By Steve Lewis
Steve Lewis took the reins as CEO of global re/insurance advisor Pro Global just before the start of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Here he highlights the lessons learned so far on growing and diversifying a global business in a time of crisis, creating strategic agility through focus, and how businesses can use what they’ve learned so far to cope with ongoing global volatility.
“There is nothing permanent except change.” – so said ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus, in a statement as profound and true thousands of years ago as it is today. Embracing change and all the challenges and opportunities it represents is a personal and professional challenge for all of us – so starting a leadership position less than a month before the global COVID-19 crisis was a personal test for me and the wider team at Pro Global.
When I was appointed as CEO, my mandate was essentially very simple – to grow and diversify this already internationally positioned consulting & solutions services business and to find a fresh strategic direction and purpose centered on helping our customers adapt, evolve and excel in a rapidly changing world. However, these ambitions may be simple to distill into a few sentences but translating them into focused action at a time of incredible uncertainty and pressure is something altogether different.
From the outset, it was clear that Pro Global embraced a broader social purpose, focused on ensuring our global teams were safe and able to work productively under remote conditions. We did not want to lose sight of our strong culture, our values or our direction of travel as a business: after all, our people and our capabilities are the business.
Lesson number one was that good strategy is about unlocking the potential of the organisation and its people, under any global market and economic conditions. Taking this approach empowered us to methodically connect the dots between the people and the capabilities that will allow us to address more effectively the opportunities of tomorrow, while servicing and growing the business we have today.
Once we had identified our core competencies, we turned our attention to our strategic partnerships – the bread and butter of what we do and where we deliver additional value for our clients. There is a growing recognition across many industries that you can’t be the best at everything or all things to all people; you can’t be a trusted and expert advisor, deliver outsourced services and provide proprietary technology, digital, data and analytical solutions covering the breadth of what is both required and available in today’s world.
We realised that while we had good ideas and insights about how technology could be harnessed for the benefit of our clients, the most successful organisations focus on what they are good at and most confident in – and draw in expert capabilities externally to amplify their offering. This is certainly true in insurance where management is focused principally on securing exceptional risk selection and effective claims management. With a trusted partner engaged to help with the heavy lifting behind the scenes to help drive both operational enablement and efficiencies.
The best strategic partnerships are true joint propositions that harness the skillsets of both organisations symbiotically to focus on the benefits and value-add to the end client.
Again, a key part of the rationale behind many strategic partnerships is not only building out a successful set of transformative partnerships for today’s challenges, but also to address more effectively the opportunities that allow insurers to excel in the market of tomorrow.
The world we operate in is changing fast, and this pace of change – including the ever-evolving application of new technologies – is fundamentally altering business operating models and ways of working. This has never been truer than in the last 12 to 15 months where COVID has driven a step change, an acceleration in digital adoption opening up a range of threats to be addressed and opportunities to be harnessed.
The complexities of today’s operating landscape and pace of change require a range of transformative solutions that no one party can credibly deliver. From specialists in augmented intelligence to military-level cyber security experts, non-insurance specialist businesses spanning many focused disciplines can bring huge insight and expertise to our sector.
Ultimately Pro Global has emerged stronger and more focused as a result of the pandemic due to our ability to create strategic agility through focus. We have learned that purposeful strategy translates into tangible action, and creates the building blocks of a resilient and well diversified business with a healthy ecosystem of strategic partners that can pivot into future opportunities and weather the challenges on the horizon, not least the hardening global economic landscape.
The last couple of years has required Pro to adapt and in doing so, we have used what we have learnt to fuel the evolution of the organisation to the next level of sustainable growth.
Ultimately, it is about having a structured process to diagnose where you stand, and really evaluate what it is that your business is there to do, how you can best add value and for whom. And for me, it’s through that process that you can evaluate purpose, which can guide what you need to do to evolve your business. That is both reflecting today’s reality and how it might change in the next three, five, or more years.
About the Author
Steve became CEO of Pro Global on 1 February 2020, joining from RSA where he was CEO, UK & International for just over 4 years, having previously been CEO of Zurich’s UK P&C business for the preceding 5 years.
During his 30+ year insurance career, Steve has, in addition to his CEO positions, held a number of group-wide operational and financial roles including Head of Zurich’s Group Operations, Planning and Performance Management function (2007 – 2009), Chief Finance & Operations officer of Zurich’s European Global Corporate business (2006 – 2008) with around 10 years of his career being based out of Switzerland and Australia.
Steve is a Fellow of the Chartered Association of Certified Accountants, having qualified in 1990.