British Insurance Awards: Young blood - Young Achiever Winners then and now

young achievers

To celebrate the 25 years of the British Insurance Awards. Post caught up with a host of winners of the Young Achiever of the Year Award

The young achiever award was first introduced at the British Insurance Awards in 1999 after the move to the Royal Albert Hall.

Since then there have been 20 winners, and many other talented insurance professionals who have been shortlisted for the prestigious prize.

Such is the competition that even nominees who have gone on to have illustrious careers, such as Scott Egan (shortlisted with Norwich Union in 1999, now chief financial officer, RSA) and Jane Kielty (shortlisted with Marsh in 2005, now managing director, Aon Retail UK) – to name just two – were pipped to the prize.

As to those that have won, Post caught up with 17 of the winners to find out what the BIA victory meant for them and what has happened since they climbed on stage to collect their prize.

What role were you doing when you won the BIA young achiever award; and what are you doing now?

Phil Cunningham (1999): I was deputy underwriter at Torch Motor Policies at Lloyd’s. And now I’m CEO of Direct Commercial, a company I own and founded in 2002; a managing general agent which underwrites in excess of £100m gross written premium and specialises in the commercial motor sector.

Helen Merfield (2000): I was managing director for AIG Medical & Rehabilitation when I won. I am now manging director of Plexus Healthcare, a company specialising in home-based specialist rehabilitation occupational therapy programmes.

Nichola Thomson (2001): I was head of distribution and segment manager for central region for Zurich Commercial in the UK so effectively developing our strategy as to how we managed our brokers, including the remuneration strategy. I am now managing director for Midlands and South West for Jelf Insurance Brokers, part of Marsh. My region is responsible for just shy of £37m revenue with 450 people across 16 branches.

Clair Haywood (2002): I was working at Allianz as a key account manager, looking after national brokers across the Midlands and South West. Now – I am a full time mum to my beautiful children (with a little bit of exam marking for Chartered Insurance Institute to keep my brain ticking). So biggest influencer on current career choice – definitely my son. Hardest and best choice I ever made.

Anton Manley (2004): I was head of customer services at Kwik Fit Insurance. I am now the chief client officer at Webhelp UK. It’s been quite the journey.

Vicky De Temple (2006): I was company secretary and head of legal at Equity Insurance Group (now ERS). I held that role, also later taking on head of regulatory compliance, through to 2015. Following the birth of my son, I decided to enter the contracting market as this helps me balance the demands of looking after two young children. I’m currently working for Aviva covering a maternity leave position as a lead company secretary for a number of regulated boards and significant committees. I enjoy contracting as it offers variety and the chance to develop and expand my experience, as well as being able to troubleshoot and use my skillset to help strengthen governance within organisations.

Donna Willis (2007): I was liability claims manager for Axa Insurance. I am now the chief operating officer for ERS.

Jon Nottingham (2008): I was an account director in Axa’s corporate partnership division at the time, a role I thoroughly enjoyed as it was such a different part of the market than I was used to. Now, following eight great years at Chubb, I have created my own business – Gen2 Group. We are a rapidly growing broker, underwriter, risk management and technology business full of talent, values, energy and ideas. I’m loving every minute of the journey.

Joe Thelwell (2009): I was deputy managing director for Towergate Risk Solutions, which was based in Poole. I am now Advisory CEO at Towergate.

Tom Stephenson (2011): At the time I was in business development at Willis. I worked in the Leeds office, where I was responsible for winning new business in the North region. I left Willis in 2011 and moved to Gibraltar as a director of Robus, a captive management start-up. In 2015 I returned to the UK to set up my own consulting firm. Today I provide consulting services to insurers, reinsurers and intermediaries throughout Europe.

David Britton (2012): I had just finished a role at Ecclesiastical developing its geographical underwriting and risk mapping capability and was about to move to lead our head office underwriting account management team. I am still at Ecclesiastical, in the position of underwriting manager for our London region.

Claire Buck (2013): I was running Allianz’s small business unit – a big operational role. I am now an account manager responsible for managing Allianz’s engineering, construction and power portfolio.

Keri Egan (2014): I had recently been promoted to branch manager of Circle’s Coventry office when I won the award and I remain in that position. Since then, however, I have explored a new hobby of aerial silks and am dreaming that my next appearance at the Royal Albert Hall will be performing stunts from the rafters.

