A Leadership Evolution with Our Guest Speaker Dame Inga Beale
A Leadership Evolution
In November, Hoggett Bowers and our coaching partners, LSP Leadership, jointly hosted our first ‘real life’ HR Directors dinner for nearly two years. We were joined by a select group of Chief People Officers from multiple sectors for a fabulous evening. For some, it was their first network evening since March 2020 so had an extra vitality.
Our guest speaker was Dame Inga Beale, who, as the CEO of Lloyd’s of London, challenged the culture and the way Lloyd’s of London worked. Entrenched traditions that were in many people’s views, stopping Lloyd’s from progressing as a business, Inga’s changes led with technology, inclusion and culture change.
A five-year journey of people and operational transformation Inga presented the experience as, by a long chalk, the toughest challenge of her career to date. Personally, never afraid to address taboo topics and having broken through several glass ceilings, Inga spoke with passion from personal experience on how to evolve as a modern transparent leader and how to build a working environment where people from all walks of life feel welcomed, valued and can thrive. Driven by a purpose to empower women in business, and a successful career that led her to work in many different countries, Inga shared some of her tips with our audience on how to navigate as a leader and to make real changes.
Background to Lloyds
Inga opened her speech by providing our guests from outside the insurance sector with a brief history lesson. We were transported back to 1688, to London’s Tower Street (Great Tower Street, today) which led down to the Thames, The Port of London Authority and to The Custom House who looked after the shipping that sailed up the River Thames. London was a hub for the merchants shipping their cargos around the world. In the area, coffee shops were everywhere. It was not a financial district but a maritime, and each coffeeshop had a specialism. One was owned by Mr Edward Lloyd and he decided to specialise in maritime affairs. The maritime sector was (and still is today) a very treacherous place with pirates, turbulent seas and unpredictable weather conditions. No one knew whose ship would be sunk or what precious cargo, lost or damaged. So, Mr Lloyd decided to focus on shipping and his coffeeshop became the place for ship owners and merchants to gather. Because of the unpredictability they wanted to protect their cargoes and ships. It was the original crowd funding but focused on insurance. They started to share the risk amongst Mr. Lloyd’s customers. They’d write down the cargo, the voyage, where it was going and ask who would take a proportion of the risk – but also the reward. 5% of the risk, thereby taking 5% of the premium charged would receive or pay 5% of the profit or loss. They’d sign their name to the agreement and that’s how the sharing of risk began and where the term ‘underwriting’ comes from, as they’d write their names, underneath. Fast forward to 2013 when Inga was approached to run Lloyd’s. What was the different? It was very big. It had survived many wars and disasters, including insuring the Titanic. In 2013 Lloyd’s was in the prestigious and at the time, new, ‘inside out’ building, in the centre of which, was a very large atrium, with escalators and lifts all around. The hustle and bustle of the underwriters and brokers, clustered across many floors. In many ways and in comparison, to other sectors that have since modernised, Lloyd’s was processing business, the same way as in 1688.
For three centuries, £30 billion worth of business had been signed with ‘names’ and agreed with a wetting stamp. Inga faced the challenge to move from engrained traditions, and with no obvious crisis or burning platform, just the growing concern that if Lloyd’s didn’t modernise, it would become a museum. Predecessors had attempted to digitise business processes and bring in fresh ideas, but these had failed. Inga joined to take on this challenge thinking that she could be the one, the leader who could save the market. She’d led many successful transformations and technology rollouts before so why not this one? Inga accepted without knowing just what a leadership and personal experience it would prove to be.
It was important to establish why changes had previously failed, so Inga started to speak to the people in the market. As CEO of Lloyd’s, you run the market and have about 1,000 employees, however, there were, at the time, about 30,000 people operating in the London market. She outlined to her Board how she would need to take three months to speak to the thousands of people the change would impact upon. Unlike her predecessors who’d quickly moved into the change process with limited prior engagement or understanding as to why changes had been resisted.
