Meet Trailblazer, Katherine Johnson – GB New Zealand’s General Manager of General Insurance

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.

Katherine Johnson – General Manager of General Insurance, joined Gallagher Bassett in April 2017 as part of GB New Zealand’s acquisition of leading third party claims administrator Symetri. Katherine is an experienced senior leader with a strong background within the Financial Services sector and proven experience in leading and developing high performing teams.

As part of GB’s promotion and support for International Women’s day we asked Katherine about her career progression, what keeps her motivated in the insurance industry and her time at GB.

What has been your journey to get to your current position?

Before I started University I had my daughter, Chloe when I was 17. As a young, single female who needed to provide for her child, I needed to get educated and develop a career otherwise my options were going to be limited. This was one of my key drivers.

I developed a passion for education and ended up spending seven years studying a Bachelor of Business Studies (double major in International business and Tourism), Postgraduate Diploma in Business Administration and Management and Master of Business Studies in management.

As an eager student, I quickly learnt that I had to interact with industry leaders not just learn through textbooks and lectures. As a result a few friends and I established a forum called Business Breakfast through the Business Faculty. We got professionals to come in and speak to us about different industries and topics.

It was through this that I became interested in Financial Services.

When I left Uni I started on a graduate programme at an insurance company and learnt as much as I could about the business in a short period of time. Hard works pays off as within a year, I had my first management role, leading an operational team in policy servicing where I was able to use what I had learnt and apply it to the real world.

I always knew I wanted to work within business/ financial services. I have a passion for helping people and so working in insurance came naturally to me as it sits close to my personal values.

The principles of insurance are about making a difference in a time of need and this makes the work I do all the more enjoyable, knowing that we are in the business of helping people.

Was it hard to break into what has historically been a male dominated industry?

The secret is when you work hard and show your value, people stop looking at gender and start looking at what you are contributing.

When I started working within insurance, my head of department was a female, and the only executive on the leadership team at that time. She was passionate about growing and nurturing female talent so I really didn’t have to fight for it, as she had done the hard yards. I was lucky to be part of a business that valued female contribution.

What is the driving force behind everything you do? What keeps you motivated?

I enjoy challenges and life has a habit of throwing them my way. But truthfully it’s my colleagues that keep me motivated and the younger generations coming up through the ranks.

Keeping the business healthy and sustainable for the people currently working for us but also the idea that we are building a future and building a business that is going to long surpass any of us. I want the future generations to benefit from the foundations we have laid.

Who has been the biggest influence of your success?

There are a lot of people that inspire me day to day. I like to surround myself with passionate people that are authentic and have a vision for success. I am fortunate to have a team in New Zealand that gives me this every day. I love what I do and it’s fun to be part of a business that has big goals and a clear direction as to how we are going to achieve them.

Do you think it’s important to have an International Women’s Day? Why?

Absolutely. We are huge part of today’s business environment so it’s healthy to recognise the contribution we make given the sacrifices we have to make to get here. Women who have to, or choose to work full time, often go through a lot of guilt and are torn between multiple aspects of their lives such as their children and families. I think part of International Women’s day is recognising the emotional piece women go through when in the workforce.

It’s also great to see society progressing to a place where everyone is treated equally regardless of gender, sexuality or race. We need to have more days that celebrate and recognise the accomplishments of all minority groups who have fought a battle of equality.

We are all on a journey of some sort and are battling something either privately or publically so its people in general we should be celebrating. 

What advice would you give to women who are considering pursuing a career within the insurance industry?

I would encourage them as I think the insurance industry can give you everything you need in terms of career satisfaction, advancement, reward and recognition. I would tell them to keep pushing through in challenging times, and be true to yourself.

I read this the other day and it resonated with me;

An arrow can only be shot by pulling it backwards, when life is dragging you back with difficulties or challenges, it means it’s only going to launch you into something great. So just focus and keep aiming.

Having been a woman wearing multiple hats in the workplace I know how challenging it can be at times but enjoy the journey, it’s worth it.