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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Q&A: Jim Sutcliffe: Lofty ambitions

As a child, what were your ambitions for the future?
Playing cricket for South Africa was top of the list. I always imagined I would travel the world.

How did you end up on an actuarial career path?
My father was an insurance broker and pointed me in this direction. I was awarded a repayable bursary from an insurance company to go to university, which I needed because my father thought university was a waste of time. In order to repay it I had to become an actuary.

What has been your proudest career moment to date?
Spending time with Nelson Mandela. I also consider becoming CEO of Old Mutual and acquiring Jackson and Skandia as significant achievements.

What has been your most memorable career lesson?
Learning about clients by spending time with salespeople in Canada.

What did that experience teach you?
I spent a lot of time on the road and interacted first hand with key stakeholders. The experience taught me how to communicate with laymen and the importance of listening to and empathising with customers’ concerns.

What is your philosophy on life?
Give first, take second.

How do you measure your success?
By passing milestones, of which there are an infinite number.

What challenge would you next like to take up?
I have been exposed to many facets of the industry. I would like to be involved with something where I have an ownership interest, or become the chairman of a public company.

How did you become appointed as chairman of the Board for Actuarial Standards having held senior positions in, primarily, insurance operations?
When I left Old Mutual, I told head-hunters that I wanted a role that would make more of a contribution to the industry and society. Having often complained about regulators, I thought I should see if I could do it any better. It turns out to be an interesting role.

What would you say to young, ambitious actuaries to point them in the right direction for life in the boardroom?
Practise communicating, get continual feedback and prepare hard for everything. Turn up — you can’t seize an opportunity if you are not there to spot it. I owe much of my career success to people who believed in my ability and supported me along the way.

If you could revisit your life choices, would you do anything differently?
I would spend more time with my family and play more cricket — although the two might not appear to be compatible! I would be a bit more humble and pause to think before my mouth opens.

What would you consider as an alternative career?
I always fancied being a lawyer; however, I could never be a doctor as I don’t like blood. Away from the traditional professions, though, I relish the idea of pursuing an outdoors occupation — as a game ranger or miner.

What is your favourite pastime?
I thoroughly enjoy golf, while I am also partial to a game of bridge.

You must get asked this all the time... just how tall are you?!
It’s a secret!


Jim Sutcliffe is chairman of The Board for Actuarial Standards. His previous roles include deputy chairman of Liberty International, chief executive of Prudential UK and group CEO of Old Mutual. Mr Sutcliffe currently serves as a non-executive director of Lonmin, Sun Life Financial of Canada and Liberty Life in South Africa.