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

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’re delighted to introduce you to introduce you to Sue Filsell.

Tell us about your role at Gallagher

As Head of Operations for the South Region of Gallagher’s UK Retail division, I’m responsible for business operations across an area that encompasses 19 separate P&L's and more than 400 people. My role is incredibly varied - it’s a bit like being a mechanic in a formula one racing team – constantly diagnosing, testing, adjusting, and repairing business processes to ensure high performance.

Working alongside the Area MD and our business leaders, I’m always looking for ways to help our teams build profitable growth. Over the past year I’ve worked with our Motor Trade team to develop a new IT platform that allows SME business to be transacted more efficiently; helped our teams adopt and maximise the benefits of our Gallagher Service Centre and talented colleagues in India; supported our new acquisitions through the integration process; delivered multiple presentations on subjects such as GDPR and regulatory issues and lots, lots more.

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

Working for London & Edinburgh (later acquired by Aviva) as an assistant underwriter in the liability underwriting team. I absolutely loved this job and was fortunate to progress quite quickly to an underwriting position. Along with the technical skills required for the role, it taught me the importance of building and maintaining strong working relationships – both with colleagues and brokers. Work is so much better when you feel like you’re working with friends.

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

I was never someone who knew what they wanted to do from an early age. But my mother was insistent that whatever path I chose it had to be a ‘career’ and not a ‘job’.

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

Chance. I knew the wife of the CEO for L&E and she told me they were looking for an underwriting assistant in the City. That’s where it all began…

What excites you most about the industry?

For me, it’s the diversity of careers available - and just because you start in one role it doesn’t mean you’re restricted to that for the rest of your career. This makes for an exciting industry to work in and means you can have a really interesting and varied experience. There are some truly creative and dynamic people in the business and it’s always really stimulating to work with them – they help to renew your passion and enthusiasm.

What has been your career highlight so far?

There have been many but I’m always most proud when I help one of our teams turn around a situation that’s holding them back in some way. It’s incredibly rewarding to see them build and grow their business knowing you’ve played a part in making that happen. And being asked to be a judge for the CEO Awards was really special too. It was humbling to read the nominations and appreciate the wealth of talent and sheer gutsiness we have within our business.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Take a risk. This was from my former boss and mentor, Linda Courtney – South Region Director for Axa. She constantly pushed me outside my comfort zone and told me to embrace opportunities even if they scared me. Women in particular can sometimes doubt their own abilities and consequently don’t apply for a stretching new role because they feel that they don’t tick every box. Linda’s advice was to take the risk and learn the rest on the job. It’s worked for 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’?

All-female short lists for seriously under represented roles (let’s face it, the boys have had this since forever!), workplace crèches, strong mentoring programmes, fathers being supported and encouraged to take equal responsibility for family and home life.

Describe what you like most about Gallagher in 5 words…

Dynamic, Fast-moving, Supportive, Professional & Ethical

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

Encouraging women to return to the industry post maternity and building a fulfilling career alongside parenthood. This can be daunting in an industry that thrives on long hours, after hours corporate entertaining and a macho drinking culture. With this lack of diversity we’re missing out on valuable skills, perspective and insight.

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

Baroness Karren Brady CBE - who embodies what it takes to be a highly successful women in a predominantly male environment. Karren has children as well as a high-profile career.

Nicola Adams, OBE – the first woman to win an Olympic boxing title. She embodies determination and strength.

My final choice would be the Right Honourable Dr Mo Mowlam, who sadly is no longer with us. For me, one of the most inspirational women of recent times. She oversaw the negotiations which led to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. She wasn’t afraid to dispense with conventions and take difficult decisions in order to achieve something truly momentous. What a shame she’s not here to sort our industry challenge out!

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

I once motorcycled across Vietnam with my husband and a group of friends. I love to travel and this was an amazing trip. We covered over 1000 km in 14 days and visited the rain forests, villages and cities. At one point we had to put our bikes onto canoes and sail them out of our flooded hotel!