Diary of an Insurer: Markel’s Jo Sykes

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Jo Sykes, divisional director, broker & ATE UK, for Markel, provides a taxi service for her daughters as they cope with mock GCSEs plus A Levels, has plenty of meetings, plus she manages to squeeze in a five mile run.

Jo Sykes, Markel broker divisional director


My morning starts with a quick gym class. I get this in early as I’m more of a morning person and will struggle to go later.

Back home to drop my youngest daughter at school then jump on the train to the Leeds office for our in-person monthly broker executive committee meeting. 

Here we run through key topics of performance for us as a team including underwriting, marketing, technical, claims and innovation.

Shortly after, a one-to-one with our head of tax helps us align and see where there are opportunities to collaborate and support each other. 

The day finishes with a monthly meeting with the ATE leadership team. This is another area that falls under my umbrella and our meeting is to assess performance and identify areas of opportunity to work with new clients.

After work I drop one daughter at netball training and the other at a match, I spend a lot of time watching sport! I used to play but retired to watch on the side lines now.


I head off early to catch the train to Manchester. The two trains I need to get into central Manchester give me time to work through emails and check my diary, both work and personal, for the week ahead.


The day kicks off with a meeting with HR on development and talent, something that is really important to me. Then into an executive committee meeting for most of the day where we discuss key strategic topics for Markel UK

This is an in-person decision-making forum, and an opportunity for the leadership team to all be in the same location at once.

I have to leave Manchester late afternoon to get back in time to collect my daughter by 6pm when her school closes – it’s always a fine balance but one that I try to get right. The train journey again gives me valuable time to work, this time preparing for a busy day in London on the Wednesday.

In the evening, I go out for a five-mile run. I do this twice a week with friends and my husband cooks dinner while I’m out. 

I am grateful for his support and he is a much better chef than me. I try to do at least 10,000 steps a day but that’s not always possible.


Another early start, this time to London and again on the train. I always call home to check the girls have made it out of bed to get to school.

Young woman traveling by train and using phone.
Maria Korneeva

I have a meeting with a technology company; we are exploring ways of improving efficiency so this is a really interesting meeting. Then into an in-person interview with Insurance Age to discuss my role five months in – time has flown by so quickly.

I take some time to check in with one of my team, talking development and how they are. Wellbeing of my team is really important to me. Then an in person one-to-one with my boss, Neil Galjaard. Having been with the business a short period of time, we catch up regularly.

We’ve arranged an in-person session with the executive team of a strategic broker to discuss progress and how we can further build on our relationship. This goes really well and is followed by dinner. I’m staying overnight in London so collapse back at the hotel about 11pm.

No exercise, but I did complete my steps.


It’s an early start in the London office as I must leave late afternoon to get home in good time.

Running hurdles_bumps in road_for CMS

I check in with one of my team and then attend a monthly communications call where I am presenting alongside our underwriting director on the launch of our new technology product. This is a team effort with our wholesale colleagues.

A session on talent development and succession planning with my team follows – we take our time to make sure we make good progress on this important issue. Then into a meeting with a technology start-up firm who are looking for capacity; it’s always interesting to explore new tech in the market.

I finish the day in a recruitment meeting where we are reviewing our approach to hiring to ensure we attract a broader, deeper pool of talent into our industry. I volunteered with The Brokerage charity last week helping school leavers with interview skills. It’s important for me to mentor and give back.

Then I quite literally run – as I normally do – to Kings Cross to get the train North and back home. This should really form part of my daily exercise routine. I just relax with my husband/family tonight as it’s been a busy week so far.


Working from home

Work from home today. Do the school run but no gym this morning.

First up is a virtual trading call with the leadership team to see how we are performing. Then onto an online broker meeting – it’s good to do a mixture of in person and face-to-face communications – which is a strategic review to ensure we are following up actions from a previous meeting.

I manage to fit in a quick walk over lunch to give my daughter a break from studying for her A Level exams. It’s been a stress with mock GCSEs and A-Levels for a couple of months.

Friday’s last meeting is a virtual call with a newly authorised broker wanting an agency with us, their focus is digital trading. I tidy up my emails and have a quick look at the week ahead. Then log off to go collect my daughter from school.

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