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This summer upstart ACE engineered one of the largest insurance takeovers in history, agreeing to acquire venerable Chubb Corp. for more than $28 billion. A few weeks after the deal was announced, ACE chairman and CEO Evan Greenberg was in Warren, New Jersey, standing in the four-story atrium lobby at Chubb’s headquarters, looking up at unsmiling employees who leaned over the railings to hear from their new boss.

“This is like giving a speech in the Roman Colosseum,” the sinewy, shaven-skulled, 60-year-old executive told his audience. “I hope there’s no lions and that you don’t choose to throw anything at me.” Nervous giggles cascaded down. Greenberg then enumerated the many synergies and lucrative future he foresaw for the merged company, which he pointed out would be named Chubb, not ACE. “I don’t know any other way to show respect to somebody to begin with than to say we’re going to take your name,” said the insurance industry’s reigning superstar.

Months later, back at his midtown Manhattan headquarters, 45 stories above the theater district, Greenberg sounds less self-effacing. “We’re still ACE,” he tells Institutional Investor in a two-hour interview that displays his passion, brashness and edgy humor. “We will be ACE in Chubb clothing,” he quips.

It has been an extraordinary journey for the son of fabled insurance giant Maurice (Hank) Greenberg. For a quarter century Evan worked for his father at American International Group, expecting to take over what was then the planet’s leading insurer. When that didn’t happen, he quit AIG in 2000 and sulked for more than a year.

He plunged back into the industry after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, joining ACE, a midsize, Bermuda-based reinsurer. Over the next 14 years, he led ACE into 16 acquisitions, culminating with the Chubb deal, which will create the sixth-largest U.S. property/ casualty insurer by premiums. That would place the new entity behind State Farm Insurance, Liberty Mutual Group, Allstate Corp., Berkshire Hathaway and Travelers Cos.

Even more remarkable, this buying spree has taken place in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, when most insurers have been more intent on returning capital to shareholders than spending it on acquisitions. “You’re never going to shrink your way to greatness,” Greenberg says of his firm’s more cautious rivals.