in 1987. "Aon" is Gaelic for unity or oneness. Combined International at that time was in financial trouble and approached Ryan to run the company. Ryan consented, but only if he could run the two companies, even though Combined was eight times the size of Ryan Group. Combined agreed, and Ryan became chief executive in 1982. Aon went on to become the world's second-largest insurance brokerage and consulting company, after March & McLennan.

Patrick G. Ryan. Jean-Marc Giboux/Getty Images.
Patrick G. Ryan.
Jean-Marc Giboux/Getty Images


The new company became a provider in risk management services, insurance and reinsurance brokerage, human capital and management consulting, and specialty insurance underwriting. The firm operated in three major segments: commercial brokerage, consulting services, and consumer service underwriting. The company's brokerage services included retail and wholesale insurance for groups and businesses.

Aon's smaller component, inherited from Combined International, offered insurance underwriting, such as supplementary health, accident, and life insurance as well as extended warranties for consumer goods. Aon employed 53,000 people in 2004, with six hundred offices in more than 120 countries. In 2003 Aon was the country's second-largest insurance broker, built mainly through Ryan's acquisitions. He liked to quote Horatio Alger: "I deal in calamity and misfortune" ( Forbes , August 23, 1999).

Ryan expanded his company globally to the United Kingdom, Spain, France, and Germany. He acquired the Italian brokerage firm Nichols Group, along with Hudig-Langeveldt in 1991, Frank B. Hall in 1992, and Alexander & Alexander in 1997. In Europe, Ryan bought out more companies: Bain Hogg in the United Kingdom, Gil y Carvajal in Spain, and Groupe LeBlace de Nicolay in France. Starting in 1982 Ryan acquired 115 companies for $4 billion.

In 1999 more than half of Aon's earnings came from brokering. Ryan offered certain types of insurance online to customers as well. His vision for the company was to achieve steady growth by creating brand recognition and to offer current and potential clients more types of insurance under the umbrella of one company. For example, a corporation could take advantage of Aon's property insurance as well as policies covering employees. In 1999 Ryan told Forbes that his company would be helped by more name recognition and better advertising.

After the 2001 terrorist attacks, Ryan hired the consulting firm of Rudolph Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, to help revamp the Aon's image after the tragedy. Aon had 1,151 employees in 2 World Trade Center and lost 176. It reopened an office in Lower Manhattan in June 2003.

A 2004 inquiry subpoenaed Aon and other insurance companies, bringing them to task for paying their commercial insurance brokers to promote their coverage. This action may have portended a decrease in profits to insurance companies if it had the effect of increasing pressure on brokers and scrutinizing the information they shared with customers. Aon defended the practice, however, and told the New York Times that such payments were "a longstanding and common practice within the insurance industry" (April 28, 2004).

Ryan took an enthusiastic interest in causes outside the insurance business. As a part-owner of the Chicago Bears, Ryan convinced Mayor Daley to use public funds to refurbish the team's Soldier Field. For their philanthropic efforts, Ryan and his wife, Shirley, received the 1998 Distinguished Philanthropist Award for their work with the Pathways Center for Children and the Pathways Awareness Foundation.

See also entry on Aon Corporation in International Directory of Company Histories .

sources for further information

Machan, Dyan, "Devouring Risk," Forbes , August 23, 1999.

"The Richest People in America," Forbes , October 6, 2003, .

"Term Lifers," Forbes , October 11, 1999.

Treaster, Joseph B., "An Inquiry into Insurance Payments and Conflicts," New York Times , April 28, 2004.

—Alison Lake

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