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President and CEO
Aon Risk Solutions Canada
Christine Lithgow knows about breaking new ground. She was appointed president and CEO of Aon Risk Solutions Canada in January 2012, making her Aon Risk Solutions' first female country head. She is known for her perseverance, which has allowed her to progress through roles traditionally held by men since she started in the business in 1978 as an account executive trainee in the United Kingdom. Ms. Lithgow also is known for her leadership abilities, serving on Aon executive leadership and global strategy teams, and for growing her unit's revenue and innovative approaches. She also is known for helping other women, having served as the Canadian executive sponsor for Aon's Women's International Network, a group that promotes professional development. Ms. Lithgow speaks regularly to women's groups.
What's your advice for women entering this field?
Understand the breadth and depth of opportunities available in this business. It's incredibly diversified and interesting. You can have a successful and rewarding career in so many fields in our business. You can take a technical track. You can take a field service track. You can be on the legal side. You can be in the management side. Just come in and see how diverse it is. There are so few businesses that give the opportunities that the risk and insurance business provides. And being part of Aon, a global company, there are opportunities in other parts of the world. So you can move to get the opportunities in different countries. In my own experience, I worked in the United Kingdom before I was here and worked in many parts of Canada. So from a career perspective, it's a great place to be.
What attracted you to this industry?
I was all signed up for the university to go into education. And my dad, who knew me well, said, “I am not sure you will be happy doing that for the rest of your life.” He directed me to insurance. Earlier in his career, he had worked in the insurance industry and thought there would be an opportunity there. So I looked into business in the university and there was a risk management and insurance program at the University of Glasgow and I actually signed up. So I purposely came into this business. That is unusual.
What aspects of your job give you the greatest sense of accomplishment?
Mentoring and developing people. I have done this throughout my career, particularly as I have moved up in the ranks. I really feel we all have a responsibility to share our learning to make it easier for our younger colleagues to advance. And that would be particularly true for the younger women coming through so they don't have to experience all the trials and tribulations.
What's the most important lesson you've learned in your career?
The ability to listen and understand the other person's perspective. There is always another side. The position I am in, often some things are difficult to address by the time I hear about them; and you will hear one side, but there is always at least one other side to it. So an understanding perspective, I think, is really important. You have to be able to listen, and you have to be able to observe what is going on. There is a great quote that I keep sitting on my desk. It says, “To acquire knowledge, one must study; but to acquire wisdom, one must observe.” That is a quote from an American author (Marilyn vos Savant). I keep that sitting on my desk in front of me to remind me to observe and listen.
Outside of family, what woman has been your role model?
Given I come from the U.K., I have huge admiration for Margaret Thatcher. While I didn't agree with everything she did and how she approached everything, I admire the sheer tenacity and the vision she had and the ability to take on the tough, tough things. She broke the back of the unions, for example, where nobody else could. The fact that in a society like Britain all those years ago she was able to strive forward was just an incredible achievement.
What's at the top of your bucket list and why?
On the personal side, I have two daughters who just finished university. I want to ensure that over the next 10 to 15 years, I am able to spend quality time with them and be with them as their careers advance and as they enter into having families themselves. I want to be able to find time to do really important things with family. On the professional side — Aon having grown through acquisitions over the last number of years — the opportunities to understand our global capabilities in other parts of the world are important. I have the opportunity to go to Singapore next year as part of a group going there, and to be able go and see and understand our business in different countries is just an incredible opportunity. So I want to take advantage of all of that.
What's your secret vice?
There is, obviously, working too hard, but something people would be surprised about me is I like to cook and collect cook books. People see me as career-driven, so people would laugh if they knew I was cooking at night when I am home. I love East Indian cookery. I love spicy food. I go from traditional food to something different, Indian, Thai, all of it.
Business Insurance's annual Women to Watch feature recognizes women who are doing outstanding work in commercial insurance, risk and benefits management, and related fields, including consulting and law.