She discovered many insights, but the principal block was a feeling the previous attempts had been forced upon them. The people weren’t part of the design and they feared for the impact on their jobs, the future and their businesses.
Inga turned everything on its head, with the biggest inclusion effort she’d ever attempted. They completely changed the way transformation had been done before. The aim was to switch the Lloyd’s market, from a central, command and control environment to giving the power to the people in the market.
A blueprint was created, outlining what the future could look like by improving technology, with a mosaic of systems. It was complex as it effected hundreds of companies, thousands of people, their business processes and systems. The Consultants partnering Lloyd’s proposed sixteen work streams to communicate but Inga was concerned with the complexity and feared it would not land so they reduced the number of work streams down to four.
At the start of any transformation, you think you know who the supporters will be. Inga was convinced the younger groups would, being more technology savvy, adopt the plans. She therefore brought the under 30s and the under 35s age groups together, so convinced was she they would be her champions for change. Surely, they would embrace her digital plans! However, it was totally the opposite. The younger groups were fearful of the change and how It would impact on their future jobs and put their careers at stake. Instead of having the most engaged group she had the most fearful. She worked to engage them by requesting they design how they would want the jobs of the future to look. After all the aim was not to eliminate jobs, indeed the purpose was to establish smoother, more efficient, digital processes which would eradicate duplication and errors, thereby providing an improved customer experience.
Don’t make assumptions about people!
Inga reflected; assumptions are made but you shouldn’t jump to conclusions as you do not know who your supporters will be. You just don’t know what others are thinking! Inga realised the greatest challenge was not as she had expected, the technology, but the culture. Everything was about the culture change, and they would have to inspire or attract new thinking. Lloyd’s, was a homogeneous blob of people as they had been hiring in the same way, valuing the same backgrounds and traits, for centuries. Women were not allowed into Lloyd’s until the 1970s. It had been male, white and everyone dressed the same way. The dress-code, jackets and ties should always be worn – it was the uniform.
To illustrate the status quo at the time, Inga talked about one hot day in July. Observing the discomfort created by the dress code, Inga proposed they relax the dress code and for the following Fridays. Security was asked to place posters outside all the entrances (covering the usual notices) stating that the dress code was relaxed, and jackets and ties were not required. By 9.30 am on the day the dress code changed, Inga received a message the Chairman who was furious and Inga was told to “stop it”.
Presenting at a conference shortly after, Inga spoke of their ambition to change Lloyd’s. A delegate said he had visited recently and was handed a tie at reception. He said he had walked straight out. He did not want to work with Lloyd’s. And that is what happens if we do not consider inclusion and break out of our usual, ‘uniformed, lives.’
Inga realised the reason Lloyd’s had not changed was because it was like a great big homogeneous blob of the same person.
The sectors saviour!
Determined to bring the new perspective, essential to saving the sector, at market meetings Inga looked out at her participants, they were the same people. A sea of white faces and an audience with hardly any females. There was total shock when she mentioned the words ‘gay, bisexual, lesbian etc’. Heads would bow, some would giggle and even in 2014 some struggled with her using such language. They could not comprehend it. But she did not stop talking about it. People started to come to her wanting to set up distinct groups, for women, for LGBT. And that’s how it started. Inga was talking about things at the top and people started to make changes at a grass root level. A movement, a ground swell had begun. In 2014 they launched their first festival and they called it ‘Dive In’. The Lloyd’s building was decorated with rainbows and bright coloured posters. Inga was nervous the traditionalists would curse her. The Chairman requested the posters should be taken down immediately after the event.
She got a lot of criticism via emails and articles in the press but she ignored it all and as part of her coping mechanism, threw them away. She started having conversations about inclusion and just before the end of the first Dive-in festival, the market was saying it should happen again the following year. Dive-in is now in its seventh years and is held in 35 countries. It involves thousands of people.
