In this second instalment of our Routes to the Top series for "The Actuary" magazine, we speak with more Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) and Managing Directors (MDs) about their career paths, and receive further practical professional advice for us all.
This article was published in the August 2018 edition of "The Actuary":
Following on from our July article showcasing four global actuaries who run businesses in the insurance, consulting, banking and wealth management, and technology industries, we now turn to share with you the experiences of three life and health leaders, across insurance and reinsurance. May their reflections on their career journeys and their guidance for others also encourage you to consider your own career and aims.
Evelyn Bourke: CEO of Bupa
London, United Kingdom
Evelyn Bourke is Group CEO of Bupa, the international healthcare company, and was previously their CFO. She describes her career track as “based on finance and strategy in insurance”. Evelyn and Yvonne Lynch were the first women in Ireland to complete the exams (in 1987) and qualify as actuaries. In 1991, Evelyn left for the UK, joining Tillinghast for “a broader perspective across the UK insurance industry”. While there, an MBA gave “exposure to sectors outside insurance and management disciplines such as marketing” and she “learnt a lot about myself and formed lasting friendships”.
After 10 years consulting, she joined a startup pan-European wealth manager as FD. Nascent closed down 18 months later, and the experience was Evelyn’s “biggest learning”, including “the fundamentals of financial management in a business”, and “how risky startups are even with amazingly talented people and fantastic backers”.
CEO, FD, CFO and Chief Commercial Officer roles followed across a range of businesses from Chase de Vere (a financial adviser) to large insurers like Standard Life and Friends Provident/Friends Life.
Commenting on her 2016 transition from Bupa CFO to CEO: “the main difference is that as CFO you can advise the CEO, but as CEO you take the decisions and the buck stops with you. I’m proud to lead a business with such a strong purpose that puts customers right at the front of mind, and I’m also very cognisant of the responsibility.”
Evelyn’s held non-executive roles at The Children’s Mutual, and IFG Group, including chairing their Board Risk Committee. “I really learn so much – how other companies operate and the issues they face. [I also] appreciate what it’s like for the NEDs on my Bupa board… It’s given me greater respect for the role that boards play.”
Evelyn acknowledged the impact of specific individuals (including direct bosses) on her career development and growth, citing learning from their passion for insurance, keeping calm in a crisis, trusting your people, simultaneously caring and being demanding, and stakeholder management.
Michael Goemans: CEO of Investec Life
Johannesburg, South Africa
Michael Goemans describes starting out with “a bursary from a large life insurance and investment group, who I went on to work for. Fortunately I qualified relatively quickly and could fully focus on work quite early on in my career”. Michael worked for the Old Mutual Group in different capacities and locations for most of his career, before moving to join Investec as CEO of their new life company in 2016. He explains: “I enjoy variety and trying / learning new things, and this aligned with the company rotating promising staff around to diversify their skillsets and experience. I began my career in product development roles, which I credit with starting me off on a creative and commercially minded footing. I then moved to a regional business development and marketing role, which really helped me understand the front-end of the business (how the products were actually sold).” Michael then opted for financial roles, ending up as deputy Chief Actuary of the plc, and CFO of Old Mutual South Africa. “This diverse experience meant that when the opportunity came up to run my own life insurance company I took it on.”
Michael says: “I am very driven, with an intense desire to not only progress, but to win… [the CEO role] gave me the rare opportunity to build something from scratch in a very client-centric and future-fit way”. He adds: “Success for me is not just about technical excellence, but also about my company winning commercially”.
Michael’s lessons for us
Ursula Torr: previously MD for Gen Re Africa
Cape Town, South Africa
Until earlier this year, Ursula Torr ran a reinsurance company serving clients across Africa. She began her career in technical roles in insurance companies, including valuations (in South Africa), and unit-pricing (in the UK), before returning to Cape Town to apply that knowledge in a new investment division. Her first marketing role in that direct insurer began in 2005 and included managing non-actuarial teams, ultimately across both risk and investment products. It was here that she practised client-focus, including regularly testing whether clients are receiving value.
In 2013, Ursula moved to Gen Re in a business development / account management capacity, which involved negotiating and discussing with clients, and she later became MD, which she describes as “directing activities, building consensus and making decisions”.
Two valuable lessons from the actuarial qualifications that Ursula highlights are: practice in conceptual thinking, and learning to deal with failure.
In her role as MD of a reinsurer, Ursula’s activities ranged from meeting with insurers, to signing off claims (and assessing the claims process) to reviewing large or unusual underwriting cases. This required a strong understanding of how the business is put together, and Ursula emphasises that people skills are invaluable as people are throughout it all.
Editor’s note: between interviewing Ursula for this series at the start of the year and our publication date, she has left Gen Re Africa. Her personal experiences of career growth and her development advice remain as relevant as ever, and we wish her all the best for her next challenge!
Ursula’s career reflections and guidance
This article featured three more inspirational career stories with further practical suggestions for us – elements they highlighted included:
Next month, we share our third instalment in this series, which covers the paths taken and insights of some general insurance, insurtech and startup leaders. We trust that their pioneering stories will also energise you to envisage your own growth and development.