In the first instalment of our routes to the top series, Bradley Shearer talks to four senior executives and managing directors about their career journeys, and shares their practical professional advice
In line with our theme of lifelong learning and career development, this series of features showcases a range of actuaries who have reached breathtaking heights in their careers. It shares a variety of experiences, setting out their routes taken, their reflections on the journey, and guidance for others wanting to follow in their footsteps. These accomplished leaders run businesses in sectors as diverse as life insurance, health, banking, consultancy, non-life insurtech, financial advice/planning and technology. While by no means a complete list nor a representative sample of actuarial executives, we trust that their vignettes will inspire you to reflect on your own career and aspirations.
CEO of Federated Employers' Mutual (FEM)
Johannesburg, South Africa
Ndivhuwo Manyonga was the first black African female actuary in South Africa. After university, she worked in a group assurance role while passing her exams. She moved to roles as a risk benefits consultant and pensions consulting actuary, followed by "a conscious decision to leave mainstream corporate life to spend time with family and embark on some self-discovery" while doing independent employee benefits consulting
In 2012, she joined Aon Hewitt as deputy CEO, and later became executive head of Aon Employee Benefits. "This was a period of growth as a leader and it also afforded me international exposure and an opportunity to work with people from different parts of the world." Last year, she moved from Aon into the role of CEO for the South African direct insurer the Federated Employers' Mutual (FEM), which provides workmen's compensation to the construction sector.
Ndivhuwo likes "the opportunity to lead and grow" and FEM's "strong focus on education through the FEM Education Foundation", which she chairs. She's also performed board roles as an executive and non-executive director.
Ndivhuwo's career reflections and suggestions
- Be kind to yourself - when learning a lesson or accepting feedback, move forward and don't take yourself too seriously
- Most people will tend to remember how you made them feel, so be conscious of your body language when engaging, be present in the moment and be empathetic
- Seek opportunities that expose you to leadership and allow you to interface and engage with different stakeholders
- Do not be afraid to take a different path to the one you originally intended
- Reflect on whether what you are doing is effective: are your activities really adding value?
- Create a support structure for yourself both within and outside of your organisation
- Identify role models in your career and personal life who you can learn from, and regularly consider what works well for you.
CEO of Mercer UK
London, United Kingdom
Like Ndivhuwo, Fiona Dunsire has a consulting background. When joining Mercer from university, Dunsire chose to "put the odds in her favour" by relocating from Scotland as Mercer was hiring more graduates in London that year.
Fiona moved from the pensions actuarial team to the investments team after qualifying because she saw "opportunities in a smaller but rapidly growing business area". Its diversity and flatter structure also appealed. Over time, Fiona became the business leader for the UK Investment Consulting business, and has been Mercer's UK CEO since the end of 2012. All previous CEOs had pure pensions actuarial backgrounds, and Fiona has steered a significant strategic change, as Mercer now covers "all aspects of people and benefits" - providing advice to companies, individuals and trustees across health, wealth and careers. Fiona has thus spent her entire career to date at the same organisation - the only one of our contributors to do so.
During her career, Fiona enjoyed four months in Northern Spain on a sabbatical. Looking back, she sees it was a great opportunity to allow her team to step up. She is a firm believer that "there is no straight line career path": after running the Investment Consulting business, she handed the leadership over to someone new, and moved to become senior client leader herself. At the time, it wasn't clear to her what her next role would be, although she was sure "something would come along" - and it did: the CEO role
When reflecting on the actuarial qualification, Fiona highlights the credibility it brought her as a young woman in a room full of largely male trustees, and the element of critical thinking it engenders.
- Take other views into consideration before coming to a solution, while recognising that a drive to action is still important: as a leader, you want all voices contributing to the answers
- Be open to changing roles often, even when there are client relationships involved: a fresh pair of eyes can be valuable to clients
- While you naturally feel responsible for a business unit, try to remain objective so that you can question, and then apply your passion to get the business ahead of the trend
- Healthy careers develop sideways, too: develop broader skills and exposure to other areas, potentially through interim or project roles alongside your day job
Group head of insurance for HSBC
Bryce Johns has been based in Cape Town, Mumbai, London, New York and Hong Kong, and travelled widely for work. After roles in socially responsible investing and product and financial risk management in South Africa, Bryce felt "wanderlust, and wanted to be stretched commercially and culturally". Moving to India for a "seat at the exco table" of an insurance joint venture, he wore varied hats, covering CIO, product and appointed actuary. He enjoys "highly commercial/startup environments within the context of a financially strong sponsor and access to smart people.