Having been in the insurance market for 40 years Inga really believes in it but if it does not change and modernise it will become irrelevant and it won’t serve its purpose and meet today’s customer’s needs.
In all of this, you can still end up getting complacent and Inga says, she did just that. Her HRD pointed out Lloyd’s did not have a drugs and alcohol policy and as they were now modernizing, they needed one. So it was drafted and launched and her 1,000 strong employee workforce were asked not to drink and return to work. Lunches and alcohol had been part of the culture, but it was no longer appropriate. It was unprofessional so should be banned.
Angry employees leaked the announcement to the press, and it made more headlines around the world than any of her other changes. Inga felt, she had lost the employees trust because she had become complacent. She didn’t check with the right people first about the change. As a result, Inga created a shadow executive board to, thereafter, sense check ideas before acting.
Q. Inga, any tips on how you stayed resilient whilst leading through that transformation?
A. Three main things:
The support network. About 14 years ago a group of senior women in insurance got together and formed The Insurance Supper Club, with no real purpose. That’s grown over the years, and they were such an important support network, they wanted to make sure that the woman at the helm of Lloyd’s was going to succeed. If ever anything was tough, they would have tips and ideas. They gave me the energy to go back out.
The ability to not be distracted from the task. I didn’t read newspaper articles or media headlines. Just shut them out and I let the communications team deal with anything that wasn’t serious.
A “Screaming Buddy”. Inga hired a COO to drive the transformation full-time, who was so trusted that they became “screaming buddies”. It was a way to release the frustration. Once done they would calmly go back to work ready to face it together.
Q. From a diversity and inclusion perspective, how did you manage to influence the whole marketplace? And how do you extend that reach and engage with people beyond your organisation?
A. The inclusion group was formed at Lloyd’s with the realisation that the CEO could not front it. At a conference of the insurance market in Germany with over 700 people in attendance, the UK Ambassador to Germany opened the session, he stood on the stage, looked out and said, “why is it so male in here, there’s hardly any women. You need to do something about the sector.” Inga got up directly after him to speak. Later, after the conference several people came up to her and thanked her for mentioning the lack of women in the room. She had not but people thought it had come from her. Inga then realised she needed another spokesperson and not herself otherwise she would get too much criticism. She needed someone that did not look diverse, who could open more doors than she could and start having conversations with their ‘mates’. She asked a white, heterosexual, male to front it up. He still heads up the group 7 years later.
Q. You make it sound quite accidental (identifying Lloyd’s culture as the problem) and so I wondered if you had a vision of where you wanted to go from and to?
A. Inga said it was quite accidental and it wasn’t expected. She knew about the culture but didn’t think that would be a parallel transformation to the technology transformation. Hence, there wasn’t a vision and it wasn’t clearly articulated but she knew they had to do something about it. For instance, she was given a huge office, with no glass, so she demolished it and sat in the open plan office with everyone else. A lot of middle managers were horrified as she could then speak directly to their people. That wasn’t part of a master plan it just felt right to her. There was also a realisation that it was a bit ‘civil service’, no one was wanting responsibility, hiding behind committees. So, the committees were abolished which led to those people leaving, who didn’t want to be empowered and have that responsibility.
Q. Where does the next big change come from, for the sector and personally?
A. It’s about the next generation of customer. We already know the next generation are people who think differently, and they’ll have to work a lot longer [before retirement] and the world will continue to change, and the insurance sector finds it tough to hire different people. For many young, digitally savvy people, who move very quickly, insurance doesn’t seem an exciting enough career prospect. It’s worrying as the sector could become irrelevant to its customers.
Inga chairs a South African company and shared how seeing and experiencing change, in a different environment and setting, it helps inform her. The business has real challenges. It was a white Afrikaans company, mostly men. Women and black people are still regarded as the previously marginalised population and the business has targets to hire them. It’s a unique thing to be exposed to. The fear of these traditional ‘comfortable’ men, it is enormous. It’s the right thing to do to represent the population but the journey to get there is very challenging. For Inga learning about this, a new and a big challenge, for a whole country, it is really fascinating.
