William Thomas Thomson: Managing the Development of Standard Life

Who: William Thomas Thomson
Job: Manager of Standard Life
Where: Edinburgh
When: 1834-1878
Archive: Standard Life Group Archive

William Thomas Thomson (1813-1883)

William Thomas Thomson
(1813-1883)

The first half of the nineteenth century was an exciting time for Standard Life. The light at the end of the tunnel was becoming brighter as the company emerged from a short lived slump, with a steady rise in profits and huge potential for expansion.

The man largely responsible for this turn of fortune was William Thomas Thomson, arguably one of the most influential and forward thinking managers the company has ever had. Thomson joined the company in 1834 as secretary and was promoted to manager in 1837 after a string of well timed ideas helped revolutionise the company’s expansion strategy and improve company processes. It has been said that “There can be no doubt that since he joined Standard Life in 1834, Thomson had been the driving force behind its development”.

Thomson believed that acquisition as well as business growth was the key to company success; a revolutionary idea among the financial sector elite of the time, and to this end Standard Life absorbed eight other companies between 1844 and 1878, including Commercial Assurance, in 1846 and the Victoria & Legal & General in 1865.

Construction of the Uruguay Head Office in Montevideo

Construction of the Uruguay Head Office in Montevideo

Acquisition was just one of the business growth strategies implemented by Thomson. His time at the helm of Standard Life (1837-1974) was also the company’s largest period of international expansion. Thomson formed the sister company Colonial Life Assurance Company in 1845 which was designed to share offices and staff with Standard Life; a move which at the time was highly unusual business practice. The company not only increased Standard Life’s profile in the Canadian Market, but over a thirty year period opened new offices in London, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, India, Uruguay, China, South Africa and Hamburg.

Standard Life Pamphlets

A large portion of Colonial Life’s success overseas (and that of Standard Life in the UK) can be attributed to Thomson’s’ dedication to the proper use of morbidity statistics. Thomson worked closely with Robert Christison, Standard Life’s second appointed chief medical officer, to revise the way in which insurance applicants were questioned on their lifestyles. “As its name implied, the company was focused on accepting only good or standard lives. On the advice of the medical officer those considered to be high risk were either charged an extra premium or were not insured at all”.

Dr Spencer Campbell Thomson

Dr Spencer Campbell Thomson

These management strategies and principles were continued after Thomson’s retirement in 1878 by his successor, and his son, Dr Spencer Campbell Thomson. Spencer managed the company until 1904, during which time he also published four books related to medical science and mortality.

The Standard Life Group Archive contains a diverse range of material relating to the company since its beginnings in 1825. For more information on the company and its history see our website.

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