Hiscox people: Mark Plews

With a background in financial lines and professional indemnity insurance, Hiscox Interim Sales Director Mark Plews, talks about the freedom he enjoys at the company and how some blunt feedback reshaped his management philosophy.

How long have you been in insurance? I’ve been working in insurance for 14 years – 12 of those with Hiscox.

Can you describe your management style? I tend to focus on a few targets with the team that are non-negotiable, in key areas. I then try and let them achieve those goals however they wish, avoiding micro-management and resisting the temptation to interfere too often­­­. I think we’ve got really good people here who perform to the best of their ability when not spoon fed. Over time I’ve tried to become less controlling. I used to worry about every minute detail but now I try to take a step back and focus more on the big picture – to give people a steer in the right direction. I think that becomes easier with the more experience you gain.

What motivates and inspires you? To give one example, when I first became a regional manager, the region was struggling but with time we grew stronger by delivering more every year and proving the doubters wrong. We’ve created an environment where people feel part of the team and really want to drive things forward themselves. That feeling really motivates me.

Are tough decisions best taken by one person or many? Often by one person but it’s usually beneficial to consider a range of views before you advance.

Are your best decisions based on instinct or information? The best decisions are based on information. But I do think, to be effective, decisions have to be timely. If you need to make a quick call then instinct is the way – for me, instinct is based on information you’ve stored away anyway. But ultimately I think, when time allows, it’s important to get all sides of an issue.

Is it more helpful to be liked or respected? Both are obviously very important but respect is the key. For me, respect is about being the kind of person who gets things done. People can like you internally and externally but not want to deal with you professionally.

Best advice ever given to you? It’s not necessarily advice but some time ago I went to an assessment centre where the feedback was pretty brutal. For a few days after I was a bit down about the whole situation but then I sat down and took stock. I think taking on tough feedback is really important and I invite people to be quite direct where possible. People should be open to hearing where others perceive them to have issues. 

What does success look like to you? From a work point of view, ultimately it comes down to building a team that can deliver the numbers. But I think it’s also important everyone enjoys doing it. I’d hate to work at a place where numbers are everything and everyone is miserable. I’ve come from the Hiscox Scottish office, which is a very small team that has come a long way. That, to me, is quite special.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? In an ideal situation I’d be somewhere – probably on holiday – relaxing with the family, ideally with my children behaving at the time. Just speaking to each other, without the chaos all around.

What’s your favourite place? I quite like going up to the Highlands, particularly Newtonmore. It just feels like a good place to switch off. It’s a much slower pace and you just feel, after being there for a few days, that you’re recharged and ready to go again. 

What is your greatest extravagance? My friends and I are 40 next year, so we’re planning to go away for a week on an American road trip without our families, which feels a bit extravagant. It’s very early days but I think we’re going to do the West Coast. One of them suggested we rent a Winnebago, which I hope is a joke – I’m yet to confirm...

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? I’m always considering what’s next and not appreciating the moment. Both in work and in my personal life I need to take a step back and absorb what’s happening.

What do you consider your greatest achievement? Within work we took the Scotland team to the Robert Hiscox Cup two years ago. The region had been struggling for a couple of years, and in a relatively short time of taking over we came third and first place in successive years. That felt pretty good.

Who are your heroes? He’s not a hero per se but I’ve always loved Bob Dylan. It’s amazing the stories he told with his songs.

What do you think sets Hiscox apart from the competition? I think what you see are people who are very committed, dedicated and friendly. You don’t really see any passengers at Hiscox. And there are very few people I look at around the business and think, ‘Why are they here?’ Speaking to competitors, that’s quite rare.

What do you enjoy most about working for Hiscox? It’s the involvement you get right from the start. I was surprised that straight away you’re given access to all the information, all the accounts, and really encouraged to share your views regardless of the position at the company. The Chief Executive down to the Trainee Underwriter should feel comfortable making a contribution.