Insurance titan Maurice “Hank” Greenberg is the latest U.S. businessman looking to possibly expand in Cuba now that the Obama Administration has reversed more than 50 years of policy and has taken the first steps toward normalizing relations with the government there, the FOX Business Network has learned.
Greenberg, the chief executive of Starr International, traveled to Havana’s Jose Marti Airport last Thursday aboard his private jet, returning the next day following meetings with senior level Cuban government officials, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter, and according to flight records obtained by FOX Business.
In a telephone interview, Greenberg confirmed the trip and his meetings. The former long-time CEO of American International Group (NYSE:AIG) and now CEO of Starr International has been a pioneer in expanding insurance operations across the globe.
AIG, for instance, has a large presence in China thanks to Greenberg’s work with government officials, beginning in the mid 1970s.
Greenberg said that Starr is looking at possible insurance opportunities as American tourism companies expand in Cuba, though he added that he doesn’t see any short-term business dealings given the nature of the normalization process, which will likely be phased in over a number of years.
“I think there’s going to be more tourism, so there might be a business opportunity for us,” said Greenberg who declined to name the government officials he met with during his one-day trip.
Starr already owns a business known as Assist-Card, which offers insurance to people who want to travel to Cuba. But Greenberg confirmed that his trip involved broader discussions about possibly expanding other areas of Starr’s insurance business such as providing insurance for hotels.
Since President Obama announced that he was taking the first steps toward ending a 55-year economic blockade of the Cuba that began after the 1959 Cuban revolution, American businesses have been eyeing the business possibilities there.
American tourism-related business has a particularly keen interest in expanding in the island nation, though many are finding it easier said than done. For starters, the trade embargo still exists, and companies will have to deal with layers of laws and regulations from the U.S. and the Cuban governments to do business.
For instance, Hilton Worldwide Holdings (NYSE:HLT) has been observing the changes in U.S.-Cuban economic policy since the president announced his intentions to normalize relations in December of last year.
But the hotel company has yet to formally engage the Cuban government to expand its presence, and the closest it has come to doing so will be when Hilton officials take part in a cultural mission with other business leaders and travel to Cuban toward the end of the year, a person with knowledge of the matter says.
“The embargo still exists so there’s not much Hilton can do,” said one person with knowledge of the matter.
A Hilton spokesman had no comment.
Despite these obstacles, many businesses are looking at Cuba as the next big growth opportunity. Beginning on July 3, Jet Blue (NASDAQ:JBLU) will fly from JFK Airport in New York to Havana. Car rental company Avis (NASDAQ:CAR) has joined JetBlue as part of a program to rent cars including those on the island, according to people with knowledge of the matter.
Avis spokeswoman Alice Pereira didn’t return telephone calls for comment. A spokesman for JetBlue had no immediate comment.
Greenberg, who just turned 90, and started in the insurance business just around the time the US. trade embargo went into effect in 1960, says he doesn’t see opening a Starr office in Cuba anytime soon.
“Nothing over there will happen immediately,” he said.