Matteo Scagliarini made headlines last year when he sold his family business to Howden. He explains to us why he took the big leap.
My uncle and I had always agreed that we would never sell our business to a multinational. We knew they would destroy our identity, our company and our values – everything we had built.
When my uncle founded the company in 1976, Andrea Scagliarini SPA was one of the first registered insurance brokers in Italy. He stands on the shoulders of generations that have come before us: my grandfather and great-grandfather built their lives in insurance, and their legacies helped create our business. As a family, we span more than 100 years of insurance history, and we didn’t want that to be erased by an impersonal company.
So when we met Howden, he wasn’t thinking of selling the business. He didn’t even want to associate me with a network. But a mutual friend persuaded me to meet Isabelle Cadignan, then CEO of the Howden One network, who was looking for a partner in Italy. The talks went very well, and Howden offered a diversification that he knew we could benefit from. Within a few weeks we had become one of the first partners in the Howden network, and the relationship grew from there.
A changing market
At first there was a good atmosphere and a bit of business, then a good atmosphere and more business. I’m used to having good relationships with good companies and brokers, but this was different somehow. Howden seemed fresh to me, with the same values as our company, and the people were ambitious without being arrogant. In the back of my mind I started to think that maybe I could see myself on a different journey with these people. I could see how being part of a larger group could help our company grow.
From a business point of view, I believe that all companies in the world, regardless of their sector, have four main challenges. It’s about attracting and retaining good people; technology and data; the specialization; and the scale. At Scagliarini we have had very good years, with 10 years of excellent organic growth. But even with our company in such a strong position, I felt we had to address these challenges quite urgently.
I felt that pressure because the market is changing, very quickly. In the last ten years we have seen how the big brokers offered discounts and then reduced the quality of their coverage and service. It’s been like The Truman Show, with everyone living in a bubble. But I think now people are realizing it: they are starting to see the value of true specialization and experience.
Scagliarini has always been a specialized corporate broker, but there are niches where we are not experts. I realized that being part of Howden could help us fill those gaps, giving our clients access to the kind of expertise they need but that Scagliarini didn’t have before. They could also help us with our other challenges: scaling, investing in data, and fighting for talent.
the big compromise
After working with Howden for four years, I knew this was the future for our company. Although we had always said that we would not sell to a multinational, Howden was different, a unique player in the market. David, the founder of Howden, talks about himself being the largest family-owned international broker, and in a way it’s true. That spirit is in the group.
The final decision came when I attended the Howden employee group conference, when Howden CEO JMG said, “If you ever have power, use that power to make people happy.” That’s something I’ve always believed in, in my company and in my career, and hearing it from the CEO of a big company was incredible. It was so authentic, and it was truly Howden.
So from everything I had seen of Howden, all the people I had met and all the opportunities it offered our company, I had no doubts. It was like being engaged for four years and then getting married: the path was clear and I knew what to expect!
Winning the Champions League
Of course selling was a risk, but I like to play outside my comfort zone. Change is risky, but so is refusing to change when the world around you is changing. That’s why I think we joined Howden at the perfect time: they can help us get ahead of that curve. If we had been delayed for emotional reasons, we could have been left behind.
In Italy we have always had a very good reputation, and we have always been above our means. But now it’s all about red carpets. Shippers are looking for an alternative to US brokers, and now that we’re part of Howden, they know we can deliver what they’re looking for. The same goes for recruiting and retaining talent – people knew who we were before, but being part of Howden has completely changed the game.
I wanted to join Howden because it was the right decision for my business. I am 52 years old and I still have a third of my professional career ahead of me. I didn’t want to spend that time regretting that I didn’t do my best. As CEO, he stood to lose the most from the sale, but business decisions aren’t about personal greed. It is about trying to create sustainable value with good colleagues, within clear ethical boundaries, and trying to make a difference.
Sometimes people tell me “That’s great, but you’re not independent anymore.” But my attitude is that we all depend on someone or something. At least we all depend on the market. I feel as in control of my company now as ever. And joining Howden has allowed us to level up.
I see it as football. Before, we played a few games in the Champions League, winning one or two. Now we are in the League for the whole season, and we have a chance to win!