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Benefiting Students, SJU's Insurance Leader Dinner Raises $3.1 Million

Friday, January 22, 2016

St. John’s School of Risk Management (SRM), part of the University’s Tobin College of Business, honored Prem Watsa, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Fairfax Financial Holdings Limited, as the “2015 Insurance Leader of the Year” on January 20 in Manhattan.

The 21st Annual Insurance Leader of the Year Award Dinner brought in $2.6 million in fund raising efforts and an additional $500,000 pledge by the foundation of OdysseyRe, a Fairfax company (over five years to fund one of the School’s endowment priorities). The combined total pushed the amount raised to more than $3.1 million in proceeds that benefit the University’s SRM students with scholarship monies and provides needed resources and support for SRM programs.

“We are in the business of higher education, but we are also in the business of aspirations and setting goals,” said Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw, Ph.D., President of St. John’s University. “This is a clear example of a program that sets very high goals and aspires to be one of the best each year. This is a very special night that represents the great contribution and impact of the St. John’s School of Risk Management on the insurance industry. I want to applaud the SRM Dean Brandon Sweitzer, faculty, administrators, and staff for their remarkable achievement in raising funds for scholarships and program support. I wish them continued success in the future."

The “Insurance Leader of the Year Award,” presented annually since 1995, recognizes the contributions of outstanding individuals whose leadership in the worldwide insurance and financial services industry sets them apart from their peers. Last year’s recipient was Mike McGavick, Chief Executive Officer, XL Group plc.

“You start with the fact that the School of Risk Management’s DNA or ecosystem, as I like to call it, has been around for 115 years. The industry’s support of what was the College of Insurance to now what is known as SRM is decades old,” said Sweitzer. “The industry believes in supporting young people and the industry needs young people to continue to thrive. SRM, along with Tobin College, provides that experiential education and financial support to students who want to make a career for themselves in the insurance industry. The great outpouring of support for this event is a sign of the upward trajectory of St. John’s and the reputation of the University as a whole.”

Prem Watsa’s success story within the insurance industry is quite remarkable, but it is not about one man’s accomplishments. He is loyal to those who have paved the way for a career that he could only dream of as a young man migrating from India to Canada upon graduation from college.

Mr. Watsa makes no mistake in giving credit where credit is due for the remarkable life he has led as an insurance industry pioneer. Since 1985, Fairfax (under Mr. Watsa’s leadership) has compounded book value by over 21 percent. Their total assets have risen to approximately $36 billion, revenues soared to approximately $10 billion, and common shareholders’ equity is up at approximately $8 billion. The company is listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

 “I owe a lot of my success to those who paved the way and guided me in my career,” said Mr. Watsa before a sold-out crowd of more than 2,150 in New York City’s Marriott Marquis Ballroom. Characterizing this success, he shared a favorite quote of his, attributed to the 40th President of the U.S., Ronald Reagan: “There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he does not mind who gets the credit.”

Following an emotional video presentation about Mr. Watsa’s life, His Excellency The Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, and close friend of the honoree, along with SRM Board of Overseers Chairman Kevin H. Kelley, Chief Executive Officer of Ironshore Inc., formally presented Mr. Watsa with the 2015 Insurance Leader of the Year Award.

The School of Risk Management was founded in 1901 as the Insurance Society of New York, and over the years evolved into The College of Insurance (TCI).  In June 2001, TCI merged with St. John’s University, becoming a school of The Peter J. Tobin College of Business. From its new location at 101 Astor Place, near Midtown South’s business district and the rapidly emerging technology corridor, SRM awards undergraduate, M.B.A., and M.S. degrees in the insurance, risk management, and actuarial science disciplines. Through its Center for Professional Education, SRM also provides education, training, and consulting services to the industry, governments, and regulators worldwide.

The Award Selection Committee is chaired by Ellen Thrower, Ph.D., Professor Emerita and Retired Executive Director, St. John's University’s SRM, and includes George Bernstein, Esq., of The Bernstein Law Firm, P.L.L.C. (Washington, D.C.); Robert P. Hartwig, Ph.D., President of the Insurance Information Institute; Joseph Mauriello, Retired Deputy Chairman and COO of KPMG LLP; Michael J. Morrissey, President and CEO of the International Insurance Society; Patrick J. Shouvlin, Retired Partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP; and Peter B. Walker, Director of McKinsey & Company (New York).

Homepage photo: (Left to right) Dr. Gempesaw; Mr. Watsa; and SRM students DeAnna Young and Anthony Lucero.