Charlotte Lach (2015): I was working with the managing director of AIG’s UK business. I am now working with the CEO of global general insurance as his chief of staff, based in New York.

Stephanie Ogden (2016): I was working for Allianz as its speciality lines underwriting manager. I am now working for Lloyd’s in their new team of oversight managers.

Hannah Kate Smith (2017): In July 2017, I was strategy leader within the chief underwriting office at RSA Group, before moving to the role of account director. After seven-and-a-half years at RSA, I decided it was time for a new challenge, so I joined Lloyd’s in December of last year as chief of staff across performance management. I’m loving it so far.

Jaymin Patel (2018): Having only won the award less than six months ago not a lot has changed. At the time I was working for the London Market construction team specialising in underwriting international civil engineering projects. I have recently joined the London Market power, engineering and renewable energy team where I will focus on underwriting international conventional power generation assets during construction as well as existing operational assets.

young achievers in numbers

During the journey from BIA winner to now who has been the biggest influence on your career?

Cunningham: I’ve learnt a lot from many people along the way and continue to do so, in particular my father who I first joined in the industry, and Raj Balasuriya. broker at Capsicum Re who has been a major factor behind the growth of our company.

Merfield: The biggest influencers were my friends who kept me going when life threw me a few curve balls.

Thomson: David W Smith [Former Zurich CEO]. I worked for him following the merger of Zurich and Eagle Star and he gave me the space, support and guidance to help me grow as a leader. He took a chance on me promoting me into my first big role at only 24 years old. He was inspirational as a leader providing vision and direction, driving to make things happen, managing his way around the politics that are part of a global organisation while retaining decency and respect both internally and externally across the industry.

Manley: My father has always supported me and provided fantastic direction throughout my career. I have also had the privilege to work with several wonderful and talented people. It has always been a great pleasure working with Andy Doig, chief operating officer at Webhelp UK, for example.

De Temple: That’s a really difficult question, so I’m going to say that I’ve probably been my own biggest influence. Throughout my career, I’ve made decisions based on wanting to make a difference and be good at what I do, as opposed to mediocre. I have a strong work ethic, which has over the years afforded me opportunities. My career to date has been a team effort, with all decisions made jointly with my husband based on what’s best for our family, so it’s been very much a personal journey. I have to enjoy what I do, see that I can add value and most importantly be in an environment and culture where I can continue to learn and develop.

Nottingham: Over 23 years there have been so many massive influencers. In a nutshell, my dad taught me how to graft; Julie Rodilosso [insurance mentor, Start Up Bootcamp] taught me to sell; Independent Insurance taught me the value of trusted relationships; Amanda Blanc [Zurich CEO] and Axa gave me variety and rounded me out; Jeremy Miles [CEO, Axa Corporate Solutions] and the Chubb family shaped me as a leader. I’ve been very lucky, and have always learnt from everybody I’ve worked with – good and bad.

Winning music

If you could have chosen your walk up music on winning the Achievement Award what would it have been?

Cunningham: Make Me Smile by Cockney Rebel, after whom my dual 2000 Guineas classic winner was named after. Horse racing is the major interest in my life outside of insurance.

Merfield: You Can Get It If You Really Want by Desmond Decker.

Thomson: Don’t Stop Believing by Journey– at such a young age to get the recognition of this award it helped me to understand that nothing was out of reach which has pretty much been my mantra throughout my career to date. This award encouraged me to have confidence in my ability and be aspirational in my career.

Haywood: Kaiser Chiefs - Modern Way or I Predict A Riot.

Manley: I would have to say Chandelier by Sia as I felt like swinging from them that night.

De Temple: I’m going to go for a bit of a 1980s classic – Eye of the Tiger by Survivor. Two reasons for this – first, I’m a huge fan of the Rocky films and second, the message resonates with me in that I am a firm believer that if you want something you need to put in the work and effort (blood, sweat and tears) to achieve it.  

Willis: Ain’t No Stoppin Us Now (by McFadden and Whitehead).

Nottingham: I would choose Pounding by Doves. No real reason or sentiment, it’s just a fantastic tune that would sound great in the Royal Albert Hall.

