Q&A with Branch Director Allison Partlett
Having clocked up almost 4 decades in insurance, Branch Director Allison Partlett has had a varied and exciting career to date. In this article, she tells us about how she got started and how she finds being a woman in a male-dominated industry.
Let’s start at the beginning. When and how did you come to work in insurance?
I decided to end my education halfway through sixth form because I wanted to go into the workplace. My father said that if I gave up my studies I’d have to get a job. So I did! I left school on a Friday and a week later I started my career in insurance and I haven’t looked back since.
My first job was with the Guardian Royal Exchange as a Motor Insurance Clerk. It really was the age of quill pens. We didn’t have computers at that point; the most sophisticated technology was a microfiche machine!
I was there for three years and realised that I wanted my future to be in broking so I attended an interview with an insurance broker and they offered me a job. That was P J Weller & Son and I’ve been with the business ever since.
Talk us through your career trajectory to date.
Within three or four years of joining the business, I was promoted to manager, running the Personal Lines department. As time progressed I became office manager and became involved with commercial insurance.
I then became a director and, when our managing director decided to retire in 2005, I bought the business with a co-director. At that point, I became the managing director. Then, in 2015, we sold the business to [One Broker CEO] Robin Plaster and I was asked to stay with the business.
So, next year, I will have been with the business for 40 years!
Tell us a bit more about joining the One Broker Group.
A couple of years before buying P J Weller, Robin had bought NW Brown Insurance Brokers in Cambridge. The P J Weller offices had previously moved from Barking to Bishop Stortford but then we relocated to Cambridge. At that time I was asked to take over as Commercial Director in Cambridge.
Gibbs Denley Insurance Services was added to the group in 2017 and moved into the Cambridge offices. Then, in 2019, I was invited to become Branch Director in Cambridge. All of the employees had been through a lot of changes and I was tasked with helping to merge the three businesses. It was a fantastic opportunity to look at the bigger picture.
It has been a steep learning curve – and it has had its challenges – but it feels good to see everything coming together. It’s great to see how well people are adapting and working together.
How has One Broker responded to Covid?
I’m very proud of One Broker and what we’ve achieved, especially how our teams have adapted to remote working while consistently delivering the first-class service our clients are accustomed to.
It has been a difficult time for a lot of our clients and our aim has been to be there for them. We want to help our clients, rather than profiting from what is a very challenging period.
This last lockdown [the third] has probably been the most difficult for staff, psychologically, but they have adapted well. As a business, we’ve tried to help our employees through this period; we’ve been understanding and tried to be flexible. Teamwork across the business has been vital to helping us facilitate that. Our teams have been amazing and incredibly resilient.
How have you found being a woman in leadership in insurance?
It can be challenging because it is a very male-dominated industry. I have been lucky to have worked with some amazing men in my career and have always felt equal. As a woman, I feel I often take a different approach and bring a different dynamic.
How do I find it though? As well as being a woman in the leadership team, I’m also the oldest member of One Broker’s leadership team. With age comes confidence and wisdom so I don’t find that part of the job difficult. If you’d asked me this 20 years ago, I probably would have said something completely different.
Do you think the insurance industry has changed or developed over the course of your career?
The industry has really changed. There’s a lot more respect for women in business now and I’m pleased about that. I meet lots of young women and I’m full of admiration for how they’re progressing through our industry. It’s amazing how many women leaders there are now; there are so many more of them than 10-15 years ago. It’s still not enough but we’re getting there. If I was going to give any advice to women, it would be to be yourself. Don’t fight your gender; it’s okay to be a woman. You don’t have to act like a man to succeed.
Do you have any specialisms?
Although a lot of my work is client-focused – and I have gained a great deal of insurance knowledge over my years in broking – my specialism lies more in my ability to bring people and businesses together. My key role as branch director is now more concentrated on operations.
One Broker is an amalgamation of four or five different brokerages and we’re still in the process of bringing that all together. That’s where I see my main role at the moment; helping bring it all together.
I’m involved in the steering committee for the whole group and we get together and talk about what’s best for the future of the group. I am also involved in meetings with other leaders in our business about everything from accounting processes to IT systems and, of late, how to get through a pandemic while protecting our staff and our business. I never imagined that would be on my CV!
Because I’ve owned my own brokerage I have experience in every aspect of the operations and what we should be looking at. I’m not saying I’m always right but that’s what I bring to the table.
What’s the favourite part of your role?
I’m a people person. My favourite part of my role is the people, whether that’s my clients or my colleagues. Some of my clients have been with me for more than 30 years; we have grown up together and now I get to help and advise the next generation.
I enjoy learning about the people I work with, getting to know them and wherever I can help them to be the best that they can be. They are all different and they all bring something different to the business and I like that.
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