The Role of a Leader – Cathy Taylor, Ageas Insurance
I’ve recently interviewed several Executives from a number of leading insurance organisations, discussing the role of a leader and other topical issues.
Today’s interview is with Cathy Taylor, Head of Commercial Underwriting and Operations at Ageas Insurance Limited.
Cathy Taylor has over 30 years of Commercial Broker market experience and has worked for both major and niche insurers in a variety of roles including underwriting; sales; operations; organisational strategy and managing business development. She is a Chartered Insurer, a Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute; holds an MBA and a further Masters (MSc) in Sustainability and Responsibility from Ashridge Business School.
As well as senior roles at GA/CGU, Aviva and Ecclesiastical, Cathy has also worked closely with the hospice movement. In 2010, alongside her role at Ecclesiastical, she was interim CEO at a Cotswold hospice. In 2012, she took a sabbatical to undertake a full time CEO role at a large hospice in Bristol, where she helped to recruit a permanent CEO.
In 2014 she joined Ageas Insurance as Head of Commercial Underwriting and Operations. She is responsible for managing the performance and development of Ageas’s commercial lines account across three sites – as Ageas has ambitions to profitably grow this sector.
Q1. In your opinion what makes a great leader?
A great leader:
Is someone who has humility, is someone you trust and who you know will help to get you to where you or your organisation needs to be.
Is someone who gets out of your way to enable you to do your job, and trusts you to do your job.
Will be a role model in terms of their own behaviours; give you support where it is needed and freedom to make your own decisions within authority.
Has the ability to see things others don’t always see and comfortable when charting new territory
Never needs to mention the word ‘empowerment’……….
Q2. Are there naturally born leaders or is it a skill that can be learned?
In many ways nature has a part to play in that we are born with innate qualities that may help develop strong leadership skills in our lifetime. Nurture plays a huge part, in that honesty; humility and passion are traits of how we develop as people and how our emotional intelligence grows with experience and influence from other strong leaders. Leadership can definitely be learned insofar as being lucky enough or wise enough to recognise it from others – great examples of leadership can come from many sources – your parents; friends; teachers; workplace leadership as well as other societal figures.
Q3. What advice would you give to an individual who aspires to run a business or business unit?
Have a strong vision of what you need to achieve for that business, then believe in it and build a team around you who can deliver it with passion. Hire for attitude and not just skills; trust your team to deliver and give them support and freedom to do their jobs. Listen to what is happening in the business. Create an environment where challenge is the norm. Lead by example. Ask for their help if you don’t have the answer. Deal with good and bad performance in the moment. The latter with empathy, the former with celebration. Never stop learning. Every day there will be something new to take on board.
Q4. Who has had the biggest influence on your career?
My parents, who invested love and time in my learning and education and encouraging me to be my best. My teachers for knowing how to get the best out of me and giving me an incredibly voracious appetite for learning. Plus a number of incredible people in my career who have taken time and interest in helping and encouraging me to build on my strengths as well as providing great motivation and inspiration. Some were my line managers but many were colleagues or more senior management. I’ve just been so lucky to have had so many opportunities to learn from others but that starts with the will to want to of course!
Q5. From a business perspective, what is the biggest mistake you’ve made and what did you learn?
One of the best mentors I have had in business once said to me ‘ don’t let the perfume of the premium mask the odour of the risk’ – so I don’t have many tales to tell of writing risks that really shouldn’t have been written. However, I have made a couple of hiring mistakes where I let my head overrule my intuition…. Don’t underestimate the massive value of intuition – especially if it’s been built up over many years (in my case over 30). Also, managing out poor performers quicker – if you don’t, you’ll likely lose some star performers in their wake.
Q6. In your opinion, in the next 5 years, what skills do you see being in greatest demand within insurance?
Given the pace of change; one of the greatest skills will be the vision to stay ahead of the faster moving environment; the ability to take people with you and motivate them throughout the inevitable changes; a passion to deliver and to do the right thing for all stakeholders and our environment now being a key stakeholder.
Q7. Has having a Master’s degree and MBA helped you in your career?
Absolutely. I was lucky enough to have been sponsored to do my MBA. The strategic learning was invaluable and was put to extensive use during a couple of major transformational projects I led in one of my roles post qualification. Any learning applied is then shared by others so there are multiple opportunities to develop, coach and mentor others on the back of it. I still use multiple models from my MBA on a daily basis.
Q8. What would you say is the greatest challenge facing the insurance market today?
I believe that the pace of change is a challenge for many within the industry and this is an issue where size doesn’t always help. It’s no surprise that smaller organisations can move quicker as decision making is often faster and within a trusted group of individuals. Keeping up with fast moving demographics; the ability to create real value from masses of data and staying on the right side of increasing regulation as well as identifying and preventing fraud. Not to mention the ongoing war for great talent – though this has always been a challenge.
Q9. What do you see as the greatest opportunity?
That’s relatively easy to answer. Just convert all of the challenges in previous question to create those opportunities. In addition, our industry has an unprecedented opening to be a leader in purposeful employment and helping to protect our environment – both of huge importance to millenials and potentially even more so for the next demographic cohort.
Q10. How do you build long term sustainable relationships with Brokers that benefits both parties?
Like all sustainable relationships – this is about people and trust. A simple formula of understanding each other; working together to overcome difficult times; delivering on promises; looking out for each other so that there is mutual reward and always having the customer/client at the heart of decision making.
Q11. There is more awareness today on mental health issues in the workplace, how do you deal with the inevitable stresses involved in running a business unit?
Having a high performing management team is a great start. However, it would be disingenuous of me to say that stress doesn’t pay a visit from time to time. Connectivity to work through email and mobile phone does mean that it can be too easy to stay connected 24/7. Personally, I look to maintain a quality work / life balance which is crucial to manage mental health at work.
Q12. How has the insurance industry adapted to diversity in the work place?
It certainly feels like a lot of effort and energy is being invested to reflect the diverse population and changing demographics. Unfortunately, old habits die hard and I believe there is still a huge way to go and possibly at least another one or two generations before a fully diverse workplace is the norm. I’ve studied diversity in organisations and what is often not known, is that bias is commonly unconscious. Hard wired behaviour that comes with nurture – so in other words, people are often not aware of their biases. At Ageas, there is a huge amount happening around the business to promote diversity in the workplace, including unconscious bias training, this is fantastic to see and hear about. It just needs to happen across more organisations to help us attract and retain a diverse workforce in the industry.
Q13. What advice would give to someone looking to start a career in the world of insurance?
Probably the same advice I would give to anyone starting a new career in any industry. Work hard; listen; get a professional qualification; stretch yourself; learn from good role models; maintain your integrity; challenge constructively; be available to help where you can see it is needed; be a positive influencer to help protect our environment; don’t be afraid to ask questions; check you understand the answers.
Q14. What would be the attraction?
Joining an industry that helps protect people and businesses; provides meaningful employment with a huge variety of opportunities across a number of disciplines; the chance to obtain higher education or further professional qualifications; the opportunity to make a difference; be part of one of the most important industries on the planet. What’s not to like?
Right International have a proven track record of identifying and sourcing the top talent across various niches of the insurance market. If you are looking to add to your team now or in the near future, I would welcome the opportunity to help – please contact me.
If you have any ideas for future articles and would like to be involved, please let me know and I would welcome any feedback.
Please look out for more leadership blogs coming soon!
All the best,
Founder & MD
Right International Insurance Headhunters