Firing line  

‘When I came into this business, I came into it to make money’

‘When I came into this business, I came into it to make money’

Peter Rosengard is not your typical life insurance salesman. 

For a start, he has block-booked a breakfast table at Claridges for three hours every weekday until 2046 – his 100th birthday – where he likes to entertain guests and potential clients, and knows all the chefs and waiting staff by name.

He is known for founding the Comedy Store in the late 1970s, a move that discovered the likes of Rik Mayall, Dawn French and Alexei Sayle, bringing alternative comedy into the British mainstream.

He is also responsible for what was, for a long time, the world’s biggest life insurance policy: $100m (£76.7m) of key man insurance for David Geffen, following MCA Universal’s acquisition of Geffen Records for $550m. 

Mr Rosengard – an old family name he readopted in his 30s replacing ‘Rose’ – is now celebrating his 50th anniversary of selling life insurance – a milestone he reached on May 6.

He first got a job with Abbey Life selling life insurance, out of necessity.

But on his way back from the interview, in a cab funded by 50p he had borrowed, he discovered he was good at selling, and sold his first life policy to the cab driver. 

He says he started with the Abbey Life script: “I said to the taxi driver: ‘Can you save £20 a month for a good idea?’

“I just said to him, ‘Keep going on towards Marble Arch’.”

He returned to the script, and kept telling the driver to keep driving, all the while trying to sell life insurance.

By the time he had got to the final stop, he had used up his 50p and sold the driver a unit-linked savings plan.

Several decades later he put together the world’s largest life insurance policy.

Using a system of cold-calling from a London telephone box, and a certain degree of audacity, he tracked down the president of MCA, Sidney Sheinberg, in his hotel in Florence, congratulated him on his deal in buying Geffen Records and told him he needed to buy key man insurance.

Mr Rosengard said to him: “‘What happens if David walked under a truck tomorrow?’ They had bought David Geffen’s brains, and would have suffered a tremendous loss.

“He said to me: ‘You’ve certainly got chutzpah calling me, but your timing is immaculate. How much cover can you get?’

“I said: ‘I believe I could obtain a $100m life insurance policy.’ All he said was: ‘How much would that be?’”

Mr Rosengard was in uncharted territory, but he knew how much a $1m policy cost and just added some zeros.

The deal was quickly agreed by the MCA board, but then had to be underwritten by the insurance companies in the United States.

Again, Mr Rosengard’s personability and networking skills came to hand, as he happened to know the head of Prudential America.