Q. What’s your opinion on what Covid has done in terms of driving the inclusion agenda?
A. People are now included on video at board meetings, people that would never have been included and involved before. Many of whom are overseas. It’s amazing that they now having top talent, present, in this way.
Whilst at GE, in the 1990s, most of Inga’s team were out of country so they rolled out remote management training. It taught Inga how to manage people who weren’t in the building. One knew you couldn’t just talk to a few people around you but also had to include everyone, no matter where they were located. That’s a skill you must learn – how to manage virtual teams and bring them with you.
Q. There’s a lot being written about the ‘Great Resignation’ and the ‘war for talent’. What’s your perspective on global talent markets and what we should be thinking about in terms of retaining our people?
A. The Financial Times recently reported women were leaving financial services as they didn’t want the ‘hassle’ since Covid. Inga’s come across women leaving the sector because of the politics and male banter etc. for many years. This has made her angry with them as if you don’t stay in the corporate world, you can’t change the corporate world.
Over the years Inga’s discovered the lack of honesty of conversations at work. Seldom do we speak honestly about problems. Rarely do we speak our minds. We need to create the atmosphere to be open and honest otherwise we won’t retain the talent. The culture needs to change so people aren’t scared to speak up. We need to unlock that problem, or we can’t solve the talent issue.
Q. What is the role of HR people to help CEOs to make progress in this space?
A. General Electric (GE) took talent management very seriously and the Divisional Director didn’t go anywhere in the world without their HR support. They spent as much time planning people as planning the numbers. That’s how important talent management was to them.
In 1994 GE had targets to promote women and people from ethnic backgrounds which were directly linked to leaders’ bonuses.
Q. How can HR help them achieve business objectives?
A. The discipline of the working environment is important. Inga stopped weekend working years ago.
People should have time off at the weekend and relax, as it’s not good for the company. She believes there’s a need to bring that discipline back as constant pressure is exhausting and there must be down time.
Our event was closed by Simon Bailey of LSP who summed up how struck he was by what strong leadership really takes and how Inga brought that to life. Two things stood out, being inclusion, in many different shapes and guises and perhaps it’s broader than we sometimes think. The other was about ‘assumptions’, questioning them and watching out for what those assumptions are.
The biggest leadership challenge we face right now is climate emergency and he’s curious about the lessons we can learn from what Inga’s experienced and outlined tonight. How we can lead change, how we’re going to lead in different ways and how to address the challenge.
Dame Inga Beale Biography:
After working in senior global leadership roles in some of the world’s largest insurance companies, Dame Inga took over the helm of the 330-year-old City financial institution Lloyd’s of London in 2014.
Taking on many of the traditions that had held the organisation back, Inga modernised the market with the introduction of technology and, understanding the vital importance of inclusion in the workplace, she challenged the traditional “boys club” culture to make it a much more inclusive environment for all.
Having stepped down as CEO at the end of 2018, she is now into the next chapter of her life which is a portfolio of non-executive director roles including being Chair of Mediclinic International, a private hospital and healthcare group headquartered in South Africa. In 2020 she chaired the HIV Commission that delivered recommendations for the UK government to end new HIV transmissions in England by 2030.
She is passionate about inclusion and diversity and sits as an advisor and judge for the WeOual Awardsaimed at showcasing and recognising top female talent. As a member of the London Mayor’s Business Advisory Board, in November 2020 she hosted the global launch of CHANGE– the City Hub And Network for Gender Equity. Inga also serves as Patron of Insuring Women’s Futures, a not-for-profit aimed at improving women’s lifelong financial resilience, and she sits on the advisory board for the Commonwealth Businesswomen’s Network.
Thank you to all our guests who joined on the night, including: