Actuaries in Leadership speaker series launch: Meredith Brooks
Ernst & Young, Melbourne – Tuesday 27 September 2011
by Joyce Au-Yeung (BCom/LLB 2003), President, University of Melbourne Actuarial Alumni (UMAA)
Most people who know how to spell the word ‘actuary’ would describe actuaries as among the most intelligent, talented and hardworking people. However, there seems to be disproportionately few actuaries who break through the ceiling of respected trusted advisors or middle management, and into C-level roles and Board of Director positions. I think there is much to be learned from the journeys of those actuaries who have successfully emerged as influential leaders in our business community. The “Actuaries in Leadership” speaker series has been established to engage prominent actuaries in senior leadership positions to share their tips and “war stories” with the audience.
On Thursday 27 September, Ernst & Young (E&Y) generously hosted the inaugural “Actuaries in Leadership” speaker series for the University of Melbourne Actuarial Alumni and Melbourne members of the Institute of Actuaries of Australia at their premises on Exhibition Street.
My co-host, Kent Griffin, Partner and Head of the Actuarial Services and Financial Services Risk Management in Melbourne, spent considerable time in senior executive positions at AXA prior to joining E&Y. Kent welcomed 60+ attendees and keynote speaker Meredith Brooks. He referenced the fact that the Institute’s membership base in Melbourne has reached approximately 600 and is a relatively tight community, making networking and professional development opportunities such as the “Actuaries in Leadership” event all the more relevant.
Upbeat and energetic guest speaker Meredith Brooks had many insights to share on the topic of leadership, emphasising that the importance of putting people first cannot be overstated. In Meredith’s words, “Numbers are easy, people are difficult.”
Meredith showed us that successful corporate relationships are predicated on a culture of trust; particularly in a climate of change. In Meredith’s experience, there is no template for success – it is up to the individual, with luck and talent of course playing roles as well. Knowing yourself and recognising one’s own strengths is also key.
“It is important to understand what you are good at. There is no prize at the end for hitting your head against a wall.”
Meredith has had a varied and successful career as an actuary, starting out in a technical role with the AMP, which she perceived as “mind-numbingly boring” at first! However, taking every opportunity that came her way and “lucking out” with a great boss, she was introduced into management-level decision setting her on a trajectory that took her to locations like Dublin, London and New York. Meredith was entrusted with the role of Managing Director, Australasia, of the Frank Russell Company at the age of 34. Four years later, she moved to New York as Managing Director, US Institutional Investment Services.
Returning to Sydney in 2004, intending to take a personal break, opportunity came knocking again. Meredith doesn’t strike me as the kind of person to turn down a good opportunity and so it transpired that she joined the Board of Directors of Perpetual Limited as a Non-Executive Director.
These days, Meredith balances her corporate responsibilities with her role as a registered pilates instructor, which she says has helped her balance her life and priorities. Her pilates teaching has reinforced that everyone reacts to the same information very differently, and as business leaders, we must be mindful of our impact on others.
In a nutshell, Meredith’s top tips for aspiring leaders are:
- Know yourself. You’ll get nothing out of pretending.
- Find a supportive workplace culture. Share the same philosophy as your organisation.
- Take your job seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously.
- When faced with too many options, eliminate the obviously stupid ones, then pick one option, stick with it and make it work. Do not go back to get more data and re-analyse the options. You can make any reasonable decision work.
Thank you Meredith for making the time to share your wisdom with us. Special thanks must also go to Kent Griffin at Ernst & Young for hosting the launch of the “Actuaries in Leadership” speaker series. We look forward to welcoming more University of Melbourne alumni and Institute of Actuaries of Australia members at the next event in 2012.
For an overview of postgraduate courses in actuarial studies offered at the Faculty of Business and Economics, please visit http://www.gsbe.unimelb.edu.au/courses/actuarial-studies/.