Thelwell: Stronger by Kanye West. The hard times make you better.

Stephenson: Ante Up by M.O.P.

Britton: I was asked this at the time actually, and said that the dream would have been David Bowie performing live, which feels especially poignant now looking back.

Buck: The Jurassic Park soundtrack - a strange choice I know but I love John Williams’ music and hearing it played by a live orchestra is a real wow moment.

Ogden: Things Can Only Get Better by D:Ream

Smith: One More Time by Daft Punk.

Patel: I’m a massive hip-hop fan so probably something like Power by Kanye West – it always gets me pumped up.

Thelwell: Within Towergate we have acquired loads of brilliant brokers headed up by brilliant managing directors and full of brilliant people. Every time I have met a new acquisition, the leaders and its people have influenced me. Talking to them, I get an opportunity to really understand their culture and what made them special to their community and clients – and that has helped me to grow even further.

Stephenson: The late Chris Le Conte, the former owner and CEO of Robus who sadly died in 2015, was a huge influence on my career. He was a true entrepreneur, fiercely intelligent with a creative (and often contrarian) approach to his work.

Britton: As I progressed through various roles in Ecclesiastical’s underwriting team, the biggest influence for me was our underwriting director, Paul Bloxham, who mentored me as a graduate trainee. He gave me a great appreciation for sound, balanced underwriting decision making, which I still try to stick to today – even though Paul has now retired and I have a few more years of experience under my belt.

Buck: The mixture of managers I have had along the way. Most of my managers I have worked for more than once and they have been good enough to take a chance on me in roles that at first don’t seem an obvious fit. Without their support I’m not sure I would have put myself forward for all the jobs that I have had.

Egan: My father – Tony Norcott – who has been in the profession for more than half a century and is the chairman of Circle. He has always encouraged me, and I am privileged to be able to learn from his successes to date.

Lach: I have been fortunate to have an array of influencers throughout my career so far, and it is too difficult to name one biggest influence. Two things that have been evident throughout my career and have helped to shape my influences: you do not have to be a leader to lead; and you can learn something from everyone you encounter, no matter in what aspect of your life you meet them.

Ogden: Simon McGinn, general manager of Allianz. I would never tell him to his face, but I suppose I must admit it at some stage.

Smith: I’ve been influenced and inspired by some amazing people who have helped me to realise my potential and have played a role in shaping who I am today.
The person I’m probably most inspired by is my dad. He’s an exceptionally measured individual, who taught me the importance of integrity, reputation and respect for others. He built his career on these principles and has an incredible work ethic. This really resonates with me and I’ve been building my career based on the very same values that he did.

Patel: I have been very fortunate to have worked with a number of influential people during my career. The single biggest influence has been Chris Jones, my manager throughout my entire five year stint within the construction team. From the very first day I joined RSA he has helped me to develop my underwriting skills and has always encouraged me to offer an opinion, even if it is contradictory to his own. He was also the person who nominated me for the award so I will always be grateful to him for that and so many other reasons.

What were you doing when the BIAs first launched in 1994?

Cunningham: I had just left university, was completing my accreditation for the Chartered Insurance Institute and had started in the industry.

Merfield: I had just qualified as a registered general nurse in the British Army, and I was in the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps working on a rehabilitation ward in Woolwich.

Dream presenters

Who would have been the dream presenter to hand you the award?

Cunningham: Pop idol Kylie Minogue - lifetime crush.

Merfield: Physicist Marie Curie

Thomson: Presenters Ant & Dec. That would have made it amusing.

Haywood: So many to choose from -  former England footballer David Beckham.

Manley: If I could choose anyone to hand me the award it would be football legend Sir Alex Ferguson, a real inspiration and someone I really look up to.

De Temple: I’m a big fan of comedian Michael McIntyre so that would have been amazing.

Willis: Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher

Nottingham: I thought comedian Rob Brydon was fairly cool at the time, but being a lifelong Leicester City fan it would have to be my all-time hero footballer Gary Lineker. He’s lost his popularity, but he’s still the greatest footballer from these shores, in my eyes at least. I know I’ll get hammered for that answer.

Thelwell: Sir Alex Ferguson. He wasn’t just successful, he sustained his success (and I am not even a Manchester United fan).

