...moments which severely pushed me out of my comfort zone or presented situations I felt ill-equipped to handle have, with hindsight, proved to be the most defining in terms of my development.
Chief Underwriting Officer Asia Pacific & Global Markets First Party Lines, Allied World
An Interview with Carolyn Shreeve
by Katy Fairweather | OCTOBER 2020
How would you describe your leadership style?
I spent much of my childhood and formative years playing various team sports and as any sportsperson would tell you, a successful team is built on working together utilizing everyone’s individual strengths. I have tried to apply that lesson through my leadership journey and as a result, generally adopt a collaborative and inclusive style, valuing a variety of opinions.
That being said, there are circumstances when a team or a situation requires decisive leadership, so when that is called for I try to ensure I’m communicating with clarity and do it in a manner which moves the team forward while recognizing that not everyone may be in agreement with the direction we’ve taken so may require a little more encouragement to come along the journey with us.
What are some important things that you have undertaken and have contributed to your success
I have always been motivated by giving myself a challenge, so perhaps it is no huge surprise that I have learnt the most during the most challenging and daunting times of my career. Those moments which severely pushed me out of my comfort zone or presented situations I felt ill-equipped to handle have, with hindsight, proved to be the most defining in terms of my development.
Don’t get me wrong, they provided plenty of sleepless nights, stress and moments of doubt about my capabilities, but they also taught me a great deal about business, leadership and confidence which have proven invaluable.
What really helped me get through those times was the network of support I had around me, both personally and professionally. Having a variety of people to turn to for guidance, feedback or just a glass of wine after a stressful day made a huge difference and helped me to keep perspective. I would strongly encourage anyone starting on their leadership journey to consider what their support system looks like. Networks such as WiRE also provide wonderful opportunities to build professional relationships with people you perhaps wouldn’t normally meet in the course of your role so are well worth getting actively involved with.
Who are your role models? Who Inspires you? and why?
This sounds very clichéd, but I consider myself very fortunate that one of the most inspirational people I have had, and continue to have, is my mum. There are many aspects of my personality that I have inherited from her – some good, some not so (a love of red wine being one!) - but nature only goes so far. From a very early age my mum showed me what it meant to be an independent and successful woman. She was a Mathematics graduate from Imperial College, London at a time when it was unusual for women to go to university, not least to study what was traditionally considered to be a “male” subject. While there, she successfully campaigned to get the University bar to allow women to drink in it – a feat she replicated in the 1990s when she joined a golf club that had a “Men Only” bar which she fought hard to change.
I don’t think she was really contemplating the bigger picture around the fight for equality when she was doing these things, but she is a strong believer that if you are prepared to criticize something, you also have to be prepared to offer a solution and be involved in fixing the problem. Her approach is something that has stuck with me throughout my career. It is very easy to throw criticism around – no employer, job or manager is perfect and it is often easy to find negatives – but to really add value, you have to be prepared to show initiative, roll your sleeves up and be part of finding a solution.
What are the biggest opportunities you think are available to women today?
To answer this, I am going to give a little backstory. When my husband, who coincidentally also works in the insurance industry, and I had our first son, we faced the dilemma that many couples face – both of us had careers we enjoyed, were successful with and didn’t want to give up. However, we naturally both wanted to be the best parents we could be, which meant being physically at home with our son, not working Monday to Friday, leaving the house after breakfast, and getting home after his bedtime. We were very fortunate that at the time, we both worked for managers who supported our desire to find a home-work balance so we both moved to part-time work.
Much to my continuing amazement and frustration though, our situation is very rare, and my husband remains a trailblazer in the insurance industry by continuing to work part-time. When we talk to others, in general, there is very little surprise to hear I work part-time but my husband is always on the receiving end of something akin to shock that he does. This is a challenge that the corporate world, and the insurance industry, needs to face up to.
However, I do think that the current pandemic is fast-tracking an inflection point. In the past few months I have heard more conversations about flexible working on the context of both men and women taking advantage than I have in my previous 20 years in the industry and I think this is a huge opportunity. If we can change the subject of flexible working away from it just being of benefit to women, and if we begin to see other male leaders adopting part-time or flexible working for whatever reason, then we will have made a huge leap towards equality.
What does diversity mean to you in a practical sense?
For me, diversity means that not only are a diverse range of opinions and experiences sought, but they are also valued and embraced. It is now well understood that companies with more diverse teams outperform those with a more homogenous workforce so it’s something that all companies should aspire to and in my own experience of working in Asia, I have seen plenty of examples of where embracing and adopting alternative perspectives has led to more positive outcomes.
It is all about allowing space for challenges to the status-quo and conventional thinking, and that is one of the reasons that diversity and inclusion are talked about in the same breadth. It is only when you have created a culture of acceptance and empowerment that people feel confident enough to express views or present options which are different. Perhaps the suggestions they come up with won’t be adopted but the fact they are considered and welcomed is a step in the right direction.
More about Carolyn:
Carolyn has 20 years underwriting experience spanning the Lloyds and Asia Market. She spent the early part of her career underwriting in Lloyd’s of London at QBE and Amlin Syndicates before moving to Asia in 2011; initially working with Amlin Singapore and subsequently with RSA until Allied World acquired the RSA Singapore and Hong Kong businesses in 2015. In her CUO role for Allied World, Carolyn is responsible for overseeing the strategy and business plan execution of the Asia Pacific and Global Markets First Party portfolios. Carolyn graduated with honours from the University of Leicester and is ACII qualified. Most importantly though, Carolyn is a wife to a fellow insurance practitioner and mother to two boys, Jake and Dylan, who currently make regular impromptu appearances in video conferences.