Born in Elmers End, Beckenham, Kent, our Inspirational Woman in Risk interview this month is with Barbara Schönhofer MBE, CEO Schönhofer and chairman of Insurance Supper Club.
Barbara Schönhofer MBE
Your current role:
CEO Schönhofer and chairman Insurance Supper Club. I ensure the business has purpose and collaborates to deliver value to clients, individuals and the insurance profession. We help clients to hire for merit through our thought leadership, commitment to advancement of female leaders and diverse thinking, across the global insurance profession.
What was your first ever job?
School records clerk for Bromley Council.
When did you join the insurance/risk profession?
In the 1970s as an intermediary in the Building Society sector. I was selling pensions.
What is your single proudest achievement?
Starting women networks in the early 2000s which eventually led to the formation of TWIN (The Women Insurance Network) and later the ISC (Insurance Supper Club). Today we have a growing membership of over 430 senior women in Europe, the US and Canada. This year we are expanding to Asia and offering corporate and associate membership, giving industry leaders the opportunity to align to our core values and encouraging the industry to sign up to the Women in Finance Charter.
Relevant qualifications/ awards:
USA National Association of Female Executives (NAFE) Woman of the Year Entrepreneur Europe 2014.
Favourite work focused saying:
“To have or to be” (Erich Fromm).
What advice would you give your younger self?
Follow your own heart however ambitious and don’t be put off by non-believers or self-doubt – we all have these. Focus on getting a professional qualification. When imposter syndrome rears its ugly head bringing with it that awful self-doubt, recognise it for what it is, feel the pain, don’t act on it, move on. You can’t succeed alone make friends, listen to them, stick with them. Don’t take things personally – it is usually not about you.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
Be prepared – nothing worth doing is easy.
What did you want to be when you were a child?
A fashion designer.
When did you last ride a bike?
2014. My husband and me bought new mountain bikes, took them out for one ride, hung them up in the garage and earlier this year threw two rusting frames away!
If you drive, what car/s do you own?
Porsche (well actually I drive the second-hand Mercedes!).
What is your favourite song/piece of music?
Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E minor.
If you were a superhero what powers would you want to have?
Ability to see an individual’s backstory before making judgement.
What is the most difficult interview question you have ever had to answer?
What university did you go to?
I have been told a spider on LSD.
Are you competitive?
To a laughable degree – known to never give up when faced with a solid wall.
One of five children, well educated parents/poor as church mice. Brother public school educated, sisters Grammar, me Comprehensive – none of us went to university. Hated unfairness of school system and left at 17, got married, had baby. Left marriage with nine month-old daughter, no job and no home. Only then found out what I was made of. Rented room in shared flat, got job Croydon as a building society cashier, did dress making for friends to make ends meet. Hated the unfairness towards women in the workplace and was determined to progress. Started by solving customer problems going the extra mile. Pushed for and (eventually) promoted to mortgage clerk, then (after several attempts) achieve first managerial position with company car and briefcase. Moved society, home and location to become branch manager, three years later moving back to London to Britannia
Building Society branch manager. By the early 1980s persuaded the then group CEO and executive team to start a centralised lending operation becoming head of centralised lending for the next six years. Left to set up own management consulting business. USPs not clear enough and within two years the business venture failed. Started new career in recruitment joining Stephens Associates a global search boutique in the mid-1990s and quickly took over as head of insurance practice getting accepted by conducting assignments for the first wave of reinsurance companies setting up in Singapore. Later approached by Korn Ferry and became London insurance partner before establishing own firm ejsSearch which later became Jacobson UK rebranded last year to Schonhofer. Game on – ten years later than anticipated.
About the Insurance Supper Club
The Insurance Supper Club is a private members’ group of senior leaders from around the globe. It provides a forum to meet, network and debate business issues while seeking to inspire the next generations of leaders in the industry and the community as a whole. It is recognised that companies currently have an imbalance between genders at the senior executive level. It is also recognised that having a more even gender balance has a positive effect on the performance and value of a business, yet change has been slow. Many reasons are used to justify this lack of progress: career breaks, reduced opportunities, poor networking and also inaccessible female role models. The Insurance Supper Club offers a platform which promotes active participation of its members.
Find out more at: www.theinsurancesupperclub.com
About the Chartered Insurance Institute
The Chartered Insurance Institute (CII) is a professional body dedicated to building public trust in the insurance and financial planning professions. Their 125,000 and more members commit to high professional standards and success in CII qualifications is universally recognised as evidence of knowledge and understanding.
Find out more at: www.cii.co.uk