Antonio Iozzo, CEO of Insurance Underwriting Managers, has become a household name in Johannesburg business circles in recent years. His meteoric rise as an entrepreneur has attracted substantial media attention: features in various publications, front-page exposure in Entrepreneur magazine, an interview on BusinessDay TV, and coverage on Standard Bank’s BizConnect site. It has also earned him recognition in the business world: he was the 2013 recipient of the Italian-South African Chamber of Trade & Industry’s FNB Business Excellence Award, and has recently been nominated for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2020 Award.

But, despite the media coverage, Antonio has remained fundamentally true to his roots. Based in Bedfordview, no great distance from where he had his modest upbringing, his unassuming nature and even-tempered personality seem to belie his stature in the business world and the publicity generated by his success story.

The Antonio Iozzo story is a classic “rags to riches” tale, involving his ascent from inauspicious beginnings via business and personal travails to the heights of commercial success. When Antonio was 15 years old, his father was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, which rendered him unable to continue working. With the family’s income severely reduced, Antonio found a job as a pizzaman at a local Italian restaurant to assist his mother in covering the household expenses. Eventually he left school in grade 11, determined to establish a career in the hospitality trade. He made his own way through hotel school before investing, together with his mother and brother, all of the family’s meagre resources in an ill-fated restaurant. The venture ultimately proved unduly ambitious, and it failed, leaving the family virtually destitute.

Back at the proverbial square one, but undeterred, Antonio started working as an insurance broker in 1997. Studying while working, he gradually learnt the tricks of the trade, so much so that, in 1999, he struck out on his own and set up a short-term brokerage. It was tough starting a business with no money and no access to finance. This, too, did not deter him. He found that banks would more readily approve a credit card application than a financial loan, and so he gathered as many credit cards as possible, which he then used to finance his business in the early stages. In this “never-say-die” manner, and having overcome the disappointment of the failure of his venture in the restaurant trade, he gradually established a thriving business in the insurance and property development markets. However, he again found himself on the brink of disaster when his luxury sectional title development was nearly torpedoed by the global financial crisis of 2008. Hard-nosed determination and a willingness to risk his personal assets in a calculated manner enabled him to stave off calamity in circumstances where lesser spirits may have succumbed. A few years later, Antonio sustained severe injuries in a motorcycle racing accident which led to a protracted and difficult recovery process.

Despite repeatedly having been confronted by personal adversity and impediments to commercial progress, Antonio consistently displayed his hallmark robustness. This, combined with his inimitable and instinctive business nous, enabled him to navigate the hazards of starting from scratch in a macro-economic environment characterised by instability and uncertainty. He was prepared to “put skin in the game,” and to gain the confidence and loyalty of customers, employees, and business associates through integrity, leadership, innovation and sheer hard work. Today Antonio has a R800 million multi-faceted organization comprising of businesses in the insurance, construction, and health and wellness sectors. It is a success story that would not have materialized but for the fact that Antonio sets high standards, persisted in pursuing his ambitions, and demonstrated his qualities as an independent thinker in challenging business circumstances.