AIG has always seen opportunity where others see only challenge. The company’s actions in the aftermath of World War II, when Europe struggled to recover from the ravages of conflict, exemplify this determination.
In 1948, Western Europe’s future was far from certain. In an effort to stem the mounting influence of communism, the United States provided $12 billion (more than $125 billion today) to stimulate economic growth in the region. What became known as the Marshall Plan was met with skepticism by some on both sides of the Atlantic, but AIG founder Cornelius Vander Starr supported the program. He dispatched agents across Western Europe in order to insure American investments abroad.
The company provided backing for some of the earliest postwar revitalization projects. It began with marine and fire coverage in Belgium. In Ansbach, Germany, it supported the development of a reservoir to provide security in case a fire broke out at nearby warehouses holding military supplies worth millions. Then, in Greece, it provided coverage for the equipment used to rebuild electric systems.
Beyond these individual projects, AIG also provided insurance products that the countries lacked in the immediate years following the war, including auto insurance for U.S. troops in Austria, fire insurance for local French businesses and marine coverage in Italy.
One of the young employees upon whom Starr depended was John Roberts. “My first job was tracking down opportunities in France that were opened up by the Marshall Plan, target marketing companies that were being resuscitated by the economic assistance," Roberts said. By 1949, Roberts had moved to Milan to relaunch the company’s fledgling Italian business before relocating to Rome, where he became head of the Mediterranean Regional Office at age 27.
During the next few years, the reinvestment into Europe began to take off, particularly from Roberts’ vantage point in Rome. Amid this expansion, it was often Roberts initiating interaction between new clients and AIG. In 1956, Roberts became head of the Europe business as the investment from the Marshall Plan revitalized the region, turning it into an important source of global growth for the company. Roberts went on to serve as a chairman of AIG.
“Insurance needs are ever-changing; the great effort should be discovering these needs, fulfilling them and looking further ahead," Roberts said.