Peter Wood (businessman)

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Sir Peter John Wood, CBE (born Surrey, c.1946) is an English entrepreneur, most notable as the founder of the Direct Line and Esure insurance companies.[1] In 2009 he was the 438th wealthiest person in Britain with a personal fortune of £120 million, according to the Sunday Times Rich List 2009,[2] and his repeated successes in the past twenty years have accorded him a "legendary" reputation within the insurance industry.[3][4]

His ascendancy began with Direct Line, the first telephone-only insurance company in the UK when it was launched in 1985 by Wood and Martin Long.[5] The venture was underwritten by the Royal Bank of Scotland, and was so successful that within nine years it had grown from nothing to become the biggest insurer of private vehicles in the country,[6] claiming three times as many customers as the Royal Bank itself.[7] Wood did not have a capital stake in Direct Line,[3] having sold it to the Royal Bank in 1988 in return for a generous performance-related remuneration.[8] It proved to be a prescient deal, as the company's rapid rise led to his becoming Britain's highest paid company director, receiving £1.6 million in 1991, £6 million in 1992, and £18.2 million in 1993.[8] The subsequent attention and notoriety his pay attracted—Labour Party MP and then-shadow Trade Secretary Robin Cook called his bonus "obscene"[1][9]—was a source of embarrassment both to Wood himself and the Royal Bank, who attempted to buy their way out of their contractual obligations with a one-off £24 million payment in 1994, taking his total income that year to £42 million.[8][10] Wood himself claims that he personally requested an end to the deal, after receiving a letter bomb at the Direct Line offices which injured a member of staff.[7] Nevertheless, Wood remained richly rewarded, receiving another £17 million in 1995 and remaining a byword for the perceived excesses of corporate boardrooms in the 1990s, according to critics.[10][11][12]

He left Direct Line in 1997 in a parting that was not entirely amicable,[3] but continued to work with the Royal Bank in other areas, including Privilege, an insurance company specialising in lower-risk customers which had been created in 1996.[13]

In 1999 Wood established Esure, this time in partnership with rival bank Halifax,[14] who provided £150 million of startup capital.[15] Esure used the same business model as Direct Line and targeted the same customer base, establishing a foothold in the market before following with a subsidiary (First Alternative) in 2003 for drivers of higher premium vehicles.[16][17] Even their advertising and marketing were similar, to the point where Direct Line challenged Esure's "Mr Mouse" character to be an infringement of their own iconic red telephone on wheels, and they successfully took Wood's new venture to court to prevent it being trademarked.[18][19] A women-only specialist insurance brand, Sheilas' Wheels, was established by Wood and Esure in October 2005.[20]

He currently serves as the chairman of Esure, having purchased the 70% stake Lloyds Banking Group held in the company on 11 February 2010.[21]

Wood also set up two insurance companies in the United States, Response (1995) and Homesite (1997), although his involvement with both of them came to an end in 2004.[3]

Wood was knighted in the 2016 Birthday Honours for services to UK Industry and Philanthropy.[22]


  1. ^ a b Stevenson, Rachel (30 June 2003). "Seventh heaven for the man who started Britain's telephone insurance revolution". The Independent. 
  2. ^ "Rich List 2008". London: The Sunday Times. 27 April 2008. 
  3. ^ a b c d "Esure boss just won't calm down". London: The Times. 11 April 2004. 
  4. ^ Griffiths, Katherine (27 April 2002). "Peter Wood helps fund Cox cash call". The Independent. 
  5. ^ Parkinson, Gary (2 April 2000). "Wood poaches chiefs". London: The Daily Telegraph. 
  6. ^ "About us: Milestones". Direct Line Insurance. 
  7. ^ a b Darroch, Valerie (12 September 2001). "Wizard of odds". The Sunday Herald. 
  8. ^ a b c Mabey, Christopher; Graeme Salaman; John Storey (1998). Human Resource Management. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. p. 143. ISBN 0-631-21145-4. 
  9. ^ Ringshaw, Grant (20 February 2000). "I'm coming out to play". London: The Daily Telegraph. 
  10. ^ a b "Royal Bank? It's trebles all round the board". London: The Guardian. 14 March 2001. 
  11. ^ "Highest paid director gets 900 times more than his average employee". The Independent. 14 September 1995. [dead link]
  12. ^ Cox, Judy (Winter 1995). "Wealth, poverty and class in Britain today". International Socialism Journal. International Socialism (89). 
  13. ^ "Succession at Direct Line Group". PR Newswire. 25 June 1997. 
  14. ^ "About esure". Esure. 
  15. ^ "Halifax to offer online insurance". BBC. 17 February 2000. 
  16. ^ Stevenson, Rachel (26 June 2003). "Peter Wood tackles higher risk cars market". The Independent. 
  17. ^ "The First Alternative for Higher Premium Motorists" (Press release). Esure. 22 October 2003. 
  18. ^ (5 July 2007). "Direct Line squashes esure's mouse on wheels". The Register. 
  19. ^ Toulmin, Carolyn (23 July 2008). "esure Insurance Ltd v Direct Line Insurance plc (2008) EWCA Civ 842; (2008) WLR (D) 252". Archived from the original on 4 August 2008. 
  20. ^ "Peter Wood and HBOS launch 'Sheilas' Wheels' brand to shake-up car insurance for women" (Press release). Sheilas' Wheels. 19 September 2005. Archived from the original on 7 January 2009. 
  21. ^ LLoyds sells 70% stake in Esure BBC News Online. 11 February 2010
  22. ^ "No. 61608". The London Gazette (Supplement). 11 June 2016. p. B2.