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People make the difference

In this episode of our True Connections Podcast, Alan Hooks speaks to Founder and CEO Emeritus of Admiral Group, Henry Engelhardt, about his approach to running a successful business, his journey as an entrepreneur and what he looks for in people and businesses seeking investment.





Listen to the podcast
Click on the player below to hear Alan and Henry’s conversation:

Henry’s start in the car insurance industry is a classic case of ‘right place, right time’. It started with an advertisement for a job in financial services, which, after a call to the recruiter, transpired to actually be a role in car insurance. While car insurance was certainly not one of Henry’s passions, he took the job. This, as Henry says, was when he started to realise that all businesses were interesting and exciting – no matter the product – and a couple of years later he founded Admiral. This was a key time of transition for the insurance industry as telesales became more mainstream. But Admiral’s success wasn’t down to them being first to make this move into telesales. They were 7th. And five of the six that came before them no longer exist. So while being first can be helpful, it’s not a necessary ingredient for success.

Being different is more important than being first

Part of Admiral’s difference is its people. Henry has, on more than one occasion, been described as the world’s best boss and it’s clear that people matter a huge amount to him. And more than that, he’s passionate about people making the most of their talents. The biggest obstacle in coaching and leading people, Henry explains, is overcoming the lack of belief that people have in themselves. As he is quick to admit, Henry was not top of his class at school, or university or in his MBA programme but he still went on to create a business that has seen record revenues and profits almost every single year since it was founded. In addition to its financial success, Admiral is also the only company to appear in The Sunday Times Top 100 Companies to Work For list every year since inception. Henry goes on to say that the reason that many don’t reach their full potential is because they follow the path “they are supposed to” rather than breaking out and harnessing their natural ability and that is what Henry tried to bring out in his employees.

While he was acting CEO, Henry would try to introduce himself to every single new joiner in the UK business – a number totalling more than 20,000 over the years - and he would ask them “what are you doing to make the most of your talent?” The key here, Henry explains, is that he was not looking to hear what was being done for them that made the most of their talent – the training they were given and so on – but what they were doing themselves.

If people like what they do, they’ll do it better

Maximising talent is often something associated with highly successful businesses but thing that is perhaps not – particularly among start-ups – is having a genuine work-life balance when running a start-up. Henry’s approach seems to debunk this myth as he recounts a time right at the inception of the business. There were only five Admiral employees at the time but they all sat around a small table and Henry said to them doesn’t believe having a successful business career and a successful family life are mutually exclusive. This is all well and good coming from the founder of the business but Henry explains that it’s important that everyone in the organisation has the opportunity to have that balance. Even something as simple as taking lunch away from your desk is something Henry believes is truly beneficial to performance over the long term.

Henry’s passion for people also extends beyond his own business and into charitable causes he works with through Moondance – a foundation founded by his wife, Diane - or businesses he invests in. Whether he’s talking about a business creating high-tech swimming goggles in Vancouver or a charity helping to feed educate children in Malawi, it all stems back to the people and teams running the organisations.

To hear more about Henry’s story, please listen to the podcast player above.