Laura Samaroo, Managing Director, Canadian leader, WTW
For Laura Samaroo, rising to the leadership ranks was an evolution.
“Early in my career, I aspired to be a great consultant and actuary, but wasn’t necessarily focused on climbing the corporate ladder,” she recalls. “I worked hard and was willing to take on challenges – even if they were outside my comfort zone.”
Samaroo says it helped to have “an amazing mentor” early in her career. “When he left the firm, he was convinced I was ready to step into his shoes and gave me confidence to take the lead for our biggest and most complex client when I was in my late 20s – rather unheard of back then, since we had much more senior actuaries in the office.”
Gradually, Samaroo’s mentor backed away and she “stepped up and took the lead on things without realizing I was driving the client relationship. But my mentor knew I was ready, and the client felt the same, so they gave me confidence to take on the role.”
Later, Samaroo was head of Towers Watson’s retirement consulting business and was asked to take on a broader role to lead all of the business in Western Canada – including areas in which she was not a subject matter expert – just as the business went through a major business combination. “Then, in 2016, when Towers Watson combined with Willis, that was my first entry into the insurance brokerage business,” she says.
She credits the opportunity to bring together different business cultures – twice – manage change, and learn new businesses provided a great background for her to take on a leadership role in the industry.
How can someone follow in her footsteps? And what challenges should they expect to face?
“Don’t be afraid to say yes to challenges and opportunities,” Samaroo advises. “No one expects you to know everything on Day 1. Build relationships within your organization and outside. Some people I built relationships with early in my career are now executives, decision makers and influencers.”
Delegation is one of the biggest challenges, she says.
“I try to emulate my old mentor,” she says, describing her own approach. “With clients where I was the lead, I would see that someone on my team was more than capable [of answering a question], so I’d back away and encourage her to respond, even if the question was asked of me. I would have her take the lead. Sometimes it’s easier to just respond but it’s worth the effort to help somebody else become self-sufficient.”
Is there anything the industry can do to help women take on more leadership roles?
“Companies can become more flexible and open-minded to non-traditional working relationships, such as having the head of Canada located in Vancouver rather than Toronto,” she says. “And doing some meetings virtually that used to be in person – just being okay with working hours that make sense for each person.”
They should also make concerted efforts to encourage and support women into leadership roles, she says. WTW is doing this with programs such as SHE Leads, Samaroo says, “where we had 350 women in North America matched up with coaches outside of their immediate teams.”
And always consider the person holistically, she advises.
“Recognize that there’s a close parallel between being a good parent and a good mentor,” she says. “Care about the person, give them your undivided attention and be interested in their needs. An up-and-coming colleague really wants to know someone’s got their back. That’s a way to encourage and get the most out of people and give them confidence to take on new opportunities.”