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Politics

Dinos Iordanou Began in Aerospace, Soars in Insurance World

 

 

NEW YORK – When the Pancyprian Association presents the Lifetime Achievement Award at its annual gala at the New York Hilton on March 9 to Constantinos “Dinos” Iordanou it will he honoring a man who has soared high but has not forgotten his roots.

Iordanou is the Chairman, President, CEO, and one of the founders of Bermuda-based Arch Capital. While he praises that island nation as a terrific place for doing business, his thoughts often turn to the island nation of his birth, and to his friends and family in New York.

When TNH asked Iordanou how he sees Cyprus’ economic situation given recent reports that it is making more progress than Greece, he began my noting that Arch has expressed its confidence by investing in Cyprus through the establishment of a back office in Nicosia in January. There are currently ten people there doing actuarial and financial work.

“We plan to have 20-30 people there by the end of 2017,” Iordanou said.

“I believe they are moving in the right direction,” he noted “but more importantly we are finding that there are a lot of capable people there, which gives us a competitive advantage. The quality of the personnel we have hired in Cyprus is exceptional.”

Iordanou and the people he just hired are testaments to the country’s educational system and the determination of its people.

He came to America from Cyprus in 1969 to study at NYU – Iordanou is the eldest child of a policeman from occupied Kyrenia and a stay-at-home mom. “I had five brothers and one sister,” he said. One brother died young, two are physicians, one is in the restaurant business and his sister works in a hospital.

His mother is from near Nicosia in Free Cyprus.

Iordanou was an engineering major and he always liked engineering he became an aerospace engineer. One of his cousins was an electrical engineer who became the head of the electrical authority of Cyprus.

Perhaps math is the link between his love of engineering and the insurance business. “It was my best subject and I had phenomenal teachers in Cyprus in public school.”

When it’s time to get away he comes to New York, spending his summers in Long Island with friends and family. When he arrived in America lived in Astoria. There are things he misses about it – his daughter still lives there – but he doesn’t like the city congestion.

He was active with the Pancyprians since the beginning, helping to found the association in 1975, and he is one of their lifetime trustees, continuing to be active. His brother Michael is the head of its athletic division and his brother George is the vice president of the soccer club. “I played for their soccer team when I was young,” he added with pride.

After graduating from NYU he worked for Pratt & Whitney aircraft and then went to AIG, beginning in their engineering department where he did engineering surveys of risks.

There were limits to high he could rise in the company. Because he was foreign born, it was difficult to receive top security clearance, so he moved to financial services, where he was identified as a young high-potential individual. That landed him in the fast track management program and he loved learning about all aspects of the insurance business. “My career was going so well, I had no reason to look back to engineering,” he told TNH.

Iordanou was at AIG for 10 years, and he was still very young when he became a C.V. Star Partner – C.V.stands for the legendary Cornelius Vanderbilt, the Founder of AIG.

“They put you in the top 40 executives in the group when you become a partner,” he explained.

GET ADVICE, BUT YOU DECIDE

Iordanou left in 1987 and joined Berkshire Hathaway, running Warren Buffett’s commercial insurance cooperation in New York five years.

He met with the legendary financier about once a month and got a lot of good advice from him during the five years he was there.

“He taught me how to be an independent thinker,” which he said means making your own decisions. “You can’t allow yourself to be influenced by the mass,” Iordanou said, but he clarified that Buffett “encourages you to seek collaboration and to get all the advice you can, but at the end of the day you can’t rely on the advice. You have to make the decision and you have to be comfortable with the decisions you make.”

He also learned from Buffett to worry about the down side, not the up side of things. “I made it a principle for the rest of my career: If you take care of the down side the up side will take care of itself.”

After his Berkshire Hathaway tenure he became CEO of Zurich Financial Services in North America, and then it was time to go out on his own.

“It was after September 11 and some senior executives and I,” including Paul Ingrey and the late Robert Clements, “raised the capital to establish an insurance company in Bermuda in January 2002.”

Ingrey ran the insurance operations and Iordanou ran the holding company which owned insurance and reinsurance firms, and Clements was the chairman.

Iordanou explained that reinsurance entails the insuring of the insurance companies. Reinsurance gives them the ability to share risks but it also enables them to manage their capital better. “When an insurance firm issues a policy for a building for $500 million, it doesn’t want to take 100 per cent of the risk. They syndicate it and reinsurance companies take portions of that risk.”

He noted that insurance companies have relationships with the primary clients while reinsurance firms deal with other insurance companies and added that Arch also writes mortgage insurance.

TNH also asked Iordanou about the situation in Greece.

“They have a lot of structural issues,” began. “Their tax system is a mess and at the end of the day they lack investment capital. A lot of people don’t want to invest there because of the prevailing socialist attitude. It order to attract capital you have to embrace capitalism,” he said, but he agrees that the new investment laws being prepared by the coalition are an opportunity for Greece to present a new face to the financial world.

“Unless you give confidence to people who want to invest funds,” Greece won’t attract investors,” he insisted. “You can’t expect a lot of investments in a high tax environment. Capital is fungible and it will go where it is more effective and efficient for shareholders” – and where it is welcome.

He pointed out that the United States faces a similar challenge.  It is a “very high tax place and companies choose to go elsewhere.”

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