Denis Kessler, one of the most influential figures in the global reinsurance industry of the past 20 years, has passed away at the age of 71.
French reinsurer Scor, where Kessler had been chairman for 20 years, paid tribute to him on Friday, saying he had “dedicated his whole life to business”.
He was “a man of culture”, it said, as well as “an economist and an iconic figure of the insurance and reinsurance world, and more generally of French business”.
Lloyd’s of London CEO John Neal told the Financial Times that the industry “needs characters and voices who stand up for the best we have to offer and Denis will be forever missed”.
“We all take off our berets and fondly remember our time with him,” Neal said.
Kessler served as president of the French Federation of Insurance Companies for two terms in the 1990s and through the 2000s, and was president of the group behind the Rendez-Vous de Septembre, Monte Carlo’s premier annual reinsurance event.
He has served on the boards of several major companies, including a two-decade stint at banking group BNP Paribas, and has held a board seat at asset manager Invesco since 2002. He was also a member of the French Economic, Social and Environmental Council. from 1993 to 2010.
Kessler was widely praised in the industry for Scor’s turnaround, which took it from the brink of collapse in 2002 to become one of Europe’s largest reinsurers – groups that provide coverage to primary insurers.
“People will shake my hand again now,” Kessler joked a few years later, after returning it to profitability and reinstating the dividend.
But the latter part of his tenure was marked by a bitter legal battle with Covéa, after the French mutual group launched a hostile takeover bid in 2018.
Covéa’s approach turned into a protracted battle, with allegations raised by courts and the press on both sides, which was not settled until 2021.
In the same year, Kessler relinquished the role of CEO following a call from the French financial regulator to split the two top positions at the group amid a high-profile board battle with activist investor CIAM.
Kessler oversaw a final reshuffle earlier this year, when his successor as CEO Laurent Rousseau resigned from the board after claims related to inflation and natural disasters caused performance to deteriorate and stock price to plummet.
Thierry Léger, who replaced Rousseau in the top position, paid tribute to Kessler, saying his “passion for reinsurance was unparalleled and his ambition to make Scor a market leader has never left him. It has been the driving force behind all his actions at the head of the group for the past 21 years.”
Scor said his vice-chairman, Augustin de Romanet, would chair the board until a new chairman is appointed.