Spotlight on… Simon Hughes
Meet Simon Hughes, ex-COO and Sales Director of Open GI, one of UKGI’s largest, most successful and long-established insurtechs.
In this Member Spotlight, Simon talks all about his 18-year experience of developing successful and profitable customer relationships, business transformation and the importance of adaptive leadership and systems thinking.
- What is your role since leaving corporate life?
A former multi-year C-Suite operator in a £350m UK insurtech, as Simon Hughes Advisory Ltd, I’m passionate about helping insurtech start-ups navigate the UKGI space and turn their ideas into money.
I’m equally dedicated to helping established insurance companies fix the operational problems they face that are getting in the way of growth. I do this through consultancy, mentoring and non-exec engagements.
- Have you been a panel expert on any Road Tests? If so, which and can you remember what the themes were and how you enjoyed helping them?
It was a pleasure to be part of the Camelot Road Test expert panel helping Cloudsoft to validate and refine their go-to-market proposition and strategy. Cloudsoft’s proposition is, by its nature, a technically complex one.
The panel helped Cloudsoft to consider how its benefits could be clearly and crisply articulated to the UKGI market, with focus on specific areas of market relevance and messaging.
- Are you a leader or a member of a ThinkTank? If so, why and what do you get out of it? Or hope the industry gets out of it?
I’m an active, if recently-joined member of the Business Transformation Think Tank. It provides an excellent learning and networking opportunity for me, by giving me access to a diverse group with wide experiences.
The benefit that the wider industry with an interest in transformation will get is similar. There are many methodologies and approaches that can support transformation, and picking the right one, or a combination thereof, is critical. The diverse experience across the Think Tank community will undoubtedly help this with input to the process based on real, normative experience.
Equally, if practical execution support is needed, the group represents a broad skill and experience base, with access to wider resources.
- Area of expertise?
- Business Transformation
- Setting and Executing Strategy
- Coaching and Mentoring
- Employee and Customer Engagement
- Highest/proudest most recognisable previous role?
COO of Open GI.
- Please can you provide some examples of recent projects that you’ve worked on?
In 2019 and 2020 I led the business in its understanding as to what the real drivers of performance were. I was able to support the operational leadership to redesign how processes, people, and systems were interacting to deliver more predictably, quickly and with better quality. That resulted in a 15% cost reduction and a 24% revenue uplift, adding £2m to the bottom line inside the first year.
- What is your unique selling point? What makes your business approach unique?
14 years spent at Board level in one of the UK’s largest insurtech businesses.
Spanning both sales and operational roles has given me a 360o set of experiences, both from directly facing into customers, but also from then running operational delivery and support to the same businesses and people.
- Can you name one professional high point from the last 12 months and what made it so good?
You never stop learning and the last 12 months were a huge one for me in that regard.
Through a hands-on exposure to Systems Thinking, I came to realise that the performance a business is getting is because of the “systems” within it. A combination of roles and people, but also processes and technologies. How all these parts interact will determine performance.
It is generally the non-people aspects that create the most headwind in terms of performance. Talent is often constrained by the conditions “imposed”. The experience changed the way I think, behave and lead.
- We need to talk about…? What is, or what should be, hot on the industry’s lips in your view?
Trust…the public’s trust in the industry, both private individuals and corporate entities, but also the trust relationship between insurance businesses and their staff, during and in the wake of the pandemic.
- Please describe a challenging work scenario (no names) and how you resolved it
Successful transformation and leadership of a large, 50-strong sales organisation. Reinvented an outdated and under-performing function to become a more data-led, consistently successful business unit that met or exceeded annual sales targets and developed stronger relationships with its clients over consecutive years. Consistently secured new sales capital contract values of £5m annually, protecting and growing annualised total client revenue value of £18m year-on-year.
- What should everyone be reading/listening to?
“The Practice of Adaptive Leadership” by Ronald Heifetz, Alexander Grashow and Marty Linsky is a book all leaders, at all levels, should read in my opinion. And it’s never been more relevant.
- Do you have any words of wisdom for us or a short phrase that sums up your ethos?
