Sharon Ludlow took the reins as president of Aviva Canada in June 2014. Before taking over at Aviva, Ludlow headed up Swiss Re’s Canadian operations. Under her leadership, the company achieved a dominant P&C position. She also previously served as the chief financial officer for the commercial P&C operations of Liberty International Underwriters. At Liberty International, Ludlow was instrumental in starting Kanetix, a web-based auto insurance quote service.
IBC: Has the insurance industry evolved in your time in the business?
The world has changed since my career started. Now the flexibility for individuals, the ability to influence decisions at any level of the organization is much more germane in today’s business practice. When I started out, it was the typical triangular hierarchy. You were somewhat limited – or could be limited – by that hierarchy in terms of contributions to decisions or initiatives that would move company forward. In the world today broadly – and at Aviva – we absolutely embrace all ideas and include them all for us to become better in senior management on making decisions on new initiatives and new things.
IBC: So you prefer today’s more open corporate structure?
In the early part of my career, the structure of organizations inhibited that sort of free-thinking and embracing-inclusive thought generation. I wish I had that experience 15 or 20 years ago. Then it was so much more typical and hierarchical – you could only get to meetings or at the table if at a certain level. Barriers have come down, and continue to come down, at all levels and across many, many companies. That’s why we see companies being much more nimble. Even staid insurance companies are becoming much more nimble, and that’s a positive thing.
IBC: Do you feel you’ve faced any obstacles as a woman working her way through the corporate hierarchy?
SL: It’s interesting. I’ve been asked this question before. I never thought about it as obstacles, but throughout my career I’ve taken a leap of faith and accepted roles or responsibilities outside of my comfort zone, and clearly have succeeded delivering different results – leading demutualization in the late ’90s; running the appeal process; and starting Kanetix, the first online quotation company, in 1999. Some of these things required a leap of faith on my part, but I never thought of them as obstacles.
IBC: What advice would you give those embarking on a path to leadership in the industry?
It’s a continuous learning cycle – taking on something new and seeing that you can deliver on it. Most successful people gained much more knowledge, and became a smarter and broader thinker, after taking on some of these responsibilities. You have to seize opportunities and succeed at them. It defines your overall success over the years.
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