Byrne back as White Mountains chair

Jack Byrne is back as chairman of the board of White Mountains Insurance Group.

The company announced May 26 that Byrne, the former chairman and CEO of the company, will replace George Gillespie as chairman of the board of directors. Gillespie replaced Byrne in November 2003.

The move probably strengthens the New Hampshire focus of the company, which moved much of its U.S. operations to New Jersey shortly after appointing Steve Fass as president and CEO because Fass was based in that state. The firm did leave behind some corporate offices in Hanover.

Fass said he”enthusiastically welcomes Jack back to the head of the table,” while Byrne added that he will be the”biggest cheerleader” for the CEO and the company he put in place.

Byrne, who chaired the White Mountains board for some 18 years, became more involved in, his son Patrick’s Internet retail company after stepping down from the White Mountains chairmanship. The elder Byrne – who with his wife owns about 12 percent of Overstock — rejoined the Overstock board in June 2004 and then took over, replacing his son as chairman, amid much fanfare, in October 2005. At the time, Patrick Byrne – who remained CEO — said,”I can’t think of a better person to act as my boss than my father.”

But Overstock became embroiled in a number of controversies. Patrick Byrne is feuding with some business journalists contending that they have launched into his stock in order to help short sellers. He raised a few eyebrows in early May when he announced plans to”celebrate” receiving a subpoena from the Securities and Exchange Commission, so that he can get his side of the story out in court.

Patrick Byrne – who owns the vast majority of the stock – quietly replaced his father as chairman on April 25, with the elder Byrne stepping down as deputy chairman. One month later, Jack Byrne resumed his chairmanship of the White Mountains board, where he had remained a director.

Calls to Jack Byrne and Overstock were not returned by NHBR deadline.

Investors are apparently glad to have Byrne back. The Insurance company’s high-priced stock shot up from $511 to $529 in the first few hours of trading on Friday morning.

In other news, the company announced a $2 quarterly dividend, payable June 28, to holders of record on June 19. – BOB SANDERS

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