Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

This CEO Who Shifted to London Sees Brexit Upside in Consulting

  • Haley says Willis Towers Watson can prosper in time of change
  • Business typically benefits from regulatory changes, CEO says

John Haley, who merged his U.S. consulting firm with an insurance broker this year to form London-based Willis Towers Watson Plc, said the company is well-equipped to deal with disruption from U.K. voters’ decision to leave the European Union.

“In the short term, there could be some real potential for upside on helping companies with some ‘what-if’ planning,” through the consulting arm that advises corporate clients, Haley, who is chief executive officer of the combined firm, said in a conference call Wednesday with investors. “Typically, our business benefits from regulatory changes, political risk or economic uncertainty.”

Haley is seeking to reassure shareholders as many CEOs are discussing the possibility of scaling back in the U.K. The deal to join his Arlington, Virginia-based Towers Watson & Co. with insurance broker Willis Group Holdings Plc in London diversified operations and brought tax advantages. Executives in financial services have been reassessing the value of being in the U.K. after the Brexit vote that could lead to more trade barriers and hinder recruitment efforts.

The CEO acknowledged that the disruption will present challenges. Some clients may defer projects because of uncertainty over the terms of the exit.

John Haley.
John Haley.
Source: Willis Towers Watson

Also, a weaker economy could pressure revenue from Willis’s traditional role as a middleman between insurers and their corporate customers, Haley said. Rival broker Aon Plc, which moved to London from Chicago four years ago, said before the vote that a Brexit would threaten the U.K.’s centuries-long leadership in the insurance industry.

Share Rebound

Willis Towers Watson plunged 8.3 percent to $117.01 Friday, the first day of trading after the U.K. results were announced, and fell further on Monday. Shares climbed 1.9 percent to $119.77 as of 2:07 p.m. in New York.

Haley stressed the company’s global reach. The firm has 39,000 employees in more than 120 countries.

“We also pride ourselves on being a company that has the agility and the nimbleness to be able to, not just to respond to change, but to prosper in it,” he said.

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