Bryce then moved further East and joined Manulife in a regional Asian role. The financial crisis led to him "pivoting to company valuation and M&A work", followed by building Manulife's regional Wealth Management business. He then relocated to London to join the Old Mutual executive committee, heading product.
When Old Mutual sold its international businesses, Bryce realised his heart was in Asia, and called on his personal networks to get back. He joined Citibank as global insurance head, where he "helped forge the landmark AIA bancassurance partnership across Asia", before shifting to run branch distribution in a sales and development role.
In 2016, approached to lead the insurance "Manufacturing and Partnerships business" of HSBC, Bryce joined its global retail banking and wealth management executive committee. He references success factors as "opportunities through networks", "restlessness to push myself in very different arenas", "constant curiosity", "in-business and regional/global experiences" and "finding your niche" - in his case, straddling banking, wealth management and insurance.
- Recognise the value of relationships and what people think of you
- Visit your teams and partners in person to see their emotion and engagement firsthand, listen hard, and win over hearts and minds - numbers and logic alone don't get people onboard
- Prepare for the unexpected: doing something different can be a learning experience
- Work with people you can learn a lot from, including those very different to you, and for organisations that are culturally aligned with who you are
- Communicate succinctly, with the top three points only: cover the executive summary and what you're doing about it - distil complexity for different audiences.
CEO of EValue
Dublin, Ireland and London, UK
Paul McNamara is a seasoned CEO among our contributors, having led multiple organisations across sectors.
He now runs EValue, which provides financial forecasting for institutions and the advisory market using proprietary asset modelling and financial planning tools.
Paul first worked for New Ireland Assurance and the Bank of Ireland, which funded his MBA at Cass in London. He remains a member of Cass' MBA Advisory Board. Post-MBA, he joined McKinsey, and then AXA UK as group strategy director. Subsequently at HBoS, he was MD of Marketing and Distribution for long-term savings, including CEO of Clerical Medical International. He's also been MD of Group Strategy and Corporate Finance at Standard Life, MD Insurance and Investments at Barclays, and CEO of the IFG Group (parent of James Hay and Saunderson House). Appointed CEO of EValue last year, he is now transforming the company from a consulting to a technology business.
He's always "embraced change, especially implementing a new strategy or shaping the future direction of a business." Paul particularly likes problem solving, seeking opportunities for business growth or profitability improvement, and enjoys working with motivated people who are open to change. His actuarial qualification has helped him to consider effects of decisions over the long term, and he is proud of the profession's ethical focus on the public interest.
People development has become more important as he's progressed: how to coach and mentor individuals, passing on knowledge and experience. He has benefited from both having a mentor and being a mentor, and keeps in contact with past colleagues, including his McKinsey alumni network.
Paul's counsel for us
- Professionals can be perceived as knowledgeable experts but narrowly focused, so practice balancing credibility with enthusiasm and curiosity
- Know enough about other disciplines and functions to have a good dialogue, ask the right questions and make helpful suggestions
- To develop as a leader, don't micro-manage areas you might have managed in the past
- While it's great to have personal ambitions, always strive for collective results that benefit your team and your organisation
- It is not always obvious what you'd be great at, so experiment, be bold, try new things and trust the future.
Some great advice and inspiration from the first four CEOs and MDs featured in this series, with their varied career paths stretching across a number of continents and disciplines. The common themes among their answers included:
- The importance of being flexible, able to adjust to evolving (or unexpected) circumstances, and open to taking different paths or developing sideways
- Balancing objectivity and knowledge with curiosity, passion and enthusiasm
- Valuing a broad perspective, including others' views, and developing professional awareness across disciplines and functions
- The positive effect of role models and mentors who we can learn from, benefiting from their knowledge and experience.
The next instalment in this series will feature the routes and reflections of several actuarial life and health leaders. We look forward to sharing their stories.
Bradley Shearer is executive director of Protagion, which offers active career management and development services for qualified professionals, including actuaries.