Since International Women’s Day (8 March 2019), we’ve been running a month-long series and placing some of our Gallagher women ‘In Focus’.

From apprentices and team leaders to divisional leaders and Executive Committee members, we wanted to showcase some of our great talent but also highlight the diverse range of opportunities and specialist areas a career at Gallagher can offer. Today, we’d like you to meet Melanie Buitendag.

Tell us about your role at Gallagher

I handle the production and development for the Cargo Team for the North America Region. Typically, this involves helping our US producing brokers place new business, fixing problems, teaching our North American producers about our products. I’m predominantly a wholesaler and I rely on producers across Gallagher’s U.S. / Canadian offices to get products in front potential clients. Once they do, I need to build and maintain a rapport with those end clients, providing them a level of service that keeps them convinced they made the right choice.

What was your very first job and what did that teach you?

My parents encouraged me to work from a very early age. I’ve done an array of different jobs – from working in a brewery, waitressing, etc. My very first job was working for the Johannesburg Zoo! My job was to feed the penguins, clean the farm yard, groom the ponies and camels. I learned that building friendships improves the hardest and unpleasant work. I also learned that seals bite and camels are spiteful creatures.

Did you have a childhood career ambition — and are you prepared to share it?

Weirdly, I wanted to be a nun. I have no idea why, we weren’t even Catholic. I think I must have enjoyed Sound of Music.

How did you come to work in risk management & insurance: choice or chance?

Choice and Chance - I come from an insurance family, most of us are involved in the industry in way or another. I studied Corporate Communication and Political Science at university. When I moved to the UK, one of the rules of my visa was that I couldn’t work in my chosen profession. I started working in the Energy team at a competitor but I didn’t enjoy the class of business. When I joined Cargo, it was love at first sight. There are so many different interests and every day is different, I’m never bored.

What excites you most about the industry?

I truly believe we have some of the best jobs in the world! We have the opportunity to meet intelligent and inspiring people working across broad spectrum of businesses, doing incredibly innovative things. I love walking out of meetings with clients thinking “Wow, that man / woman is a genius!”

What has been your career highlight so far?

My career has been made up of lots of little highlights rather than a specific event. I feel a huge sense of achievement when we do the things people said we couldn’t.

What one piece of advice would you give to your younger self / What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

My father told me that life was unpredictable and I should make sure that I could always provide for myself. As a teenager I thought it was a cynical thing to say, but in hindsight it was the best advice anyone has ever given me

The insurance industry as a whole continues to face the challenge of an under-representation of women at senior level — what do you believe could help ‘move the dial’?

I think educating women about how the choices they make can impact their careers early on is crucial. When I started out there were a lot more women in my age band, this has decreased as many of my peers have left to start families, many of them have not re-entered the market place. As women, we need to make sure we’re making smart decisions and as a company / industry we need to make sure that we make it as easy as possible for women to re-enter the marketplace

Describe what you like most about Gallagher in 5 words….

It’s a family business and they’ve made me part of it.

What do you see as the industry’s greatest challenge?

We should embrace technology and use it to provide enhanced data driven placement strategies, the broker remains relevant and this new technology isn’t just used to replace people. Ultimately, technology shouldn’t only be used to drive down the cost of placing business down, it should be used as a tool to improve the service we offer our clients and our markets.

Which three inspirational famous people — past & present — would you invite to a strategic offsite to devise a plan to overcome that challenge, and why?

Alan Turing – Anyone who could crack the enigma code, should be able to solve any problem, right?

Monica Lewinsky - Not because of what she did, but because of how she dealt with the consequences of being thrust into the global limelight and maligned by the public at a really young age. She demonstrated grace and strength and is now an activist / ambassador for anti-bullying organization Bystander Revolution. I think we can all learn from that.

Richard Wurman – The guy invented TED Talks. That’s pretty inspirational in my books!

And finally, tell us something about you which people might be surprised to learn

I trained as a dance instructor