The insurance industry is widely documented to have a diversity problem. Long-standing member, Sharon Brown Chief Sales Officer of Miles Smith Group is one of 27 extraordinary women who have shattered the glass ceiling and raised the bar for gender equality in the industry.
We caught up with her to find out how she did it.
Tell us about your career history...
I grew up in Cheshire and was educated in the local comprehensive school. I left home at 16 in pursuit of a career in London - finding home in Essex, latterly Suffolk. I entered the world of insurance as a technician for Willis Faber in Ipswich and London. I progressed rapidly and had a brief interlude in 1995 to have my first child - Oli. Having established a good grounding in insurance, I left Willis in 1999 to have my daughter Lauren. I had a passion for sport (my Dad was a national swimmer) and an interest in the medical sciences and decided to study sports therapy. I ran my own, very successful business, treating professional athletes, cancer patients and office professionals whilst working alongside orthopaedic surgeons, physiotherapists and doctors in a multidisciplinary medical environment.
In 2006, I applied my newly acquired skills to the injury rehabilitation sector and worked with several large insurers and UK corporations to provide rehabilitation to the ‘industrial athlete’, enabling businesses suffering from musculoskeletal absence to get employees back to work fast. Miles Smith were one of my customers and in 2011, through a close working relationship, I joined the Group as a Relationship Manager. I created a bespoke rehabilitation product called EIS (Early Intervention Scheme) which was successfully integrated into their unique customer base. I then undertook a restructuring of their distribution function and joined the Board as Broker Relationship Director. With a flair for marketing, product and a creative view on product distribution, I was promoted to Group Distribution and Marketing Director and now, in 2018, reside as their Chief Sales Officer, responsible for delivering the company’s exciting growth targets.
Please tell us a little bit about Miles Smith and the work you do as Chief Sales Officer.
The origins of the Miles Smith Insurance Group can be traced back to 1925. We are a schemes and affinities broker providing solutions for complex and high-risk industries. Our strategy is to focus on what we are good at and to provide specialist cover, bespoke risk management tools and dedicated claims expertise.
As the Chief Sales Officer for Miles Smith, I oversee product creation, distribution, sales and marketing for the business. The role has a wide remit, but each component interlinks and enables strong synergy. I particularly enjoy the fact that I can see over each stage and each component, making the whole journey from product development to sales seamless.
What has driven your passion for diversity in the insurance industry?
It’s quite simply the right thing to do. Diversity and inclusion lead to more innovation, more opportunities for all, better access to talent, and better business performance - the evidence speaks for itself. Workplace equality is front-of-mind for businesses, governments, regulators, society, and – most important of all – the vital talent that will drive their future success.
What is the biggest myth about the insurance industry?
I think the biggest myth about the insurance industry is that insurance is seen as something which is rather complex and boring, expensive but necessary “evil”. In fact, combined with effective risk management it is the only way to truly protect your home and family, your business and your employees against unfortunate events.
How has the industry changed during your career?
The insurance industry has changed massively, not only do we see many more women in the market but it’s digital footprint has transformed significantly. This digital transformation can be seen in the shape of artificial intelligence in online quote and buy, to new products such as Directors’ and Officers’ and cyber insurance, to name a few. Technology is changing the face of insurance.
What is your advice to today’s women in insurance?
Have confidence, gender has no relevance to the innovation and intelligence you can bring to the insurance market. If you have a good idea and are motivated, you can achieve anything that you want within any industry. I don’t believe that I face any challenges in the industry purely because I am a woman. Women shouldn’t be concerned with how they are viewed by others. You should be more concerned with your job performance and results than how other people see you. If you are good at your job, you will succeed.
What is the top challenge you face as a leader in your industry?
Leadership is one of the most important factors in business success. Organisations depend on leaders to set strategy, manage changing market trends, and guide them through challenges to success. One of my biggest challenges is change, to stay focused and energised amidst change, complexity, and ambiguity is tough. Balancing employees’ and customers’ demand for stability and reassurance with the demand for greater agility required to respond to sometimes uncertain and shifting market conditions.
How do you maintain you and your team's daily motivation and inspiration despite obstacles, pushback or setbacks?
I am relentless in the pursuit of achieving the highest standards, I believe that I have a contagious energy and passion that helps to motivate my team and despite obstacles we can deliver our objectives. By surrounding yourself with excellence, motivating, educating and instilling confidence and energy into your workforce will always reap massive benefits. I take great pride in my teams’ ability and promote this ethos across the business; striving for excellence at every level. The main thing is to make sure you tell them when they are doing a great job and to celebrate achievements.
What’s your go-to question during job interviews?
As I hire for a variety of different roles within the company, I find that the questions I ask are not always the same. However, one thing I will always do in a job interview is present a case study to the candidate and ask them how they would react to the situation. I feel as though this is a good way to learn about someone’s character, and how they would fit in with the team and the company overall.
What’s the best professional advice you’ve ever been given?
An old boss was forever telling me “Do as you always did, get what you got”. It’s so true – the outcome will always be the same unless you change what you do!
My CEO – Paul Chainey has instilled wise advice, first mooted by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr that always makes me stop and think, “Grant me the serenity to accept, the things I can not change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference” this advice is priceless!
What inspired you to create the Early Intervention Scheme product?
Working with professional athletes, especially team sports, it was obvious that if a player was injured and couldn’t be in the team any longer, performance generally would reduce. I believe that an industrial team would suffer in the same way. If one of your best fleet drivers is injured or sick and you replace him with someone who doesn’t know the routes, this puts pressure on the other drivers to maintain their performance. It is just as important to get a member of a business team back as it is an athlete, and early return to work relies on early intervention.
How does the EIS help small business?
EIS focusses on providing fast track access to treatment for employees who are absent from work and helps to promote a speedy recovery and return to work. It is an insurance product which has high value and a low cost and can be applied to businesses of any size, including micro businesses, SMEs, large corporations and affinities groups.
What’s your favourite book and why?
The Chimp Paradox by Steve Peter. It really resonated with me the first time I read it back in….., and it’s been my favourite ever since. It is a book about self-control and it enabled me to be mindful about acting compulsively by taming the “chimp” in you. I even bought it for all the directors in the company!
If you want to find out more about Miles Smith Early Intervention Scheme - click HERE.
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