Obituary of William J. O’Brien – Boston Globe – 2002
The Boston Globe - Obituary
Monday, August 26, 2002
CEO of Hanover Insurance at 69
William J. O’Brien, who headed the Hanover Insurance Companies for more than
a decade, died Saturday after a long battle with prostate cancer. He was 69.
Between 1979 and 1991, when Mr. O’Brien was Hanover’s president and chief
executive officer, the firm rose from the bottom of the insurance heap to the top. By
1994, Hanover was “one of the top 10 underwriting companies,” according to a
McKinsey and Company report released that year.
Mr. O’Brien was born in Yonkers, N.Y., graduating in 1950 from St. Cecelia’s
High School in Englewood, N.J. He received a bachelor’s degree from Fordham
University in 1954, then served in the Army until 1956.
In 1960, Mr. O’Brien joined Securities Insurance of Hartford, where he rose to
vice president. After eight years at the company, he joined the Glen Falls Insurance
Company as a vice president.
He began working at Hanover in 1971.
As President and CEO of Hanover, Mr. O’Brien refined the company’s vision,
emphasizing a lean corporate structure and an open system of management. His deep
interest in framing Hanover’s governing ideas led to a series of booklets that set forth the
After he retired in 1991, Mr. O’Brien helped other companies perform better,
promoting a “systems thinking” approach to solving business problems.
Mr. O’Brien was founding member of the board of governors of the MIT Center
for Organizational Learning and was a founding partner of Generon Consulting.
He served as a consultant to the Covenant Group, a start-up property and casualty
insurance company recently acquired by Arbella Insurance. He also served on the board
of directors of Shawmut Bank, NStar Corp., Claims Outsource Inc., and Blue Cod
Mr. O’Brien was also active in the community, serving as president of the
Worcester Economic club and chairman of Adopt-A-Student, an organization that ra