Hiscox people: Joe Brown

What kind of insurance do you specialise in?
It’s a broader role than I’ve had in the past because previously I focused on the property and liability underwriting side of the business. I’ve been in this particular post for 18 months, having worked in insurance almost 16 years. I was at Allianz for three years and joined Hiscox 13 years ago.

What is your background?
I grew up in Sussex, East Grinstead – a little commuter town. I then went to university in Bradford, where I studied politics and economics. It was a fantastic experience – I wanted to go somewhere up north before the inevitable move to London. I’m based in Crystal Palace now. Workwise, I spend half my time in London and the other half out in our regional offices.

How would you describe your management style?
I place a lot of trust in people and I give them the space to progress and to learn. I’m a long way from a micro-manager, I’d say. I get involved in areas that I feel I need to or when I’m asked for specific advice or help.

Are tough decisions best taken by one person?
I think one person ultimately makes the decision but it’s all about the counsel that you keep in getting to that decision. If you’re making decisions in isolation, you’re shutting yourself off from very experienced people who can look at things from a completely different angle.

What does success look like to you?
It’s about setting a clear vision, then managing through all of the issues and bumps along the way – providing that guidance and leadership to get to where you’re trying to get to.

Do you make your decisions based on instinct or information?
It’s got to be a combination of the two. In the underwriting world, you never have perfect information, so you have to fill the gaps with your experience and your judgement. That’s where underwriters add value.

What motivates and inspires you?
When I look to leadership, the people who inspire me have a clear vision, set it out at a strategic level and then take the group somewhere that they believe in. You can’t see this process through rose-tinted glasses, there will be issues encountered along the way, but you have confidence in that person or that group of people that they’re going to lead you through it.

I also find inspiration in peers and colleagues who tackle the day-to-day problems with energy. That mentality of finding a way and not just giving up motivates me. Insurance can be stale, it can be tried and tested, so it’s great to be working at Hiscox where we have a lot people with a can-do attitude.

What was the best advice you’ve ever been given?
You have to drive your own career. Whatever company you’re working for, they’ll give you the tools and the skills, but you’re the only person that’s ever going to make it happen. Don’t sit around as if the world owes you anything. Having that clarity early on in my career was really useful.

What would you consider your greatest achievement?
I did the Mont Blanc marathon a few years ago – it was ridiculous, pretty brutal. It took me about seven and a half hours and it was snowing despite the marathon being run in the middle of summer.

What is your greatest extravagance?
I took a sabbatical a few years ago. We went to South Africa for three months with our first child. It was absolutely amazing. We went to Cape Town, the Winelands and drove along the Garden Route to beyond Port Elizabeth before taking in the Karoo. We took it slowly and spent a bit of time in each place – it was beyond brilliant.

What was the last book you read?
A Line in the Sand by James Barr. It’s about the British and French carving up the Middle East, and how a lot of the region’s current problems were originally formed by those two imperial powers. It’s set in a fascinating era and is a sad tale in many ways.

What do you think sets Hiscox apart from the competition?
It’s still got that small business mentality, even though we’re not a small business anymore. Everyone cares and everyone treats it as if it’s their own business. We’ve got an enthusiastic, energetic workforce that look for ways to say yes and to do business. It’s one of the main reasons I work here.