When Hannah Bushell (pictured), the trading director for Brightside Group, took a gap year after her A-levels, she fully intended to later take up her offered place at Bath University and become an English or drama teacher, as she had originally planned. The pressing need for petrol money was the impetus for her applying for a sales role which came up in the local paper.
Knowing that there was an opticians located where the role was based, she said, she assumed the job would be with them but when she arrived she quickly discovered that the role was with Hillhouse Hammond, an insurance brokerage. At the age of 18, she found herself in the unenviable position of sitting down and pulling an interview about insurance out of thin air.
“I had never done anything insurance related before, except to buy my own car insurance,” she said. “I went through that process and they said I would hear back in a week, but I never heard back from them. So, I chased them and said I’d like to know what was going on and they called me back an hour later and offered me the job outright and 18 years later I’m still here in insurance.”
The initiative Bushell displayed in proactively seeking feedback on her application is a trait which has characterised the development of her career within the insurance industry. When she first started working, she said, household insurance was always her favourite sector while other brokers tended to shy away from these products as they make less money and they are often more complicated. This was the start of her discovering her ambition to earn more money than agents by focusing on products they didn’t like.
“I wanted to find other things that people didn’t do,” she said, “So, the standard insurers used to shy away from things like subsidence, building works and unoccupied property, while I made it my vision to hone in on things that others didn’t. I’ve got NVQs coming out of my ears but, to be honest, while they’ve helped, they’re not actually what got me here. I’m always looking for something different.”
This innate drive probably stems from being the youngest of three children and growing up in quite a male-dominated environment, she said. It was often a case that the one who screamed the loudest got the most attention and being able to navigate such a landscape has left her in good stead to take over the role of trading director, a position traditionally dominated by men. Bushell noted that the lack of female representation in such positions initially made her question whether she would fit in, but the reality is that this is probably exactly why she does fit in.
“It really is time for a change,” she said. “And some of the most inspirational ideas that I come across on a daily basis are from women and they are more than capable of doing this job. It’s just that they need the right organisation behind them to really push them forward.”
Having been a part of the Brightside team for 12 years now, she has seen first-hand the importance of having a supportive structure in place to foster the development of talent. She noted what an advantage it is to be part of a culture which is 100% driven by its people and which invests in its people. This was exemplified quite recently, she said, when she was signed up for a ‘women in leadership’ course in London before the COVID crisis kicked off.
“I was really shocked when I got there that the other women that were attending from other organisations had to go through hoops of fire to get on that course, and even some of them have had to enter a lottery system within their business just to get the opportunity to attend,” she said. “Whereas I never even got asked, I was just told that I’m going. And it just makes me think how lucky I am that we [at Brightside] are so supported through external coaching, and resources to help, and HR intervention. I’m really lucky to be part of an organisation that strives to make you better and the foundation of Brightside’s culture is firmly built on that.”
The reputation of the insurance industry has dramatically changed since she joined the sector almost 20 years ago, Bushell said, and her biggest advice to any woman looking to develop a career in insurance is to express themselves. Don’t be afraid to have an opinion and understand that not everybody is going to share your opinion. Part of success is about realising that every action you take is not inevitably going to be the right one, and sometimes you will fail but that does not mean you’re incapable, just that you need to find a different way to move forward.
Every leader brings a different strength to the role, Bushell said, and her own way of doing things is markedly different to both her male and female peers. A through-line in the best leaders she has ever worked with is that they inspire strong loyalty within their teams through the way that they lead.
“For me,” she said, “if somebody has a story and I know what motivates them, then I always make sure that I can cascade that down to everybody else around me. I come into contact with so many people on a daily basis, and I’m naturally curious, I always have been.
“And if I know why you want to do the job, and I know what your aspiration is, then I’ll make it my mission, that everything you’re doing in your job will make you feel like you’re working towards your goal. And I want people around me to feel like what they’re doing is worthwhile and that it is contributing to something.”