GROWING up on one of Manchester’s most deprived council estates didn’t confer many advantages on the young Peter Horton.
However, he was blessed with a willingness to work and a drive to succeed which has remained with him throughout his 30-year career as one of the best-known figures in the UK insurance industry.
As chief operating officer of LV= General Insurance and managing director of Huddersfield-based roadside recovery firm Britannia Rescue, he now has responsibility for eight sites employing 3,000 people.
And his enthusiasm for an industry he helped to reshape – through his involvement with other major brands, including Direct Line and Churchill – remains undiminished.
Peter, who grew up on the Withenshawe estate in Manchester, first sampled the world of work as a 14-year-old – earning a bit of money caddying on golf courses and offering to wash cars.
He says: “When I left school, I originally planned to be a chartered accountant and went to Manchester Polytechnic to take a foundation course and become articled.”
But unimpressed by a starting salary of £10 a week, he applied for and got a job as a household underwriting clerk with Refuge Assurance.
He later moved to Cloverleaf Insurance, where he earned £17 a week – and supplemented his earnings with three part-time jobs working in supermarkets.
“I didn’t go to university,” he says. “Instead, I studied in the evenings for a Chartered Insurance Institute qualification which was the equivalent of a degree and provided the possibility of moving up in the future.”
When Direct Line was formed in 1986 – and began to transform the insurance industry – Peter’s qualifications helped him land a job as claims manager, working with founder Peter Wood and co-director Martin Long.
Peter Wood remains a personal friend, while Peter himself went on to work with Martin when the latter set up Churchill Insurance.
Peter was operations director at Churchill from 1989 to 1993, taking responsibility for claims and customer service.
He introduced a new claims system which resulted in Churchill achieving a lower loss ratio than its competitors, enhancing its relationships with suppliers and making millions of pounds of cost savings each year.
He also oversaw the introduction of the first claims unit in the UK insurance industry to have courtesy cars, faxing from screens and no claim forms.
When Churchill was sold to RBS in June 2003, Peter stayed on for a further three years as managing director of claims – overseeing 3m claims a year, 8,000 staff at 27 sites and an annual spend on £3.2bn.
During that time, he was also responsible for the integration of Churchill and Direct Line under the banner of RBS Insurance.
In 2006, he left RBSI with four others with a view to forming a new insurance company “putting the customer and our people at the heart of the business”.
Says Peter: “We went through various ‘Dragon’s Dens’ but LV= wanted to work with us from the outset. LV= already had an existing insurance company, but it wasn’t in a very good condition. If we had not come along, it would probably have ended up being sold or broken up.”
After completing a management buy-in, Peter and his colleagues set about turning around the business. “It was losing £200m a year, losing 10,000 customers a month and had a staff turnover exceeding 50%,” he says. “We had to stop the rot, make the investment and create a great culture.”
By focusing on staff development and investment in people and technology, LV= now has more than 4m customers and is on course for profits exceeding £100m this year.
It won 35 awards during 2012, including General Insurer of the Year and is recognised as an industry leader in terms of employee engagement.
Peter sees the acquisition of Huddersfield-based Britannia Rescue in 2007 as another major achievement.
Britannia provided LV= with “a perfect fit” as the company already had a good reputation for its service and the commitment of its staff. LV= built on those foundations by investing in new telephone systems, facilities and the staff.