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Head of Reinsurance Strategy
Swiss Re Ltd.
Susan Holliday is head of reinsurance strategy for Swiss Re Ltd. based in London, a job she has held since January 2012. Ms. Holliday joined Swiss Re as head of investor relations in 2006, having recommended herself for the job. She works with the reinsurance management team to develop Swiss Re's global strategy and objectives for property/casualty and life and health business. She is a member of the supervisory committee of Swiss Re in Brazil and is head of Swiss Re's diversity chapter for the United Kingdom and its reinsurance center. She spearheads Swiss Re's U.K. diversity council, which arranges mentoring programs, sets up external speakers and a women's community day. She organized the first Women in Insurance Leadership event in London in 2012 and is a founding member of Women in the City. Ms. Holliday is a regular speaker at industry events and acts as a mentor. After completing a history degree at Magdalen College, Oxford, Ms. Holliday trained as an accountant and worked in insurance brokerage and banking before joining Swiss Re.
What's your advice for women entering this field?
My advice would be the same for anybody — man or woman — entering any field: You don't necessarily know where your career is going to go, so be flexible and be prepared to take chances on different things. People, both women and men, need to be flexible and consider doing different things.
What attracted you to this industry?
It was chance. I'm an accountant, and my first job was training in an accountancy firm in the United Kingdom. I wanted to get into financial services, as I was interested in working in the City of London (the U.K. financial center). And as it happens, I was placed in an insurance department. That department was understaffed, and so I was able to do more and more interesting things, such as sitting on an underwriting box at Lloyd's of London, than I otherwise might have. So after I qualified, it made sense to go into the insurance and reinsurance market.
What aspects of your job give you the greatest sense of accomplishment?
Part of my role is trend spotting, so I am always very satisfied if I draw something to my colleagues' attention and it turns out to be something really important for the industry. And secondly, people. I get a lot of satisfaction from seeing people I have mentored or worked with doing well.
What's the most important lesson you've learned in your career?
There are two things which I am still quite bad at, but have half-learned. The first is to pick your battles and get things into perspective. And the second is to be patient — not just with colleagues, but with changes that you wish to happen.
Outside family, what woman has been your role model?
I would say that there are probably two people who have had a great deal of influence over me. Firstly, Baroness (Margaret) Thatcher (Britain's first female prime minister who died this year) — not necessarily because I agreed with everything she did, but because she became prime minister at a time when I was at an all-girls boarding school, and it was the first time I had seen the teachers get excited about anything. Her being the first female prime minister in Britain had a big impact. Secondly, the headmistress at my next school. She had presence and poise and encouraged people to achieve things.
What's at the top of your bucket list and why?
Workwise, it is to be a nonexecutive director of a company — in about 10 years' time or so. As for other things, there are masses of places I'd love to visit. I love travel, and my bucket list is rather long.
What's your secret vice?
I do like trashy television and novels occasionally. My reading tends to be really rather serious or really trashy — I'll read something like a risk management book or the history of Jerusalem, and then follow that with a chick-lit novel. I like to alternate. I also like “X Factor” and “Strictly Come Dancing” (the U.K. version of “Dancing with the Stars”).
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.