Last week, the first ever Cardiff Business Awards were held at City Hall in Cardiff where, to a full house, some of our capital city’s best businesses were honoured in front of their peers.
I was privileged, as chairman of the judging panel for the event, to be presenting the last honour on the evening, namely the Outstanding Achievement award.
This was to be given the individual or organisation who had made an outstanding contribution to the economy of Cardiff or a major impact on the business world globally.
And many would not be surprised to hear that the first recipient of this award was Henry Engelhardt, the chief executive of Admiral Insurance, who has recently announced that he is standing down from the company next year after 25 years at its helm.
Henry was not Cardiff born or Cardiff bred and in fact is a native of Chicago who came over to the UK to establish his career. However, like many of us who have moved to Cardiff to live and raise our families, he has fallen in love with this great capital city of ours and has become one of the most successful businesspeople in its history.
I first met Henry back in the late 1990s when Admiral was starting to emerge as a major player in financial services in Wales. Given this, I asked whether he would serve on my business school’s advisory board when I took up a chair in entrepreneurship at Bangor University in 2000.
Before our first meeting, Henry phoned me to say he was at Warminster but would be starting off early and would get to North Wales well before the start of our deliberations at 3pm. Unfortunately, he got caught up in chaotic traffic on the M4, M5 and A55 and didn’t get to our hotel until around 9pm when we were finishing our meal.
Nobody would have blamed him for turning round at any point during his long journey but he didn’t even consider it, even though he was returning back to Cardiff the next day.
It demonstrated the real character of someone who, when he makes a commitment, goes the extra mile (or 270 miles in this case) to keep his word. So it’s no wonder that he is respected as a dedicated leader by everyone who has met him.
Even for Friday’s dinner, he made the effort to come back especially for the awards after spending the week developing new business for Admiral in Paris.
As an innovator, not only has Henry been instrumental in transforming the insurance industry, but in creating a workplace environment that is the envy of other businesses in every sector across the UK.
Of course, this has been achieved through developing great working conditions, but there have also been innovations such as the Ministry of Fun that was set up in order to provide light-hearted relief from the daily routine and give staff an opportunity to put forward their ideas for games or competitions.
And so it is not surprising that Admiral is the only company to have been named on "the Best Companies To Work For" list every year since 2001.
From all the media interviews he has given, it is clear that Henry loves his job. In fact, he once said he didn’t need to wind down at the end of the day because “work is not stressful, golf is stressful. Work is interesting.”
Given this, Admiral has a very simple philosophy – if people like what they do, they will do it better, Or to put it another way, “have fun, satisfy customers, make money.” And Admiral has done all three very successfully indeed.
Back in 1993, Henry Engelhardt came to Cardiff and established a business that is now the only Welsh company on the FTSE 100, which in 2015 has a £4.2bn market capitalisation, employs 7,000 people and serves more than four million customers.
And best of all, his company is the official shirt sponsors of the next winners of the Rugby World Cup!
Certainly, there are few who can match his business achievements and not only is he a deserved winner of this Cardiff award last Friday but, more importantly, continues to be an inspiration to entrepreneurs and businesspeople across the whole of Wales.