It is the centenary of the birth of Ignacio Hernando de Larramendi, the man whose innovative vision and unwavering humanism revolutionized the world of insurance and laid the foundations of today’s MAPFRE. A great humanist, Larramendi was ahead of his time and introduced groundbreaking elements into the sector, such as the computerization of work, performance metrics and the figure of the ombudsman for policyholders. To mark his centenary, we highlight the cultural, business and historical dimension of the legacy of this great humanist and cultural advocate.
TEXTO RAMÓN OLIVER IMAGES: FUNDACIÓN LARRAMENDI, MAPFRE
In 1955, a young insurance inspector left the public administration to embark on a business venture that many considered foolish, indeed, it is said that his own colleagues at the Directorate General of Insurance expressed their condolences when they heard the news. His idea was to refloat a small company on the verge of insolvency that seemed mortally wounded. But Ignacio Hernando de Larramendi (Madrid, 1921-Madrid, 2001), who was 34 years old at the time, was not a man to shy away from the impossible. Today this small company is the leading Spanish multinational in the sector, operates in more than 40 countries, has 12,500 offices, 34,000 employees, a collaboration network of 86,000 agents and its shares are listed on the IBEX-35 and the Dow Jones.
Yet above and beyond all these figures, MAPFRE is an insurer that understands that its mission in the world is not only to offer pr otection and insurance solutions, but, in addition to this objectiv e, its raison d’être is to contribute to making the w orld a better place. And this legacy, this way of thinking and acting accordingly, which the company has embedded in its corporate DNA, is largely due to Ignacio Larramendi.
A modern and operational MAPFRE
Larramendi occupied the top position at MAPFRE for 35 years, until his retirement in 1990. During this time he completely transformed the company from the ground up, leading it to a much mor e modern and evolved model, inspired by his stays in the United Kingdom and some ideas he imported and adapted from the emblematic company Lloyd’s. Included in the list of the 100 greatest Spanish businessmen of the 20th century, his entrepreneurial instinct, his audacity and his gifts for managing teams and dealing with people have led him to be considered the great architect of modern insurance in Spain.
Under his leadership, MAPFRE underwent a profound internal reorganization that began by pulling the company out of imminent bankruptcy. In the year before he joined the company (he was hired by the company’s former president, Dionisio Martín Sanz, who was also appointed to the pos t that same year), the Mutualidad de la Agrupación de Propietarios de Fincas Rústicas de España, as MAPFRE was known at the time, had posted losses of between 2 and 3.5 million pesetas. Antiquated and inefficient systems together with a mistaken confidence in public health insurance, which made huge losses due to the low wages and high mortality rate of agricultural workers, had landed the company in a very difficult situation.
The early years
Reducing the debt became his first priority. To this end, he embarked on a period of harsh adjustments, with layoffs and cost cuts, including his own salary, which he slashed by 40%. Thus began a model of leadership by example that would become one of the company’s main distinguishing features.
After many hardships and extreme “dodging” of payment suspension, the company’s financial situation stabilized and a new stage of restructuring and reactivation of the business began. Larramendi then began to optimize operations in order to reduce inefficiencies and achieve growth through quality. Among the most noteworthy measures taken during those early years was the redesign of a diversified product portfolio prioritizing the most profitable insurance products<0>. A path that would later lead MAPFRE to gain a foothold in business sectors in which it had no previous experience, such as the automobile industry, and to modernize others until they became profitable, such as life insurance. Later, Larramendi would also introduce very important clientbased innovations, such as the concept of insurance-service that transcended mere financial compensation in the event of a claim or the figure of the policyholder’s ombudsman.
National and international expansion
Also during this period, Larramendi initiated the progressive decentralization of the company (“the decision of a mediocre person close to a fact can be better than that of an intelligent man 500 kilometers away”, he used to say), supported by regional offices and an extensive territorial network of branches with their own teams and managers with a great deal of autonomy. To this end, he went back to the company’s rural roots, opening offices in small towns that did not attract the attention of his competitors and, from there, began his assault on the big cities. This strategy was emulated by the U.S. supermarket chain Wal-Mart.
A hitherto unheard-of real estate acquisition policy was another of this visionary’s contributions. As soon as the company’s financial situation made it possible, MAPFRE began to purchase a series of street-level properties in which to set up its offices. This greatly boosted direct sales and improved customer service, elements that had an immediate effect on the company’s growth.
Internationalization, which began to take off in earnest in the mid-1980s, coinciding with the Group’s conquest of the sector, was another of the businessman’s major commitments. Larramendi was convinced that MAPFRE had to go beyond the borders of Spain if it wanted to continue growing, since its development was based on optimizing processes and taking advantage of economies of scale. Going abroad was, however, a risky move, and unnecessary in the opinion of many of his close collaborators, but he believed that a certain amount of risk was consubstantial to any business venture.
Innovation as a flag
The other way to reduce costs and grow was to increase efficiency by strictly standardizing processes and measuring results, for which he used all kinds of indicators. The use of technology to increase service quality and profitability was another constant feature of his management. An incorrigibly curious person, Larramendi was a lover of technology and did not hesitate to incorporate any technical innovations that came onto the market if he thought they could improve the company’s operations.
