“I always wanted to be in business,” says Susan Murphy, president of Hub Ontario, “but I never knew what that meant.”
Starting in Sunlife in marketing and product placement, she loved the work, but Sunlife was national in scope and Murphy was interested in exploring business on a global scale. So when a recruiter called about a marketing manager opportunity with CNA Canada in 1999, she responded.
“Honestly,” she says, “the reason I moved into the P&C industry was because the president and CFO, both men, were so amazing. I just really connected with them. It was more about the opportunity to work with people who could teach me.”
Murphy joined the executive management team, and the president informally became, in her words, “my best coach and mentor, even to this day.” Within the first year or two, she decided to make the industry her career.
Almost a decade later, Murphy made another move, to GCAN Insurance, to help drive growth that would make the company more attractive to potential buyers. Five years in, she helped pitch GCAN to 50 global companies, an experience she says is “still one of my highlights.”
Ultimately bought by RSA Canada, Murphy stayed on as head of sales and marketing. She had great support from management there, too, but also learned a lot about herself: “I am much more effective in an entrepreneurial organization that has autonomy.”
That’s why, when approached by Hub, a key broker since her CNA days, she took her next step. Starting out as chief marketing officer (CMO) for Ontario, she soon became National CMO, then CEO for a Hub MGA company, and ultimately president of Hub Ontario four years ago.
In that time, Murphy has learned it’s important to have advocates. Not just formal coaches and mentors, but people who will speak up on your behalf when you’re not in the room. It’s also important, she says, to have a voice, to be ambitious, to build your brand, and to stay focused.
“The more women get into management, the more we help move the bar. It was an obstacle before, and I’m not saying it’s not still in some cases, but it’s just as incumbent upon us as women as it is anybody else sitting at the table. Don’t try to conform, don’t try to fit in, and, in some ways, don’t ask, tell.”
It’s important women participate in industry associations and panels, too. “It’s not just about us driving success in our own organizations,” Murphy explains. “We have a responsibility to make sure we’re affecting change across the industry.”
Hub’s quarterly roundtable for up-and-coming females suggests more ways to make it easier for women to take on leadership roles: improved flexibility, better career pathing, and for the industry to better market itself.
Examples include split shifts or a continued ability to work from home (providing employees are performing and supporting the client); making sure women know about all industry opportunities available to them; and actively recruiting women in college and university.
“We’ve seen, study after study, that if you change the profile of your management and leadership team, you get better results,” says Murphy. “You get a more engaged culture, it works better for the shareholder, it works better for communities. We have to press for that change.”