Michael Butt OBE dies as Benchimol leads tributes

Axis CEO Albert Benchimol has confirmed the passing of the Bermudian (re)insurer’s former chairman Michael Butt OBE, describing the erstwhile Eagle Star CEO and Sedgwick chairman as a “towering figure” in the industry.

  • Benchimol describes former Axis chair “more than a captain of industry”
  • Butt occupied multiple leadership roles in London and Bermuda inc Sedgwick, Mid-Ocean, Eagle Star and Axis
  • Inducted to industry Hall of Fame in 2019
  • Remembered as a passionate and popular Bermuda advocate

Butt had been Axis’ chairman since 2002 and until September 2020, taking up the position for a second time in 2012 after fellow industry titan, John Charman, left the company.

Butt enjoyed an illustrious career, having achieved numerous successes in both the London and Bermuda markets, including as chairman of Sedgwick, CEO of Eagle Star, CEO of MidOcean, and Director of XL Capital and Farmers Insurance Group.

He joined Axis in the months after the firm was co-founded by Charman and longtime Marsh McLennan executive Bob Newhouse who launched the company in the wake of the terrorist attacks on 9/11 with Marsh McLennan-backing.

On Thursday, Axis CEO Benchimol said he was “deeply saddened” to share the news with colleagues of Butt’s passing, saying he had “played a pivotal role” in Axis’s development.

“Over the course of his five-decade career, he was a builder of businesses, a builder of markets, and a passionate voice on issues such as climate risk and building a more sustainable world,” Benchimol wrote to staff.

Benchimol cited Butt’s success “in guiding Axis from a start-up into an established player in our industry”, before adding Butt’s achievements “didn’t stop there”, citing many of his prestigious industry and outside affiliations.

“In 2008, Michael was awarded the Bermuda Institute Lifetime Award,” Benchimol noted, while adding that in 2011 Butt was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in recognition of his contributions in building the Bermuda reinsurance industry, and was voted into the International Insurance Society Insurance Hall of Fame in 2019.

Before his Bermuda achievements, Butt had enjoyed a successful career in London including as chairman of Sedgwick Limited and Vice Chairman of Sedgwick Group before moving on to become the chairman and CEO of Eagle Star Holdings and Eagle Star Insurance Company. A popular industry figure, Butt was known for his urbane presence and charm.

Benchimol: “More than a captain of industry”

Benchimol also touted Butt as a “passionate advocate for education”, highlighting Butt’s support for his alma mater INSEAD - where in 2022 Axis celebrated the executive’s service by establishing Michael A. Butt Fund for Business and Society to support the work of the Hoffman Global Institute for Business and Society.

Butt had been the chairman of the INSEAD International Council from 1988 to 1991 and also held board positions with ABIR - including stints as its chairman and vice chair.

However, Benchimol made a point to highlight that, “on a more personal note, Michael was so much more than a captain of our industry.

“He was a counselor and a mentor, a compassionate leader, and a wonderful friend. He cared deeply about helping others and opened doors for countless young professionals, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds,” Benchimol shared with his colleagues.

“For a man of his stature, Michael was incredibly humble – and incredibly human,” Benchimol continued.

“Beyond being a brilliant business leader who always carried himself with charm and elegance, Michael was also a lot of fun – smart and intellectually curious, with a razor-sharp wit,” Axis’s CEO noted..

“It gives me some comfort that in his final days and months, Michael was surrounded by loved ones including his wife Zoe and his family,” Benchimol added.

He concluded his remarks: “Please join me in saying farewell to Michael and perhaps savoring a glass of Johnny Walker Black in his honor.”