Growing as one
If there’s anyone who knows about growing with a business, it’s Bob Thaker, CEO of Hiscox UK. Bob took up the position as CEO in March 2019, although he was already a familiar face to the organisation. He has worked for Hiscox since 2010 in various roles, originally joining the firm as Head of Strategy and holding a string of senior roles, including Group Chief Risk Officer and Head of Claims for Hiscox UK and Europe. Bob moved to Asia in 2014 to become COO of DirectAsia, a newly acquired direct-to-consumer personal lines insurance business by Hiscox, and in January 2015 was appointed CEO of the DirectAsia Group.
“It was tough – working in new countries, new cultures, with an unfamiliar remit, but then we started to make traction, which was really pleasing,” says Bob, reflecting on his time in Asia. “The reason why I say that is it felt like my business, that I was responsible for. In my mind, I owned it.” This approach is something that Hiscox takes great pride in and is the foundation of one of its five values: Integrity, Courage, Connected, Human and Ownership.
Hiscox values have been recently refreshed, but Integrity and Courage are two that have been in place for a long time. “Integrity is very much doing what you said you would do, when you said you would do it,” Bob explains. “Courage is having the strength to make difficult decisions. It’s that day-to-day courage and integrity I see at Hiscox that makes it different to anywhere else, and I’m very proud to work here.”
The Human value is about being fair, clear and inclusive and the connected value is the spirit of teamwork, where Hiscox believes together you can build something better. “The final new value is Ownership, which I'm delighted about. Ownership means making it your business, so be passionate, curious, restless and always look for a better way,” says Bob, adding that this is key to being able to grow a business without diluting its vision.
Growing with values
For Bob, business leaders need to share the vision and the values for them to thrive, illustrating his point with a scenario where a start-up business made up of two people come together with a great idea. What’s driving them is this common purpose and developing a common ethos – culture, values and the DNA of the business.
“Now imagine those two people become 20 people who haven’t been there from the beginning, and the founders don’t explain to them why what they do is important, why they’re doing it and how they are expected to behave towards each other, partners and customers,” says Bob. “People come in with their own guiding lights, their own way of working and then suddenly you’ll hear someone say, ‘this place isn’t what it used to be’.”
This is where the value of Ownership is important, Bob explains. He says that you need to help people feel as if it’s their business, so the vision is not diluted as the company grows. This could be as simple as asking colleagues for their opinion and feedback, so it’s clear their view is valued. However, Hiscox takes this one step further. “We have share schemes available to people who work in the business to encourage this sense of ownership, too” Bob says.
How to eat an elephant
As Hiscox UK CEO, Bob’s priority for the next five years is to continue embedding the business’s culture and values, something he calls ‘evolution’ rather than ‘revolution’. “We must adapt our strategy, our priorities, our approach, to what is a rapidly changing environment largely driven by technology,” he says. “This ensures that we continue to be there when customers and brokers want us to be and that we provide products and manage new risks that are developing and emerging.”
So how should any business balance their vision with the need to carry out the day-to-day operations that pay the bills? “A phrase I heard once is, ‘How do you eat an elephant? You can’t do it in one go, you have to do it bite by bite.’ It’s the same with a vision and a strategy,” says Bob. “You have to break it down into digestible things that you can make progress step by step. Dream big then execute the details.”