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The Journal, 26 June 2014

An award-winning claims management business is exploring new markets and expansion after winning a Queen’s Award.

A troubleshooting claims management company is looking to expand and target new sectors to build upon export success that led to a Queen’s Award win.

Newcastle-based Thomas Miller Claims Management (TMCM) was launched in 2007 as a specialist offshoot of £94m turnover operation Thomas Miller, by a team of three – a tough time for an emerging firm when potential clients were analysing every penny they were spending, internally and externally.
Since then, however, the firm has grown to become a major player in international claims handling, with the team’s expertise helping to grow overseas sales by 153% over the last three years, with exports having risen from 44% of total turnover to 78%. Headcount has also risen fivefold to a team of 18 experts.

Operations director Stephen Hunt said: “Thomas Miller has been involved in transport insurance for 125 years and while the parent firm is based in London its roots are very much placed in the North East. The original Thomas Robson Miller was a Newcastle shipowner and Mayor of Morpeth who moved to London to establish himself. Seven years ago they created a consultancy arm – TMCM – and being based in Newcastle makes it a homecoming of sorts. While we still maintain strong links with the parent company all of the thinking and doing is done here in the region.”

The troubleshooting firm’s key markets are shipping and transport, dealing with issues including damaged goods and ships, passenger claims, charter disputes and injuries to dockworkers or crew, as well as the fallout from hijackings. It is also the biggest provider of medical emergency and case management services to the shipping industry, especially in cruise and energy sectors, managing cases in more than 50 countries and counting at least 30 major global shipping organisations as their clients, thanks to the talent pool and thriving services sector of the North East. While the team are based in Newcastle’s Prestwick Park, the nature of the work dictates a lot of travelling to anywhere from Seattle, Zanzibar or Swansea to visit clients, help solve disputes and carry out face-to-face-negotiations.

teamThe firm’s record in securing and maintaining international business saw it win a 2014 Queen’s Award for Enterprise in the International Trade category. Now the firm is looking wider to build upon the success that won it the award, well aware that their expertise in handling shipping and transport cases is transferable to other areas. Expansion plans are also being discussed, with a view to buying a law firm or even opening a call centre.

Hunt said: “We’ve got some quite ambitious plans and we are getting very encouraging responses from around the world, so we are looking into new areas. If we’re to repeat the growth which won us the Queen’s Award, we have to look at new opportunities which complement our existing offering, and in which we see opportunities for a company with our approach and cost model to make rapid progress. The markets in insurance and legal services continue to change and the momentum of the business, not to mention the parent company, demands that we explore those opportunities. It’s early days and nothing is set in stone but we might open a call centre or buy a law firm or both. But if we see half a chance to make a credible offering in a complementary sector with room for growth, we will take it.”

Highly skilled employees are imperative for case management companies, a fact TMCM is addressing by exploring training options. As new and active members of the North East Chamber of Commerce they are discussing the potential for apprenticeships and other recruitment and training initiatives.
Hunt added: “Training is another area where we’re presently at a watershed stage. Until very recently we tended to recruit opportunistically in various skill areasshipping, law, medicine, insurance etc, but now we’re looking to bring people in at the ground floor and help them develop in a direction which interests them and serves the business. We show them what the London insurance market looks like, or put them in the cargo hold of a ship, so that they get the context of our core areas and hopefully feel motivated to get more and more involved. Our work and our needs didn’t really lend themselves to any of that previously, but now we’re a more mature and diverse business with a more defined structure, we see a lot of mutual benefits in engaging fully with local and regional initiatives on things like recruitment, training and marketing.”