TradeWinds - Eyssautier sets new course - 07/02/2013

French marine insurance broker, Groupe Eyssautier, is setting course for expansion following a management buyout that sees the company regain its independence.

Chief executive, Paul-Eric Eyssautier, and his senior managers have bought the company back from Gras Savoye, a leading French non-marine broker that is part of the Willis’s international insurance broking network.

Groupe Eyssautier operating from Paris, Marseille and Athens places hull, protection and indemnity, war risks and other covers for 1,500 ships controlled by about 250 owners.

A prestigious list of clients includes Louis Dreyfus, ferry operator SNCM and quite a number of Greek companies including Enterprises, Marmaras Navigation and Olympic Shipping.

Eyssautier tells TradeWinds the strategy is to double in size over the next five years with the company planning offices in London and Geneva, where it has commodity trading clients, as well as building a network in Africa.

Norway is also on Eyssautier radar, but ambitions in this important shipping market will be balanced with the intention of retaining good relations with Willis in Oslo.

Eyssautier says there was some frustration over being part of a big broking group but stresses the split from Gras Savoye and the Willis network was entirely amicable.

“We wanted to be free to expand further and we are supported by an investor who thinks positively about growth. We will consider any opportunity that arises,” said Eyssautier.

There is no agreement for Gras Savoye to stick to non-marine business and Groupe Eyssautier to focus on marine but the chief executive said he was sure shipowners were very comfortable dealing with specialised niche brokers.

Groupe Eyssautier founded by the chief executive’s grandfather in 1935 starts its new independent existence 51% owned by its management, with the balance held by Omnes Capital, formerly Credit Agricole’s private equity operation.

The deal has been structured as a leveraged management buy out, with the intention that Eyssautier and his managers will gain full ownership of the company over a period of years.

Groupe Eyssautier, which has been a Lloyd’s broker since 2005, places more than EUR 60m ($81m) of premium earning brokerage of about EUR 10m and has a staff of 55.

The broker also owns the Astramar underwriting agency, which is included in the MBO, but this is mostly involved in land rather than sea transport.

Jim Mulrenan In TradeWinds