As an influential leader and one of the few female CEOs in the London insurance market, Katie Hevey and Rebecca Sharkey had the pleasure of catching-up with Lisa Gibbard, CEO Thomas Miller Speciality where we asked about her journey to becoming a senior technology leader and latterly a CEO of an insurance company.

Can you tell us about your pathway into your professional career?   

LG: My sister and I were the first generation in our family to attend University. I studied Maths and Business Management as a joint honours degree to ensure I came out with broader business skills rather than a pure maths focus. The course also allowed for work placements which helped me understand what I was and wasn’t looking for! 

How did you secure your first role and what was it?  

LG: Securing my first role was more by luck than judgement.  I was fortunate to join the NatWest graduate programme, which offered an exceptional platform for career development. Beginning in project management, I benefited immensely from the mentorship of seasoned professionals who nurtured my skills and expertise, not to mention the support network throughout the programme.

Can you tell us more about your current/most recent role?

LG: In my current capacity as CEO of Thomas Miller Specialty, an Insurance Managing Agent Business (MGA), I oversee a diverse range of operations. MGAs need to foster robust relationships with insurers and brokers, good underwriting capabilities, and operational efficiency. Tasked by the Group CEO to evaluate our governance structure and operating model, I spearheaded significant changes that have positively impacted the business. With these transformations nearing completion, I am eager to embark on my next challenge.

As someone who has previously been a C-suite leader in Technology & Operations, what would you advise are the key attributes & skills needed to be successful ?  

LG: Firstly, it’s crucial to possess a deep understanding of the business and to align yourself as an integral part of the business. While operations are often seen as a back-office function, it’s important to recognise that technology is fundamentally reshaping how businesses operate, making operational areas crucial business enablers.

Secondly, a focus on strategic thinking is paramount. Operating in a leadership capacity entails building strong relationships across the organisation and prioritising the achievement of business outcomes. To accomplish this, assembling a talented team with diverse expertise is vital. Effective leadership involves setting clear objectives, empowering team members, and fostering a collaborative environment that transcends silos.

The ability to make decisions is essential. You’re paid to make difficult decisions. When you’ve made the decision it’s important to provide context and explanation while remaining open to constructive challenge. Embracing diverse perspectives ensures decisions are made in the best interest of the business – it’s not about being personally right; it’s about ensuring the right decision for the business.

Strong interpersonal skills are also key. Effective engagement and communication with peers across the executive table and throughout the organisation require speaking a common business language. Don’t fall into the trap of being too technical, otherwise you will see people glaze over. Talk to everyone across the business. It’s amazing what you see and hear and that can help you form a broader view of the organisation. When communicating with your team, articulate how they are contributing to the overall strategy.

Integrity is non-negotiable. Be honest, especially in times of adversity. When tech breaks, or someone gets something wrong, tell people what you’re going to do to ensure it doesn’t happen again. My number one rule, do not blame your team. You are ultimately responsible. Take accountability.

The path from a CIO to CEO is not one that you commonly see in the market.  What additional skills and experience do you think you bring to the CEO role having been a technology leader? 

LG: Whilst that was the stepping stone to my current role, I have held other C-suite roles which benefitted me on this particular occasion. However, any C-suite role is about leadership, communication, decision making, and strong data and analytical skills. Supporting your team to get business results. Making sure you do what’s right by your customers etc. Given how technology is pivotal in any business these days, having that knowledge and understanding obviously helps!   

Do you think over the next 3-5 years we will see more CEOs having a background in Technology? If yes, why do you think that is?

LG: Yes I do. Technology is foundational to any business and it is driving businesses’ strategy. Business leaders need to understand technology and those technology leaders who don’t pigeon hole themselves in technology silos have the same ability as any other C-suite individual to be the CEO. 

What advice would you give other women who are looking to progress their career to a C-suite level? 

LG: Times are different now to the early stages of my career however, I think a number of things are still applicable. 1) Understand the business itself but also how your business operates. Who are the influencers? Get yourself a sponsor in the business. 2) Don’t just rush up the ladder. Broaden your experience across the business. 3) Don’t be afraid to try something new. Be prepared to ‘fail’ but learn from it. And finally and probably most importantly, 4) be true to yourself. Do not allow any company to question your integrity and values.

What would you say are the challenges women face in both becoming and being a C-suite leader? 

LG: I think these are reducing over time however, believing in one’s self is key. All too often we question whether we are good enough, are we ready for a role or responsibility? We worry about if we fail? Don’t. Have faith in those who have put you forward for a role. They know you can do it, so believe in yourself!

Women want to be at the top table because they deserve to be there, not because they are women. So, we need to believe this as do the men around the table with us.

The old conundrum of career and family. I was told you can have it all. Everyone can have it all, but there are always choices. Do we have to sacrifice quality time with your family for your career? There is no right or wrong, it’s about you making the decision in terms of what’s right for you.

Whilst different, men do have similar choices. My all-time favourite I witnessed was “Do I leave the office now in order to get home for bath time, or shall I stay and finish my work off and get back when the children are getting into bed?”

Having said all the above, I have seen a real positive shift in this space. For those entering or early in their career, it may not feel like it but trust me, things have moved on a lot from when I started on my journey!

Likewise, what I see in the workplace now is that not only are mechanisms in place to enable co-parenting, men want it too.  

Now I am always guilty of generalisations so please don’t take offense! The decision is for the individual and no-one should judge people.

What communities are you a member of and what benefit do you get from being part of these communities?

LG: My home community is really close. We have worked hard over the years to build the community and bring people together. People help and support each other and we look out for the elderly in the community. We also drive local initiatives and improvements to make where we live a place that people want to live!

I am also a Trustee for a small charity that focusses on mental health and wellbeing of military staff past and present and their families. Providing them with opportunities to network with their peers and share experiences with those who can understand what they have been through. For those who have left service, it can be hard for them to re-adjust to life as a civilian and for them to reintegrate with their families. 

If you were going to name a leader who has inspired you, who would that be? Can you explain to us why?

LG: For me, it has always been Nelson Mandela. In the face of inequality and suffering, he always focussed on moving the conversation forward. He fought for peace, justice and human rights. He embraced peace and reconciliation instead of hate and evil. We worked tirelessly for a peaceful and democratic South Africa. He is a truly inspirational leader for all. 

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