Scor mourns passing of Denis Kessler at 71

Denis Kessler, the industry titan and chairman of French reinsurance powerhouse Scor, has passed away at the age of 71.

Kessler – who started his career in academia before moving into the business world – was credited with bringing Paris-headquartered Scor back from the brink of insolvency when he took the helm as chairman and CEO in November 2002.

An economist by background, Kessler brought stability to the company before transforming it into a tier one (re)insurer through a combination of acquisitions (not least Converium, the former Zurich Re business) and organic growth.

Speaking to The Insurer in May 2021, the executive spoke of the challenges he faced in turning the company around, which included persuading sceptical investors to recapitalise the business following WTC and casualty losses.

His persuasive talents and charm were also necessary to convince clients and brokers (not least Benfield which continued to support the firm) to approve Scor security despite damaging financial downgrades from S&P and AM Best.

He said turning Scor around from a company that was on the brink of bankruptcy was his “proudest achievement”.

He stepped aside as CEO in 2021 but remained with the group as non-executive chairman.

A member of the Institut de France, Kessler was also a man of culture and the arts – a passion he shared with the pioneering Lloyd’s underwriter Mark Brockbank who also recently passed away. ​​

Towards the end of his tenure at Scor he became a target for shareholder activists following a controversial M&A approach from its largest shareholder Covéa which he fiercely resisted.

Paying tribute to the executive, Scor said that as an economist and an iconic figure of the (re)insurance industry, and more widely of the French business world, Kessler devoted his entire life to business.

“With his cutting-edge vision, his outstanding commitment and his leadership, Denis Kessler turned the group around in spectacular fashion over a period of more than two decades, enabling it to become a leading global reinsurer,” Scor said in a statement.

“The members of the board and all of Scor’s employees share the sorrow of his family and friends, and offer them their condolences.”

Thierry Léger, the newly arrived CEO of Scor, added: “Over the past two decades, Denis Kessler has been the architect behind Scor’s success and reputation throughout the world. His passion for reinsurance was unparalleled, and his ambition to make Scor an industry leader never left him.

“It has been the driving force behind all his actions at the head of the group over the past 21 years. I am privileged to have had the opportunity to work alongside Denis. He leaves us an extraordinary legacy. It is now up to us to carry on his work. The strong foundations on which he rebuilt the group enable us to look to the future with total confidence.”

Scor vice-chairman Augustin de Romanet will chair the board for an interim period until a new chairman is appointed.