New York, Nov. 4: The Chubb Corp, a leading commercial insurer, on Sunday named a long-time General Motors executive with little insurance experience, John D. Finnegan, as its new chief executive.
Finnegan, 53, will succeed Dean R. O'Hare, who has been running Chubb for 14 years, in December. O'Hare, one of the most outspoken insurance executives, has been at Chubb for 39 years.
Finnegan, who has spent nearly his entire career in finance at General Motors, said he had “no firm opinions” on the challenges he would be facing. “I will need to spend some time at Chubb before coming up with a real assessment of the key priorities,” he said on Sunday.
At least in the beginning, Finnegan will not serve as chairman of Chubb’s board, as O’Hare had. Instead, Joel J. Cohen, a specialist in mergers and acquisitions, who has been on the Chubb board for 18 years, will oversee the 16-member board, 15 of whom are independent. Cohen said it is likely Finnegan will replace him as chairman in 2004.
Cohen said he saw himself as “a sort of liaison” for Finnegan. “I think I can be very helpful to John, and the board thought so too, in helping him come up to speed since he is coming from the outside,” Cohen said.
For the last three years, Finnegan has been chief executive of the General Motors Acceptance Corp, which mainly finances new car sales. He will be succeeded at GMAC by Eric A. Feldstein, the treasurer of GM since 1997.
Analysts were surprised that Chubb went outside the insurance business for its chief executive. But Ira L. Zuckerman of Nutmeg Securities in Fairfield, Conn., said: “Basically I don’t view this as a major plus or major negative.”
“Chubb has a good group of very experienced people and a culture of being a good underwriter,” he said. “I don't think that's going to change.” In 120 years, Chubb, which was a privately held partnership until 1967, has had seven chief executives, all either members of the founding Chubb family or employees who worked their way up.
The company is known for generously paying claims. Besides its commercial insurance business, Chubb provides coverage for the homes and cars of the wealthy who say they willingly pay a little more for unquestioned service.