Every International Women’s Day GB recognises and celebrates the accomplishments of the inspiring women we work with. All of the women featured in these interviews will represent GB at the Women in Insurance Leadership summit in May. Click here to read interviews from last year’s inductees.
Sarah O’Connell is the General Manager of TriEx Health, Safety & Wellness Ltd (now a Gallagher Basset Company) and New Zealand’s most comprehensive provider of occupational health and safety services. Prior to leading TriEx Sarah invested 15 years in the New Zealand Hospitality and tourism sector with a vast knowledge of the industry working in Hospitality, Professional Conference Organising Event Management and Tourism Marketing. She is an active Board Member for Canterbury Safety Charter and a member of the Health and Wellbeing Leader’s Forum.
When Sarah isn’t managing TriEx and the transition into GB, she is busy being a Mum or teaching and practising Yoga and preparing great food. We sat down and spoke to Sarah about her career, what keeps her motivated and why International Women’s Day is important.
What has been your journey to get to your current position?
I started out working in hotels on reception and in reservations and then progressed to event management and professional conference organising and finally working for Canterbury Tourism selling in the corporate conferencing sector.
At the time I was finishing working for the Canterbury Tourism, my brother started New Zealand’s first hospitality business coaching company. I decided to do my coaching training and became the first female hospitality business coach in New Zealand, almost 12 years ago.
In my 6th year into coaching I started coaching Rob Acutt, my recent business partner. At the time Rob had a small safety company and he had decided that his strategy for growing was to acquire an existing Occupational Health and Safety company. Rob had different skills to what I had but we shared the same vision for the business. Eventually, we acquired TriEx which had a team of 14 at the time, and for the first two years I established the sales and marketing departments within the business. Five years ago, I took up the Managing Director role.
What is the driving force behind everything you do? What keeps you motivated?
I am really inspired by growth. I like to see seeds planted, whether it be in relationships, business or a company’s learning, to then nurture and feed that seed so ultimately it develops into something strong and remarkable – I find that really amazing.
After the Christchurch earthquake my biggest concern was not that we (TriEx) wouldn’t grow, my concern was that we would be hamstrung as a small business to fully grow into what we had the potential to be. After having grown the team to almost 50 and building a national brand I was excited I was excited of GB’s acquisition of TriEx and the ability to do exactly that.
What has been the biggest influence of your success?
I am self-aware that my strengths are in relationships. I primarily do businesses based on relationships. That’s not to say I am not mindful of the other key attributes and skills that make a good leader however I contribute my success in having been real and courageous in building relationships and I think that has definitely influenced my personal success and the success of TriEx.
Have you experienced any challenges as a female in business and management?
There are times where other male counterparts have tried to be ‘lions’ and do a little unnecessary ‘roaring’ but on the whole, I have found that I have been accepted as female leader in the commercial world. I would say that one of my learnings was adopting a slightly more black and white approach in my use of vocabulary – sometimes using less words is good.
I’m on a few different leadership groups and forums and the generation of female and male leaders that are coming through these days are really open to the mixture of what both males and females bring uniquely to conversation which is fantastic.
Do you think it’s important to have an International Women’s Day? Why?
I really believe that business makes the world go around and I think globally, women will be the most significant in influencing business in a positive way over the next 10-15 years. So, if that involves having IWD to support the recognition of the powerful work women do, then I’m all for it.
Who is a woman that inspires you the most and why?
I am quite often inspired by my peers who I witness doing cool stuff. Women in NZ that are visionary, respectful and kind with their people and and being courageous in leadership roles. Women that enable others inspire me. Women that acknowledge their value inspire me.
What advice would you give to women who are considering pursuing a career within business?
I would recommend they have a really comprehensive toolkit. If your expertise is in finance and insurance, have some knowledge of sales and marketing, have some negotiation skills. Enable yourself with different skills so you are able to draw on whichever one that enables you to deal with multitude of situations because the business environment in 2018 is so comprehensive.
What’s it like working at GB?
So far it has been great. The globe has opened up. Every couple of days I am meeting someone that lives outside of NZ. Our global networks are significant and I feel that very powerfully.
Since coming on board with GB, mine and my team’s ability to think bigger than we are used to is developing and we are really loving that. The language of GB is growth on steroids whereas previously our growth conversations were relative to the size of TriEx. Now it’s being applied to a 28,000 person business across the globe.
Has GB supported you and your career?
GB has been really supportive in every part of this journey whether it be in the early conversations of the acquisition, throughout the due diligence process right to the transition period. I have always felt connected. There have always been real people on the end of the phone willing to help in any way they could. I feel as though my sense of value has always acknowledged when we have been able to share what we have created with the key influencers and decision makers of the business.