UWE, in partnership with Business West, runs an annual lecture series that brings top business leaders to Bristol. We caught up with Inga Beale DBE, CEO at Lloyd’s of London, before she gave her address:
• You are the most powerful woman in an insurance business as CEO of Lloyd’s of London. You’re their first CEO and you were made a Dame last year. Explain to me the scale of Lloyd’s:
Lloyd’s is a market. We’re not a company. And that makes us a little bit more difficult to understand.
We’ve got about 60 different businesses in the market and they run between them about 80 different syndicates. And each syndicate underwrites insurance from all over the world.
All types of insurance from drone insurance to insuring all the airlines that fly around the world to insuring big catastrophes.
Lloyd’s has revenues of about £30bn. Business comes from about 200 different markets and territories, with most of it from the US.
The US accounts for around 40 percent of what Lloyd’s does, and that’s really down to the history of Lloyd’s because we were part of the Industrial Revolution. We were enabling human progress.
Every time something new was invented e.g. the first motorcar, we insured it. The first aeroplane that took off, we insured it.
The first satellite that went up – we insured it.
So we think of ourselves as enabling human progress, and as a lot of that progress was in the US, that’s why the US is such a big market for us. But we’ve gone much more global since then, and we do business all over the world.
• What’s your biggest challenge at the moment? What does everyone need insurance for?
It’s the impact that technology is having on business and in fact all of our lives. Technology is all around us and technology is changing every single business model.
Now what is happening is that every business is susceptible to some cyber threat or cyber-attack.
It’s thought of now by many CEOs as the biggest single threat to their business. So we offer cyber insurance.
We’ll pay if someone has been attacked. We’ll pay for all sorts of mitigating actions that need to be paid for: putting their systems back together, recompensing customers – all types of coverage.
That’s our single fastest growing product at the moment: cyber insurance.
• Insurance and financial services have a reputation for being a bit macho and quite difficult to carve out a career in if you’re female. You’ve proved all that wrong, and it’s been a big passion of yours hasn’t it, changing that culture? Why has that all been so important and what are you most pleased with in terms of the things that you’ve done?
When I started work in the 1980s I was rather unique. Only I didn’t like being unique!
I was female in a very, very male dominated environment - the financial heart of the City of London.
I wanted to belong, so I behaved like a man!
Of course, what happens is that it eats away at you, because it’s not the authentic you.
After some years of working in the City (about 8 years) I decided I couldn’t work there anymore and I actually left.
I went travelling and I became inspired by a woman who was running the BBC offices in Sydney. I was so amazed that there was a woman at the helm because I wasn’t used to that at all. I was particularly inspired because the people working there respected her for being the manager and didn’t even refer to her gender.
I thought wow! You can really do things if you’re a woman.
So I came back to the UK after a year and said ‘I can do this’. It changed my attitude and I said to myself that I’m going to be me, I’m not going to pretend to be something that I’m not, and I don’t want other women to suffer or keep themselves back like I did.
That’s why I want to change the culture and empower women in business.
• You still have to be quite brave to talk about your gender or your sexuality don’t you? Do you see yourself as brave?
I think I’m being brave now, but it took me several decades before I had the courage to start talking about these things.
I didn’t dare talk about the difference between men and women at work. I just didn’t have the courage many years ago.
I was in a same sex relationship with a woman and I didn’t have the courage to mention that at work. It’s really relatively recently, once I’d reached senior positions, that I felt I had the confidence to do it. And now I want to give others that confidence to do it much earlier. I don’t want people from the LGBT community to feel that they’ve got to be in the closet at work. Because I know how I suffered over the years.
I want to open up the world for everybody and really work on equality and inclusion for all.
• We’ve got lots of students here studying accountancy, finance and law that might go into traditional big business. What would you say to them about finding the resilience?
I would always seek support in other likeminded people. The important thing for me is to encourage diverse teams. We know they’re the most innovative and they’re the most successful.
The facts speak for themselves.
You also need, as you go through your career, the safety and the help of other likeminded people. I have had amazing support whenever things have gotten tough, I’ve had a group of women to go to and the LGBT community.
With them I can share my experiences and they completely get it. We share tips and ideas and we give each other strength.
There are also other things – make sure you’ve got a mentor, a sponsor, somebody who can really help you navigate through your professional life.
We need diversity but at the same time you can seek that support from likeminded people.
• From de-risking their careers to the threat of automation and AI. What advice would you give about making yourself employable?
I think you’ve got to be very open-minded, take on new challenges and don’t be very fixed in your ideas.
When I started work 36 years ago, I had no idea what I’d be doing in 36 years’ time. No idea.
I think that’s as true today as it was then – don’t get worried that you have to plan out your career to the nth degree. You don’t.
It’s important that you take opportunities that come along and the scarier the opportunity sounds the more you’ll get out of it.
The scariest opportunities that I took along the way are the ones that I got the most satisfaction out of.
In the new world jobs will be very different. But the job I did 30 years ago is very different today. Jobs have always been evolving and there will just be new jobs.
If you’re open and you’re happy to reskill and you never stop learning you can take every opportunity that comes along.
• So where next for you?
I’ve never been very good at planning.
I plan at work, big time, but for myself I don’t.
I’m a strong believer in things aligning and the right thing will come along at the right time.
Quite honestly I’ve got a lot of work left to do at Lloyd’s. We’re modernising, going from paper to digital, and we’ve got the culture journey – trying to get a better balance gender-wise in the Lloyd’s market.
This series of free public lectures brings top level business leaders to Bristol. You can discuss these events on Twitter using the hashtag #BristolLectures and view further content from Inage Beale’s lecture here. For more information please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.