The city of boys
One of the great traits of this iconic manager was his ability to lead teams and deal with people. Charismatic and a great motivator, he believed strongly in talent and self-responsibility. He revolutionized the company’s recruitment and selection systems by incorporating a large number of young, inexperienced but promising university students, to whom he almost immediately entrusted responsibility. A very novel strategy at the time and one that made him a laughing stock among his competitors, who renamed the rejuvenated MAPFRE as the “city of the boys”.
But Larramendi’s policy cannot have been so terribly misguided (“every bellboy has a marshal’s baton in his backpack”, was another of his favorite phrases), since many of those young whippersnappers are today top managers in MAPFRE as well as in other leading companies. Larramendi threw his young collaborators into the ring, yes. But before he did, he equipped them with a solid policy of continuous training that enabled them to take on any challenge and gave them unlimited confidence, providing them with the necessary motivation to come out on top and to dare to make mistakes. A great communicator, he exerted an enormous influence on his collaborators and modernized MAPFRE’s people management with measures that prioritized meritocracy and internal promotion and put an end to ancestral vices in the sector, such as nepotism.
Forerunner of CSR
Imbued with a deep sense of public service, Larramendi rejected capitalism based solely on pure profit, convinced that any institution that manages large assets has the obligation to return part of this to society and, in particular, to its clients. In this way, and only in this way, can a company accomplish its social responsibility by contributing to the common good and the general interests of the country.
He was able to transfer these values to his organization through a wide range of sponsorship and social action activities. Thanks to Larramendi, culture, history, medical research and an endless number of activities beyond the pure insurance business became part of MAPFRE’s essence. To carry out this intense activity, he created a series of foundations over the years, two of the most significant of which were Fundación MAPFRE (1975) and Fundación Ignacio Larramendi (1986), to which he devoted himself body and soul once he retired in 1990.
Cultural and historical dimension
This element of humanism and patronage is possibly the thing he enjoyed the most. A convinced Americanist, Larramendi professed a reverential love for the American continent, to whose fraternal relations with Spain he dedicated an extensive part of his work from the foundations. Of particular note is the “MAPFRE Collections 1492” (housed in the Virtual Libraries of Polygraphs), a series of 245 volumes written by leading specialists dedicated to an in-depth analysis of all aspects related to the discovery of the new world. Through the foundations, Larramendi also offered strong support to medical research through initiatives such as the creation of the Ignacio de Larramendi Scholarships and Research Grants awarded each year by Fundación MAPFRE, which have now become an international benchmark in their field.
100 years since his birth
A Carlist, Catholic, lawyer, writer, editor and culture lover, those who had the good fortune to work with him describe Larramendi as a brilliant humanist, humble, enterprising, tolerant, social, honest, with a great sense of ethics and an infinite capacity for work. A key figure in Spanish business history whose influence transcended the scope of MAPFRE, setting the pace of the entire sector to the present day.
To commemorate 100 years since the birth of this exceptional businessman and individual, throughout 2021 various events have been held and are scheduled around his life and his projects related to the recovery and dissemination of our history.
Larramendi’s ten commandments for success
- It is essential to be ethical in order to be profitable.
- It is necessary to be frugal in spending.
- You must always tell the truth.
- You must not cheat the economy or the tax authorities.
- You must be serious at work.
- You must make fair decisions.
- You must be very transparent with employees and customers.
- You have to be very objective when judging and assessing a situation.
- You must always face up to difficulties, you must be courageous in business.
- You must have great respect, especially for strength of work.
Luis Hernando de Larramendi, the current president of Fundación Ignacio Larramendi, is primarily responsible for maintaining the spirit that drives the values of this institution
“My father’s main legacy is the desire to work for the common good”
What do you draw from your father’s legacy?
His unwavering aspiration to do things, not out of mere selfishness, but for the common good. He wanted to go through life leaving behind things that would give back to society and remain standing after he was gone.
It is said that he was the great architect of modern insurance in Spain. What were his main contributions to the sector?
In the 1950s, insurance in Spain was a very structured world organized around the status quo of the insurance companies, not the policyholders, to the point that it often seemed to work against the interests of the client. My father shattered all that. He understood insurance as a public service whose true meaning is to serve those who purchase it, at the lowest possible cost, thus providing a service to society.
Would you say that he was ahead of his time?
Without a doubt. He had an uncanny ability to see where the future was going to lead and anticipated many of the elements that are fully established in the insurance world today. For example, in the 1950s and 1960s, there was little taxation, companies used cash. He foresaw what would become auditing, self-regulation, transparency, the need for strong financial backing from banks. He also introduced the figure of the ombudsman, 30 years before this was established.
What was his leadership style like?
He was not afraid to say that something that had always worked was not working anymore. He made very controversial and risky decisions, such as the company’s decentralization, and had the ability to delegate, which was unusual at the time. He was a great believer in giving each person a small share of the responsibility, so that each employee was accountable for their own bottom line and was not just a mere number executing orders.
What does Spanish insurance owe to Ignacio Larramendi?
The Spanish insurance world could not have completed the transformation process it has undergone without MAPFRE’s leadership, and MAPFRE would not be what it is today without my father’s effort, tenacity, intelligence and sense of anticipation. It is impossible to know what my father would do today, but what is certain is that it would be groundbreaking.