The incredible career of an AIG office head

The incredible career of an AIG office head | Insurance Business

The incredible career of an AIG office head

Despite the many rewarding opportunities that a career in insurance can provide, few ambitious youngsters set their sights on working in insurance – largely thanks to its somewhat stale reputation.

Of course, the reputation is undoubtedly an unfair one as the insurance industry never struggles to attract a diverse array of highly talented individuals – among them, former Paralympian Peter Brooks.

With two Paralympic gold medals under his belt, as well as the Medal of the Order of Australia, Brooks has racked up a number of achievements that few insurance professionals will ever even aspire to.

“I still to this day pinch myself when thinking about winning the gold medal,” said Brooks. “Being the fastest in the world on two wheels on that particular occasion, which happened to be the biggest sporting event in the world, my parents in the crowd to witness it and a truck load of supporters back home was truly an incredible, life changing experience.”

However, Brooks’ career history outside of being an elite athlete also makes for interesting reading – starting with his spontaneous decision to launch a band management company.

Speaking to Insurance Business, Sydney-based Brooks said he was inspired after watching his brother-in-law narrowly miss out on winning a Battle of the Bands competition.

“I was taken by the scene and thought they ought to have won,” said Brooks, who was just 20 years old at the time.  “Within weeks, I quit my job as a letting clerk for Ray White to start managing them out of my bedroom at home.”

Still living with his parents, Brooks launched PBG Management and found himself self-employed in a cut-throat industry, which he knew relatively little about. Luckily, he was able to make it work.

“Within a couple of years, I was managing multiple bands with recording and publishing contracts, had moved out of home, set up an office and was also tour managing and coordinating music festivals,” he said. “Working on the inaugural ‘Homebake’ festival in Bryon Bay with the headline acts being Powderfinger, and a very young Silverchair, was one of my highlights,”

Unfortunately, while Brooks enjoyed some success, he soon become disillusioned with the industry.

“The music industry is controlled by a very select group of people, it’s very cliquey, and an artist’s success can come more from who you know rather than talent,” he explained.

“I discovered that a lot of those self-employed in the music industry barely kept their heads above water but stayed in the industry because it was cool – this existence did not appeal to me at all. Either I would be successful, or I would opt out.”

So, after seven years in the business, Brooks decided to call it quits, returning to real estate as he’d previously studied for an Advanced Certificate in Property Agency.

However, after just two years, Brooks was on the move again – this time, heading overseas with his wife so the pair could travel the US and work as camp counsellors, before heading on to Europe.

“I lead a 10-day bike trip with a bunch of teenagers through Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket – twice,” he said, discussing memorable parts of the job. 

“I also made lasting friendships and ties within the camp, which we have returned to visit many times and plan to send our kids there one day soon too,” said Brooks.

While the camp counselling was a break from everyday life, Brooks says he picked up some invaluable skills along the way – which he still employs in his role at AIG today.

“I was lucky to be trained in high and low ropes courses and facilitated many college and private sector groups in team building exercises which really developed people skills, time management skills and team building,” said Brooks. “All of these come into play managing an office of 150+ staff from varying backgrounds.”

After returning to Sydney in 2000, Brooks took a part-time customer service consultant role at St George Bank so he could simultaneously pursue his sporting ambitions – but said it turned out to be so much more than a convenient job.

“The whole organisation from the then-CEO Gail Kelly, right down to my fellow consultants, were equally on my Paralympic journey,” said Brooks. “St George Bank was incredibly flexible with time off for training and racing and they had a National and International Sporting leave program which proved invaluable.”

Unsurprisingly, after Brooks won two gold medals and one bronze medal at 2004 Athens Games, the organisation was eager to celebrate his success.

“Following the success at Athens, Gail Kelly threw the biggest party to celebrate this achievement,” said Brooks. “In her words, ‘the whole organisation was along for the ride.’”

After six years racing in Australia’s national team, Brooks began to transition into retirement, taking up coaching as a career instead.

“The most rewarding thing is when it all goes right, and the athlete has success,” says Brooks. “I’ve had juniors win multi-stage road tours, a para-cyclist qualify for London 2012 Paralympics and go on to medal and a masters rider finally win the State Criterium Championships having come second on multiple occasions. That was probably my most memorable having worked with this rider for years. It felt like I had won.”

Incredibly, alongside his own private coaching company, Brooks also managed to secure multiple contracts with Paralympics Australia in talent development and event coordination.

“A definite highlight was identifying a young boy with Cerebral Palsy as a potential para-cyclist,” said Brooks. “Last year, he not only made the national team, but holds the national record for his pet event on the track and broke the world record for the same event. Although it was broken again straight after him, he can still lay claim to holding a world record!”

Brooks also worked on countless high-profile events, including London 2012 Paralympic Games Team Launch at Parliament House Canberra, Welcome Home Parade at Sydney International Airport, Paralympian of the Year Awards at the Hordern Pavilion, City of Sydney Thank You to the team at the Opera House and the Wheelchair Rugby Tri-Nations at St Marys Cathedral forecourt.

So, with such a unique career history behind him, how did Brooks make the move into insurance?

“Family is the most important aspect of my life,” said Brooks. “At the birth of our third child in 2015, I took nearly two years off to be a stay-at-home dad. My wife and I were fortunate enough to be financially secure to enable us both to be at home raising the very young family. A most unusual situation we are forever grateful for.”

However, in early 2017, Brooks decided he wanted to return to the workforce.

“I decided it would be a good idea for my kids to see daddy go to work, so I teamed up with 360 HR, a recruitment company which had a Paralympic Placement Program,” he said.

“A number of offers were put before me, none of which appealed enough to move forward, but when the opportunity with AIG was put forward, I was intrigued,” he said.

“I’d never been an office administrator before but, looking at the job description, it was clear that I could utilise all the skills and experience developed over the years to perform this role.”

Unfortunately, there was one hitch – or so Brooks thought.

“I wished to work four days a week, not five, as the transition from stay-at-home dad to full-time worker seemed too dramatic,” he said. “Much to my surprise, AIG was fully supportive of my request for a flexible work/life balance.”

While Brooks had never envisioned working in insurance – “insurance was something you had for your car or house, not an area I even thought about working in,” Brooks said his skills fit perfectly with the role, which he finds hugely rewarding.

“I’ve learnt many things across my varied career; professionalism, working autonomously and in a team, time management, events coordination, conflict resolution, patience and attention to detail to name just a few – all of which are utilised in my role with AIG,” he said.

“I also really enjoy the varied aspects of my role and working for a global company that’s this year celebrating its 100th anniversary – the location in the heart of the city on the 19th floor is pretty good too,” he continued. “It’s kind of fitting to work for an American company, given my ties there and fondness for the country.”

While Brooks undoubtedly brings a lot to the table for AIG, he’s grateful the firm was willing to be flexible with his requests.

“I knew that I could satisfy the job requirements over four days, not five, and am thankful AIG thought the same,” said Brooks. “AIG Australia CEO, Noel Condon, told me after I started that he had wanted to support Paralympics Australia for some time through Paralympic placement and welcomed the opportunity to have me on board. Again, I am very thankful.”