Managing Director: MAI Reinsurance Brokers
Hugo Barker graduated with a degree in Physical Education and Sports Science with History in 1982. Hugo has worked predominantly as a Reinsurance Broker and has set up his own business in Latvia.
Why did you choose to study Physical Education and Sports Science with History at Loughborough University?
At the time, I was interested in sport as I was a semi-professional Modern Pentathlete and wanted to explore it more. As my favourite subject was history, I was able to combine both interests and it suited me well.
I think being part of a sporting elite gave me many ideas about how to succeed at a high level in other areas later in life. Plus, I had a good history tutor who inspired me and provided the base for my general interest in world history and politics that is the bedrock of my business.
Would there be one piece of advice that you would give to current or prospective students looking to study the same course that you did?
I think you simply need to be interested in the subjects. They are just too specific for it to be otherwise.
Did you take part in any extra-curricular activities during your studies? If so, what impact did these have on your experience?
I was heavily involved in the Officer Training Corps (OTC) as I was an Army Bursar, which gave me good friends and contacts that I kept with me the rest of my life. I was also a Chorus Member in an Operetta during my first year, and that ignited an interest in opera that stays with me today as a Glyndebourne member.
Before 1990, I was a steady Lloyds Reinsurance Broker. The key moment was the fall of the Berlin Wall that opened up Eastern Europe, as it persuaded me to leave the UK as and set up my own business in Latvia in 1995. It was a high-risk strategy, but I do think that I had the confidence from Loughborough and the Army to take the risk, and I was lucky with the timing of world politics.
I left Loughborough in 1982 and was an Army officer 1982-1986. I joined Lloyd's in 1986 and was a conventional Lloyd's Broker till 1995. I developed Eastern Europe as a Lloyd's Broker 1990-1995 and then moved to Latvia to do it on my own in 1995.
I started MAI CEE in 1999 and spent 20 years building it into the largest independent broking company in the central and eastern Europe region with 13 national offices and 180 employees. I sold my share out in 2015 and kept a part of the Group called MAI RE as my own 100% owned company thereon.
Currently we are working hard on developing new projects in Africa and the Middle East with a smaller team of 15 people.
I think the most difficult thing initially was doing it on my own. More recently, I have had good business partners, but I think it is very difficult if you really are alone, as you need someone to warn you when you are going in the wrong direction or putting too much energy into the wrong area.
I think life is too short and the world is a great place, so why not go looking? I think by living in Latvia or anywhere around the world you do become a wider person and are able to absorb different cultures. After 20 years, I have very much become a European citizen which has made me very much a 'remain er' and slightly at odds with my own countrymen at times.
I think the moment you know when you will survive as a sole operator and probably are going to succeed is a great moment. It may not happen overnight, rather it's a gradual awareness, but looking back the stakes are high and it's the best of feelings.