Getting to know you: John Ritchie

What do you currently do?
I am the Chief Executive Officer of Ellipse (www.ellipse.co.uk). Ellipse is a group risk insurer that makes use of available technology to deliver a high quality service at a competitive price.

I’ve worked in the group risk sector for over 20 years, day to day, I divide my time between
• communicating with our market and stakeholders – this would include talking to distributors (in our world these are financial advisers and employee benefit consultants), our shareholder and the trade press
• acting as commercial director – setting tactics for segments and having the last word on large deals
• leading my team – which means mostly not getting in their way. I can rely on them to be expert in their crafts. I remain infinitely curious about the small details of our process and service and never hesitate to step in to talk with my people when functions or processes need attention.

What is your inspiration in business?
Our purpose inspires me – what my company offers is of enormous value to people and families. In a business directory, we would be described as a provider of life assurance and disability insurance to employees, but what this really means in practice is that we provide financial assistance to families who could otherwise face financial ruin just when they are already trying to deal with the trauma of a death or life-changing illness.

Who do you admire?
Three people, two unequivocally and the other reluctantly! My first CEO at Munich Re UK , Des Le Grys, had a huge influence on me and several of my contemporaries in the insurance market. He built into us a confidence that we could be leaders and he always told you straight what you need to do to improve. Julie Stokes, OBE, founder Winston’s Wish – the leading bereavement charity – and top executive coach (some of which, thanks to our friendship, I benefit from free of charge!) is an exceptional role model who showed us that what we do as life insurers is protect families. My reluctant admiration is for Jose Mourinho. He knows exactly how to get results, motivate his team and generally be the top dog amongst the Premiership management pack. (For the record, I’m a Charlton Athletic supporter and in Chris Powell we have an inspiring manager too)

Looking back would you have done things differently?
On reflection I have stayed in some roles for too long and I have been a slow learner in leadership basics. But not at all keen on looking back in anger or regret. Oasis were right on that one!

What defines your way of doing business?
I try to anticipate what the environment – business, legislative, cultural – will be like two or three years hence and plan and build for that, but at the same time ensure that the company is equipped to succeed in today’s environment. And I love my distributors and listen very carefully to them about our service performance.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out?
Model your business at micro level and know your numbers. Make realistic projections that factor in worst case as well as best case and expected scenarios. And on a personal level, if you are a worrier, learn to conquer your fears or think again about whether running a business is right for you!

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