Who is John R. Coomber

John R. Coomber was the first non-Swiss CEO of Swiss Re, a global reinsurance firm. He guided the company through the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks, which had destabilized the global insurance industry. Coomber later moved to the Pension Insurance Corporation, holding the title of CEO until 2015. Coomber also served as chairman of the Climate Group and ClimateWise, an association of insurance companies committed to fighting climate change.


John R. Coomber was born in England in 1949. He concentrated in mathematics and engineering at Nottingham University, graduating in 1970. He soon joined the Phoenix Insurance Company in London because, he later claimed in an interview, he wanted to get married and insurance companies provided their employees with mortgages. He moved to Swiss Re, the largest reinsurer in the world, in 1973 when Phoenix relocated to Bristol. Coomber became an actuary in 1983, and rose through several leadership roles at Swiss Re.

In 1987, Coomber became general manager of Swiss Re UK and ran the life insurance division of that operation. This was his first step into the realm of administration and management. He was successful in those roles and continued his rise to managing director and CEO of Swiss Re UK in 1993. Revenues increased 30 percent per year during his time in that role, driven primarily through his strategy of expansion through acquisition and his decision to enter the North American market.

Executive reorganization in Swiss Re’s Zurich headquarters led to an opening at the CEO level in September 2002. The company named Coomber as successor to Walter Kielholz, the first time that a non-Swiss would run the firm. The company was recovering from the fallout of September 11, 2001, attacks in the U.S. at the time, and a series of natural disasters in 2002 had added to losses.

John R. Coomber’s Global Activism

Coomber sensed that the business challenges facing his company in 2003 were symptomatic of larger global forces threatening global business and the environment at the time. In late 2003 and early 2004, he took part in meetings known coordinated by Swiss Re, Harvard Medical School and the United Nations that involved leaders from the scientific, government and business communities. These meetings led to the Rushlikon Compact, an agreement among its participants to address the greatest threats facing humanity: climate change and the health risks resulting from ecological degradation.

In the years since Rushlikon, Coomber has served as chairman of the Climate Group, an international NGO, and ClimateWise, a consortium of insurance companies address global environmental risk. He remained involved in the insurance world as CEO of the Pension Insurance Group until 2015.