Liberty chief's investment joy after insurance Hughes Insurance sale
US giant acquires Hughes and says: We love doing business here
Northern Ireland is a "great place to invest", according to one of the bosses of Liberty Insurance as it announced the multi-million acquisition of broker Hughes Insurance.
Parent company Liberty Mutual's chief strategy and business development officer Joe Hamilton said Boston-based Liberty had enjoyed success after the purchase of Quinn Insurance, which it bought in partnership with then-Anglo Irish Bank in 2011.
And with its IT arm Liberty IT also located in Belfast since 1997, he said he was looking forward to doing business in the insurance market in Northern Ireland.
Market speculation that the deal was in the offing was confirmed as soon as 300 Northern Ireland employees of Hughes in Newtownards were given the news at around 11am yesterday.
Mr Hamilton, who helped Liberty Insurance expand across Europe, Asia and the Middle East, said: "Liberty IT has already been operating in Northern Ireland for some time and in this broader sense we have had a very good experience here and Northern Ireland in our experience has been a good place to do business.
"We look forward to further growth and expansion here." The amount to be paid by Liberty has not been disclosed but is believed to be at least tens of millions of pounds.
The deal will not complete until July 1, 2015 – to allow for a full cycle of renewals through Liberty Insurance.
The firm already employs around 300 people in Enniskillen, the call centre which it took over as part of the Quinn deal.
Hughes Insurance is the first UK broker which Liberty has acquired. But Liberty IT, which creates software applications for parent company Liberty Mutual, has expanded steadily since it was set up in Belfast in 1997.
Hughes operates a customer service centre and branch in Newtownards and 11 other branches around Northern Ireland.
Joe Hamilton's pledge of further expansion for Hughes Insurance will bring comfort to Hughes Insurance chairman Leslie Hughes, who founded the company in 1977 during an era when many UK insurers considered Northern Ireland too dangerous and risky to operate in.
But Mr Hughes convinced large insurers that Northern Ireland was not a no-go area.
He helped establish training facilities at Hughes Insurance, a first in the Northern Ireland insurance industry.
The company recently received the Aldermanbury Declaration from the Chartered Insurance Institute.
While other insurance providers outsourced their telesales, Mr Hughes consolidated the company's in Newtownards, privately investing £1.5m in doubling the footprint of its headquarters.
The company has counted on a loyal workforce. Hughes said that around 52 staff had been with the company for over a decade. Just over 30 have been there for over 20 years, while five have been employees for over 25 years. One staff member marked their 30th anniversary with the company.