Understand your business and its performance using data, not opinion and anecdote.
Coach and encourage individuals to also understand without giving them the answers. Encourage innovation and experimentation through trust.
The perfect is too often the enemy of the good.
- Do you have a favourite quote?
This in the context of leadership: “Be in the work, but not in the way.”
- Any professional goals for the upcoming year?
To see the 18 years of experience gained in corporate life translated into practical and demonstrable help for other businesses.
Helping people to turn their ideas into money, and to fix the operational problems that are stopping business from growing will be genuinely rewarding for me.
My goal is to give something back to the industry that’s been so good to me for so long.
- Why are you such an asset to the industry & the network?
I have a proven track record, through multiple roles of “fix, grow and accelerate” strategic execution.
I’ve evidenced an ability to influence, help set and communicate top-down strategy, but to also get into the work to support bottom-up delivery to ensure it connects. And to help people think and behave differently for themselves to support sustainable and long-lasting transformation.
- Why does your area of expertise need to be spotlighted?
In a less-certain and more changeable world, adaptive leadership and systems thinking will play a significant role for those businesses and individuals who thrive. Both have shaped my thinking, behaviours and approach to leadership and transformation since 2017.
- Any stats/results to show off your proud moments?
- 4 years leading 300 people across 3 countries, delivering to and supporting 27,000 end users (2017 – 2021)
- Consistently delivered £5m in annualised new sales (2007 – 2017)
- Grew annualised revenue year-on-year to £18m (2007 – 2017)
- Improved delivery and increased revenue by 24% and reduced operating expenses by 15% (2017 – 2018)
- Supporting operational leaders in their ability to understand performance, redesign systems, structures, and processes to deliver better outcomes for their customers. Through revenue improvement and operational expense reduction, delivered business benefit of £2m in first year and a measurable increase in customer advocacy (2020 – 2021)
- Supported multiple business sale processes as a key member of Executive teams. Played an active role in due diligence with acquiring parties through application of knowledge and experience of both the business and the industry. Including an initial £172m Private Equity-backed MBO (2006), subsequent private sale (£272m in 2007) and further repurchase by Private-Equity (£300m+ in 2014).
- Most importantly what are 2 or 3 tips or giveaways that you can give to 1 or more of the following types of businesses?
Solution providers to the insurance industries
- Be clear on value and the role you can play in creating it. That said, don’t fall into the trap of thinking UKGI is “different”. You do need to understand some of the fundamentals of distribution and market dynamic, but many of the challenges it faces are not unique. If you can clearly articulate value, you don’t need intimate knowledge (but the basics are a table-stake). Know what matters to the participants and ensure your proposition and messaging is aligned.
Insurance businesses – startup/scale ups
- Don’t let your business model or strategy be constrained by what you think the market needs today, or even 5 years from now. The pace of change, and impending change, is accelerating. Start with consumer need, or the future thereof, both personal and corporate, and ensure it’s reflected,
Insurance businesses – established
- Beyond strategy, be sure you understand what the real drivers of performance are. Use objectivity and data, not opinion and anecdote. Listen to the people who actually do the work. Then understand it. And take time to listen to what actually matters to your customers. Then connect the two and let the people who do the work also improve the work for the benefit of your customers through innovation and experimentation based on trust. And you’ll win and so will your customers.
- Be genuine and authentic. Know and be honest about what you’re good at, and what you’re not so good at. But be clear that you have experiences and skills that are valuable.
- Anything else you think Insurers, solution providers to the insurance industry or potential members would find useful?
Camelot provides unique access to a resource pool of experienced UKGI Senior Leaders with experience that I suspect is unprecedented. And the value of that experience is exponential based on its diversity.
- And… Last but not least, how does being a member of The Camelot Network help you/or add value to your business?
- Read Nicola Askham’s article on ‘What is Data Stewardship?’
- Get to know some of our other experts that have been showcased
- FInd out more about the Road Test panels our experts advise on
- Read what clients say about the value they get from our consultants’ advice
- If you’d like to network with our consultants, register for our next big event
To find out more about our members and how we can create your perfect solution, contact David Clamp: