Lessons from the C-suite: Louise O’Shea

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Listen to perspectives from outside your top team

I started out…

I’ve always sought to be outside of my comfort zone. After reading history at uni I recognised that I needed a business qualification to progress in my career. Firstly I wanted to make sure I had an understanding of numbers, so I joined PwC and
qualified as a chartered accountant. Another area I realised I didn’t understand was tech, so I went to work for Fujitsu Global. I then fell in love with a Welshman which took me to Wales. I researched the best companies to work for there and came across Admiral Group – and the rest is history.

I knew this was the right career path for me when…

I realised that I get a kick out of taking on really difficult challenges. For example, I was the first female manager to take on a Sudanese client at PwC. I’ve always wanted my career to test me, and I’ve learnt there aren’t many more testing positions than being a CEO!

The biggest lesson I’ve learned along the way…

Is that your team is the most important thing you should invest your time in.

My proudest achievement…

Increasing Confused.com’s profit this year by double-digit percentages.

My biggest mistake…

Not making difficult decisions about my team fast enough.

My biggest inspiration…

Henry Engelhardt (founder of Admiral Group) and Kate Adie (a BBC journalist who
reported from many major conflict zones).

Keeping me awake at night right now…

Prioritisation, which is always a challenge. There’s a finite number of hours in the day and a lot of opportunities for us to improve our results.

The biggest challenge for organisations over the next five years will be…

Continuous improvement. We no longer live in a world where sectors are dominated by a few key players. A surge of firms in the tech arena means every industry is ripe for disruption and we all expect more from the brands we engage with. Focus needs to be on the customer experience, being prepared to disrupt yourself, and bringing your workforce with you on the ride. If you don’t do it someone else will.

I need my HR director to…

Be someone who has an understanding of wider business needs. People are fundamental to our business’ success so we need to ensure our work family is taken care of.

It annoys me when HR…

Forgets about communication – it’s the key to people management. Fortunately we don’t have that problem at Confused.com.

More HRDs would become CEO if…

They gained more experience outside of HR. Our head of people and planning has a different approach to someone who might have only worked within HR and I see her future expanding into other areas beyond HR.

What I’m reading right now…

This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor by Adam Kay. It’s a reminder that no matter how hard your day is someone else’s is always worse. As for business reads, one of my favourites is The Five Temptations of a CEO by Patrick Lencioni.

My top leadership tip…

Make sure you talk to everyone within your organisation, rather than listening solely to your top team. It’s important to gain a variety of perspectives and make sure everyone
knows they have the authority to question and share their ideas. And make that extra effort to leave your comfort zone. It’s the only way to grow.

Louise O’Shea is chief executive of Confused.com

This piece appeared in the May 2019 issue. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk

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