Jo Kemp: “Even though your life may change direction and it may be more challenging, it can be just as enjoyable”

Can you tell us a bit about you and your career?

I graduated in law and my first job after university was as a graduate trainee at a UK insurance company. I was provided with my own flat, free membership of the gym and a group of other graduates to socialise with. Working life didn’t seem so bad at all!

The training programme was excellent. We were encouraged to take our insurance exams and, after a lot of hard work, I managed to achieve the top qualification of Fellow of the Chartered Insurance Institute and a Chartered Insurance Practitioner. 

At the time, my fellow law graduates wondered why I hadn’t continued into law, but I have never regretted it. 

How did you get to where you are now and did you face any challenges along the way?

I moved from underwriting to become a broker at Willis, a global risk management and broking company, learning how to look after corporate clients and their programmes.

It was a very male dominated industry at the time, particularly in customer facing roles, but I became a Regional Director at the age of 29 and managed the Corporate team – I thoroughly enjoyed my job!

Then in 1996 I faced a challenge I didn’t plan for. My eldest was born with severe learning difficulties and autism and would never live independently. Suddenly I wasn’t able to work and look after my family at the same time so I took a career break. 

I re-trained as a higher level teaching assistant to fit around my other commitments. Then, after 15 years, I went back into insurance. 

I always knew I would come back when the time was right.  

Despite having been out of insurance for such a long time I was determined to get back to my senior level. I worked hard and had to move jobs a few times for different career opportunities but, after eight years back, I have now achieved the same level that I was working at before my break. However, I am still aiming for higher!

What lessons have you learnt along the way?

I have learnt, as I have progressed through my career, to work hard and be true to yourself. Don’t try and be something you’re not. Obtain the highest qualifications you can and be professional at all times. Be kind to your fellow work colleagues and appreciate their support. 

Everyone is only human and may have other issues affecting them outside work at times – take time to listen and talk to them.

I have also been surprised that insurance is still male dominated, but this is improving and Marsh are particularly keen to address gender equality.

Insurance is an great career as it is flexible, needs attention to detail, patience, excellent communication and negotiation skills.

If you work hard and achieve the professional qualifications you need you will be given the opportunity to succeed. This has become much easier since my return to insurance compared with when I was younger. In fact, we are starting to outnumber the males in client facing roles!

When I returned to insurance I realised I needed support and encouragement and I found networking groups, particularly female ones, were fantastic. They surrounded me with supportive business women who provided me with business opportunities—it’s kind of a sounding board for my ideas and it’s also great for creating friendships. 

What does a typical day in your career look like?

Every day is different for me but my main role is to assist clients in operating their business by helping everything run safely and efficiently. Some examples are:

  • Dealing with a claim involving the Ever Given ship in the Suez canal
  • Looking at supply chains for a large client
  • Surveying a pizza factory
  • Agreeing a Covid claim
  • Looking at the best way to insure drones
  • Presenting to a client on their risk exposures
  • Advising a client on how to manage a fleet of cars
  • Risk management activities

What are your key motivators?

My personal life hasn’t been easy and my daughter still takes up a lot of my time but I have two more children who have just graduated in medicine and architecture. Together we are a very supportive and strong unit. 

We have a greater understanding of life and don’t take things for granted. We also realise that even though your life may change direction and it may be more challenging, it can be just as enjoyable.

It will be what you make of it. 

Anything else you’d like to add?

I enjoy mentoring young people as they enter the profession and try to change the impression people have on insurance as a career.

As with anything in life, the opportunities are there for you so make the most of them! 

Try and find a job that you are interested in where you are able to achieve the work life balance you require that also allows for flexibility.

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