A UK based serial entrepreneur and a real disrupter in the Insurance industry, Sam White set up her first business aged just 24 from her sister’s conservatory and she hasn’t stopped since.
She’s currently the CEO and founder of two very successful businesses. insurance services provider, Action 365 and speciality insurer, Pukka Insure. In 2016 she broke into the Australian market (in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane), with a collaborative insurance services provider. Sam’s businesses are award winning and she’s just received her second consecutive shortlisting for the Northern Power Women Outstanding Entrepreneur of the year, 2018.
She enjoys the challenge of being a strong woman in a very male dominated industry, it has never held her back and she makes a point of championing women in the industry – 70 per cent of her senior management team are female. A passionate believer in the power of effective communication, Sam has put a strong team of managers and directors with clear reporting lines, empowering the people that work within both business to explore every opportunity and make smart decisions.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role
To put it very simply, I’d describe myself as an opportunity spotter. I’m disruptive, in the best sense of the word (or so I’d like to believe!), challenging and very dynamic. I set up my first insurance services business when I was 24 and now I employ over 250 wonderful people who are equally as noisy, diverse and as energetic as me. I’m the CEO and Founder of the Freedom Services Group – this includes, insurance services companies Action 365, insurance provide, Pukka Insure and insurance brokerage, Freedom Brokers. My businesses operate mainly in Europe but we’re also active in Australia too and we’re looking at additional new and interesting territories.
I’m a people person and I’m fiercely loyal to my team. Meritocracy is a huge topic for me at the moment and an ideal I’m pushing at every opportunity. I am utterly determined to educate the insurance industry that the main criteria for a person’s suitability for a role should be their ability to get the job done. Gender, style of education, race and sexuality shouldn’t come into the equation.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
Not for a second. I just made the most of the moment. Momentum and an open mind did the rest.
Have you faced any challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?
Absolutely, as any business owner has. My main challenge though has always been raising finance and it’s something I’ve spoken about at length. For some reason women founded start-ups really struggle when it comes to raising capital and in my view this is nuts.
When I started my first business I did what I suspect most aspiring business owners do and I went to my personal bank to do the usual stuff, set up a business account and talk to someone about possibly borrowing some money. After a long chat with a incredibly patronising middle aged man, I walked away with no money and my personal overdraft, which I had used responsibly for two years, withdrawn.
To cut a long and boring story short, I found a work around for raising finance in the early days and now, I’m lucky enough that my results speak for themselves so I have a huge head start when it comes to raising more money but I want to highlight the plight of female founded start ups and really ask the VC world to look at why things are the way that they are.
The very talented Emily Chang author of “Brotopia” cites a really disturbing fact: Only two per cent of all start-up business funding in Silicon Valley goes to female led businesses. And I don’t think we’re very different on this side of the pond. I believe that figure is sadly very indicative of investment in female lead businesses throughout the world. Female led businesses hire more females in senior positions. They tend to be more inclusive, collaborative, and to care more about the wider issues like the environment and communities they work in. Something needs to change and I want to help make that happen.
On a typical workday, how does you start your day and how does it end?
I’m definitely a morning person, some days it’s my kids who wake me but most days it’s a gym session calling out to me. I am simply the best version of myself when I work out frequently, eat well and get plenty of rest. When I’m back from the office or meetings or I’ve ended my last call for the day – which with business in Australia can often be very late – I like nothing more than curling up on the sofa and talking things through with my partner, Jennie. I’m not much of a party animal these days, I socialise so much with work, I travel extensively and the businesses are growing at such a rapid rate that I really look forward to the peace and quiet of home – I need it in order to recalibrate.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you ever had a mentor or do you mentor anyone?
I’m really a huge fan of mentoring, I thinks it’s very important and we shouldn’t underestimate the value of first hand experience. I have mentored and continue to do so, sometimes it’s on a more formal, scheduled basis and sometimes, owing to my schedule, it’s more ad-hoc and flexible. I have had plenty of mentors but never in the traditional sense. I have a group of people, young and old – my trusted advisors – who I seek out during times of need – it’s not structured or mentoring in the conventional sense but by god, it works for me!
Do you have any advice for anyone looking to start their own business?
Yes, do your research and leave your fear at the front door. Don’t be frightened to ask questions or do things differently. And try as much as you can to be your authentic self – it’s what makes you unique. Most importantly – don’t sweat the small stuff.
If you could change one thing for women in the workplace, what would it be?
I wouldn’t just change it for women, I’d change it for every human – I’d level the playing field and operate a true meritocracy. In todays financial services world, this would have a hugely positive impact for women.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
Easily my biggest life achievement is being a mother – nothing else comes close. On a professional level launching my own insurance provider, Pukka Insure, in May 2016 was definitely my career high to date. It was the realisation of a long term dream for me and I fought so hard to bring that vision to life. Pukka focuses on fair play insurance, giving people a second change and getting back to the often forgotten basic principle of insurance – that the community protects the individual. I have built an incredible team within the business and they have gone from strength to strength – I’m very proud of what we continue to achieve as a business.
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
The next challenge is officially launching insurance Australia, we’ve worked there so far as a collaborative insurance services partner but now we’re stepping up as an insurance provider which presents an altogether different set of challenges. The Australian market represents an enormous opportunity for the Pukka Insure proposition but the insurance industry works very differently there. The logistics are very complex, the mentality around insurance is dissimilar to ours, new dynamics, new system, we have a loot to adapt to but that’s what makes it fun. And with the challenges come mega opportunities too so I’m excited.
Ultimately I want to grow the entire Freedom Services Group ten-fold over the next five years – ten times bigger over the next five years. It’s ambitious but the whole team is behind it and excited.