Stephenson: Philosopher Sir Roger Scruton or Chinese science fiction writer Liu Cixin.

Britton: No idea. It was comedian Jimmy Carr who presented it on the night, which was entertaining, although he did then go onto make a joke about how I looked like “The Harry Potter of the insurance world”.

Buck: Probably someone from my team at the time. It’s great to get the recognition from the judges but to have someone from my team handing me the award saying they believed I was a worthy winner and doing a great job would have had a big impact. Plus it’s quite daunting walking up to the stage so it would have been nice to have a friendly face up there.

Egan: I was presented my award by comedian Bill Bailey and that was more than good enough for me.

Ogden: Former US first lady Michelle Obama.

Smith: Actor Paul Rudd.

Patel: David Beckham. Although comedian Katherine Ryan did a great job hosting on the night.

Thomson: Graduating from Birmingham University with a commerce degree, having a great summer off in Abersoch and then starting my first real job in September on the Eagle Star graduate scheme based on the Hagley Road in Birmingham

Haywood: At university finishing my first degree in chemistry.

Manley: I had left school and went to study at Glasgow Caledonian University. I was also playing for Kilmarnock Football Club.

De Temple: I was at secondary school doing my first year of A-Levels.

Willis: I was still studying at college.

Nottingham: I was in the run up to the last few months of school, and preparing for GCSE’s.

Thelwell: I would have been 14 years old and so I would have been at school or playing football. But at that age, I was also able to do two weeks work experience at an insurance broker.

Stephenson: It was my first year at secondary school.

Britton: I had just finished infant school.

Buck: I had just started secondary school so I probably spent the evening getting my head around homework as a new concept.

Egan: Still in junior school and certainly didn’t have a clue about insurance, despite Circle having been in existence for three years with their offices at my home. In fact, I was probably busy annoying my future colleagues by playing tennis against the external wall of the office while they were busy inside dealing with faxes.

Lach: I was at primary school.

Ogden: In infant school at Wallands Primary School, Lewes. Probably dreaming of being in the Olympics as a 100m sprinter.

Smith: Completing my first year at primary school. At that point in time, I wanted to be a Blue Peter presenter.

Patel: I was born in 1992 so I can only imagine I was still crawling around in a nappy.

If you could give anyone a BIA for their industry achievements, who would it be and why do they deserve the prize?

Cunningham: Kevin Spencer [group CEO] of Markerstudy has encountered a lifetime of controversy, and despite it all continues to build one of the largest and most successful brands in the UK personal lines space.

Merfield: Mark Baylis [PR consultant] from the International Underwriting Association as I believe he is one of the unsung heroes of rehabilitation in the insurance industry. He has been involved from day one helping set up the UK Body Injury awards study, then the Rehabilitation Code, he has chaired the Association of British Insurers/IUA rehabilitation working party since it’s inception and does a huge amount to promote rehabilitation in its widest sense within the industry.

Thomson: I would nominate Gary Wainwright – he was the markets director at Zurich and his passion for clients and his people were second to none.

Haywood: This is the hardest question, but Reg Brown for his amazing career in insurance whilst always committed to CII. He has helped in the development of many young people and was an inspiration for all to see.

Manley: I would have to give it to the extremely talented Martin Oliver [managing director, personal lines, Gallagher], who I’m glad I had the privilege of working with at Kwik Fit Insurance. He was ahead of his time in the insurance industry.

De Temple: I would give it to Blair Turnbull, Aviva’s managing director, UK and International Digital and Direct, because of the work he is leading on the digitalisation of insurance by moving with the changes in customer behaviours and expectations, along with his focus on the overall customer journey.
Nottingham: The person I’ve always look up to the most, albeit from a distance, is David Smith the former Zurich UK CEO. I wouldn’t claim to know him, but I’ve met him a few times and been around him enough to recognise all of the values, manners, respect and standards in how he operates. A true role model, and I would be proud if in 20 odd years’ time I finish my career with half of the reputation that he has.

Thewell: I would want to recognise those phenomenal account handlers and account executives working within communities that go under the radar, working tirelessly to go above and beyond to deliver exceptional client service every day, they are the people that matter and what make us all and our industry remarkable.
Stephenson: Sam White [CEO] at Pukka. She’s an inspirational business leader and entrepreneur; a great role model for young insurance professionals.

Britton: It’s hard to pick one individual out specifically, however I would definitely choose to honour a number of my colleagues in Ecclesiastical’s claims team. They have to deal with some incredibly challenging situations, and be there at any hour to support our customers.

Buck: I would like to give the award to those that keep our local institutes going behind the scenes. The local institutes are fantastic at developing local networks, supporting the drive for professionalism and running events and are often run by a committed and enthusiastic group of people giving up their spare time to make a difference to our industry.

Egan: My father [Tony Norcott, chairman of Circle]. He tends to avoid the limelight but is a well-known and respected name throughout many circles in our profession – often referred to as a gentleman or a legend. I am yet to go to an event where if the family connection is revealed/ known I don’t get someone applauding him. It is a joy to hear others, including our competitors, tell how he has influenced their career.

Ogden: Rather than name anyone specifically, anyone who has broken down barriers to push us all to be more inclusive and attracting greater diversity deserves an award. The industry is changing, but it is not quick enough and there are still too many excuses for this. Ambitious females stand out as being different – it is madness.

Smith: That’s a tough one, there are several people who really deserve to be recognised for their achievements, particularly those that are striving to make our industry a more inclusive place. That said, there are two people that I’d really love to present with an award (and I couldn’t choose between them); Colin Bradbury and Finlay Smith, the chief underwriting officers of RSA’s Commercial and Global Risk Solutions businesses. Colin and Fin are huge supporters of developing and encouraging young talent; they have been instrumental in helping me to navigate my own career, just as I know they have done (and are doing) for so many others. For me, underwriting is our bread and butter, and Colin and Fin are two of the very best underwriters out there, who are highly respected across the market. They have so much experience between them and they make a huge effort to share and pass on their knowledge and expertise to anybody that wants to learn. Both are very humble individuals, who probably don’t quite realise the amazing impact they’ve had on people. They are the real unsung heroes of this industry that deserve a moment in the spotlight, so they’d be more than worthy winners of the prize.

Patel: This is a tough one. I guess this would have to go to another one of the influential people that I worked with – Duncan Thomas.He joined RSA (or Sun Alliance as it was back then) as a graduate trainee and ended up working in various roles within the group for his entire 40 year career. His most recent position prior to retirement was underwriting manager for UK construction and he was an absolute fount of knowledge.

Where do you keep the Young Achiever award?

Cunningham: On my desk in my office, it’s a reminder of a great achievement, which we hope to replicate one day with Direct Commercial.

Merfield: By the front door – it makes an excellent door stop.

Thomson: In my office currently at home having recently moved jobs. I have to admit it makes a great door stop.

Haywood: It is now at the back of the study; otherwise it would be used as a prop at one of my children’s many parties they hold.

Manley: Unfortunately, I have to admit I misplaced the award during my house move. Having said that though, I’d be very happy to receive another; I promise to look after it this time.

De Temple: I did use to keep it in my downstairs loo, but it now has pride of place in my study.

Willis: Pride of place on the mantelpiece, of course. No really – it’s in its box in a cupboard.

Nottingham: It sits proudly somewhere at my parents’ house – next to all of my siblings qualifications and achievements. I might not have the academic certificates, but I do have a BIA Young Achiever Award. And a thoroughly enjoyable career which I’m very proud of.

Thelwell: In the living room on a shelf.

Stephenson: In the large trophy cabinet in my office.

Britton: Pride of place on my mantelpiece.

Buck: It’s in my office, wish I had a more exciting answer.

Egan: On the fireplace.

Lach: I am currently living in New York, and the award is safely at home in the UK.

Ogden: It used to have pride of place in my office as head of Scotland for Allianz. However, I am now in an open plan office in Lloyd’s and so having the award on my desk would probably be slightly weird. Instead, it has been relegated and greets all my guests at home in the spare bedroom.

Smith: Until recently, it was on my desk at RSA. Since moving to Lloyd’s, it has a new home on my fireplace.

Patel: On its own shelf in a bookcase in my living room. This was actually a bit of a touchy subject with my girlfriend not that long ago! We were hosting a Halloween party and she suggested that it might detract from the décor. We ended up compromising and I draped some fake cobwebs over it.

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