NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- After two years of sitting in the dark, former American International Group ( AIG) CEO Martin Sullivan, who oversaw the loss of $94 billion in shareholder value at that insurance giant, is moving back into the spotlight. On Wednesday, the $5.2 billion insurance brokerage Willis Group Holdings ( WSH) announced Sullivan's appointment as both deputy chairman of the broader firm and head of its global division. The new role puts the 56-year-old insurance titan in charge of the same type of business that brought AIG to its knees. Joe Plumeri, chairman and CEO of the London-based firm, was enthusiastic about Sullivan's arrival. "We get a twofer here," Plumeri said on a conference call Wednesday morning. "We are paying him once, but we get a twofer." Willis management explained that they needed someone who can tie together the firm's diverse global business lines to offer an array of products and services to large, multinational firms. They'd like Sullivan to deliver results "in a very bespoke manner to the truly global companies, the Global 500s," said Willis Group President Grahame Millwater. Plumeri pointed out that the large accounts within Willis Global Solutions face "a world that is fraught with risk today." Sullivan will be charged with helping them "mitigate those risks." In that regard, he's an odd choice. During his few years at AIG, Sullivan managed to plunge the company so far into risk that it ultimately required a $182 billion bailout from the federal government, the largest for any individual company during the financial crisis. When he left the insurance giant, it had
nearly 300 individual companies within it, with dozens of subsidiaries. His work in tangling them together and building a complex book of derivatives represents the Gordian knot that AIG has spent the last two years attempting to unwind. Sullivan didn't say much on the call, nor has he said much since departing AIG in the summer of 2008, a few months before it nearly collapsed. During his first year as chairman and CEO of AIG in 2005, Sullivan grew the financial products division to represent 10% of revenue and 28% of operating income, from 8% and 15% the previous year. From there it declined and by the time he left in 2008, AIGFP posted a $40.8 billion operating loss. There are correlations between Sullivan's experience at AIG and the business he is tasked with leading at Willis. Last year, Willis Group brought in $3.2 billion in revenue and $694 million in operating profit. The global division is the smallest of Willis' three main silos, but also the most profitable. It brought in about 26% of revenue, with and 37% of the bottom line. The main driver of those earnings was Willis Capital Markets & Advisory, a newly formed segment of Willis, which operates in similar areas as AIGFP.
Willis said its capital markets business was "the primary driver of organic growth" last quarter, while other insurance businesses remained relatively soft. Despite being the newbie, the division has delivered $510 million in commissions and fees, representing nearly 30% of fee revenue for the entire Willis franchise during the first half of 2010. Millwater called the division a "boutique investment bank-capital markets business" that the firm "instigated" last year. It provides risk management and M&A advisory services to insurance and reinsurance companies. Last summer, the division announced the hiring of nine executives who came from the white-shoe leagues of Bank of America-Merrill Lynch ( BAC), Goldman Sachs ( GS), Credit Suisse ( CS), Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, Deutsche Bank ( DB) and UBS ( UBS). In looking ahead for future growth with Sullivan at the head of the global business that includes capital markets, Plumeri said "we are thrilled --absolutely thrilled to have him with us today." Said Millwater: "Frankly, in my 25 years I've been in awe of Martin Sullivan... He has huge experience in the business, a huge knowledge of all the ingredients that make up the pieces that you have to bring to bear on a global multinational client." Sullivan may bring four decades of experience to the table, but Willis Group shareholders have to hope he learned something during the three years of AIG's boom and bust in the capital markets. He officially joined the Willis team on Monday and seems eager to make up for lost time. "Joe has made it clear that I'm at the end of my learning period this evening and I had better start contributing straightaway," he joked on the conference call. "I've been charged with the responsibility of really giving ... the full breadth of Willis's services to our clients around the world, both existing and new," he added. "And I look forward to doing that in the months and years ahead." No analysts were on the conference call to ask questions about the surprise news, which first appeared late Tuesday evening on the online edition of the Financial Times. By late morning, Willis' stock was flat at $30.47 while investors digested the news. --Written by Lauren Tara LaCapra in New York. >To contact the writer of this article, click here: Lauren Tara LaCapra. >To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/laurenlacapra. >To submit a news tip, send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.