All together now: Vantage COO explains what inclusion looks like

25-05-2022

All together now: Vantage COO explains what inclusion looks like

Laurie Orchard, Vantage Risk

Born at the height of the pandemic, Vantage Risk saw the enforced new ways of working, not as an inconvenience, but as an opportunity.

Vantage Risk, the Bermuda-based re/insurer subsidiary of Vantage Group Holdings, has impressive stats on diversity: 60 percent women and 40 percent non-white. Beyond those numbers, it’s the company’s approach to inclusion that presents a masterclass in how to energise a conservative industry.

“We knew there was value in leveraging data, technology and talent in new ways.” Laurie Orchard, Vantage Risk

Laurie Orchard says she joined Vantage Risk as chief executive officer with a new way of looking at the world of work after taking time out to build her own company and engage with other startups, entrepreneurs and executives who have retired from the financial services industry to pursue other interests.

Orchard is also a senior vice president of Vantage Group Holdings, which is led by industry veterans Dinos Iordanou as non-executive chairman, and Greg Hendrick as chief executive officer.

“I became the first set of ‘boots on the ground‘ in Bermuda when Greg called me from the US to say: ‘I’m interested in exploring this idea. Is there a way you can help?’,” Orchard said in an interview with Bermuda:Re+ILS at Vantage Risk’s office in Hamilton.

“The COVID-19 pandemic changed everything in early 2020 and this opportunity felt like something really positive—the chance to build up something new when the whole world seemed to be shutting down,” she added.

“Seeing the number of faces on the screen grow from five to six in the early days to more than 150 today has been exciting.”

Iordanou and Hendrick also appointed a woman as Vantage Risk’s president. Peta White joined the company after 14 years in leadership at Markel. Half of the Bermuda business leaders are women, as are close to 50 percent of the holding company’s executive leadership team, leading in the areas of finance, legal and talent. As part of the Vantage commitment to leveraging data and enhanced analytics, there is a focus on building out these capabilities and there is significant female leadership and diversity throughout those areas as well, Orchard said.

“The commitment to diversity at Vantage isn’t just lip service,” she explained. “It goes well beyond just gender and must be promoted from the top down to truly embed it in the culture. An openness to different perspectives and a willingness to invite expertise and experience through the door, and ask ‘how can you help?’ provides an opportunity for meaningful engagement and rapid progress.

“Without that commitment, the long-standing barriers and limitations for those who represent minorities will always prevail.”  

Diverse talent

The Vantage team is exploring a broader talent pool with complementary skillsets to advance their work. Committed to the mission to see risk differently, they welcome new insights to shape their view of risk.

“We knew there was value in leveraging data, technology and talent in new ways. To augment the underwriting expertise we already had, we sought talent with deep knowledge of data science, meteorology, coding and technology.

“We have attracted people with entrepreneurial mindsets and a willingness to dig in and build systems, processes and new methodologies from the ground up,” Orchard said.

They also seek to build a more diverse entry-pool of talent. According to Orchard, this can be achieved by raising the general awareness about the re/insurance industry in more sectors of the community, and mentoring younger generations from broader backgrounds as well as people with transferable skillsets.

Forging links with the community is key to opening these opportunities, she said, noting that Bermuda’s charitable sector is active in supporting the growth and development of new businesses and entrepreneurs.

Orchard is on the board of Ignite Bermuda, a charitable organisation and impactful business accelerator created to support the success and development of local innovators, startups and other charities. She has found it to be a valuable connection point.

“The entrepreneurial space is a fresh new wave, with lots of solid ideas and creative endeavours that are creating jobs and economic growth. It gives me insights into what’s going on beyond the re/insurance industry.

“The work Ignite is doing also benefits corporates, in helping them adopt a more entrepreneurial approach to more traditional business.” she said.

New ways of working

Setting out to build a company to endure and thrive required the team at Vantage to rethink “not just who, but how, we engage”, Orchard said. “We had to rethink how we could work together, remotely, to leverage the best of our talent.”

Orchard found the challenge of building the culture in a new company with a completely remote team exciting. Significant challenges of starting up during the pandemic included: the rapid transition to online and remote working; flexibility to balance demands of life with those of work; and meaningful colleague engagement and connectivity, she recalled. The company realised early on that employees wanted flexibility.

“Some want to work exactly as they did before, and in Bermuda they enjoy having our office headquarters to work alongside team members. But the pandemic reminded us that health and wellbeing is a vital component to our success as individuals and colleagues. Supporting our families through COVID-19 and other challenges, and managing work life around home life, is important,” Orchard recalled.

“As a startup, our early hires are very experienced and conscientious, so it is relatively straightforward enabling our employees to manage their schedules in ways that work not just for Vantage, but for them and their families.

“Knowing how committed our staff were to successfully launching Vantage, we were compelled to emphasise employee wellbeing. From the start we have promoted wellness and work-style mindfulness to avoid employee burnout and promote wellness over the long-term.”

A conscious effort

The company’s commitment to diversity was “intentional” from the outset, while a new way of looking at inclusion was born of necessity, she said. It meant helping people who work remotely “feel connected”.

Orchard described a few key initiatives to support the connectivity of Vantage staff.

“Chats by the watercooler in office kitchens used to connect us as people before the pandemic. We talked about things that interested us outside of work. In an attempt to recreate those lost interactions we introduced short weekly virtual meet-ups for staff to chat one-on-one about topic of their choice.

“These have been very popular and effective both remotely and in-person,” she said.

Utilising online platforms such as Sharepoint, Teams and Yammer to facilitate collaboration and connectivity was another example Orchard provided of generating value from inclusion.

“Where our staff exhibited a passion for helping out, we sought ways to facilitate that. We created voluntary working groups to promote wellness, diversity, equality and inclusion, environmental, social and corporate governance issues, and colleague engagement,” she explained.

“The mission of each group is well defined and sponsored by our leadership. Participation is voluntary and membership changes based on workload demands and interest. The meaningful connectivity on these topics has provided a lot of fulfilment, which is great.  

“The company’s ‘all-hands’ calls are a conscious effort to hear from everyone and anyone,” Orchard added.

The entire company is invited to a weekly video call to share progress updates, ask questions and share information.

“Seeing the number of faces on the screen grow from five to six in the early days to more than 150 today has been exciting. This has been a truly valuable engagement practice. It engenders trust and enables timely information-sharing.

“Everyone has a seat at the table to hear about what is happening across the organisation and to learn something fun about new colleagues. It’s like family dinner every Sunday, without the food mess or the drama!”

Looking to build real franchise value over time, Vantage has taken some big operational challenges of starting up in a pandemic and turned them into opportunities. As the world learns to live with COVID-19 in its midst and work becomes more “normal”, Orchard said the benefits of these early commitments to diversity, inclusion, connectivity and wellbeing should help the Vantage team as it continues its growth and development.

She has enjoyed the opportunity to re-engage through her leadership role at Vantage. “Growing this exciting new company has been a very rewarding experience. I love being part of a new and dynamic team of people who value things that have always been important and are no longer being overshadowed,” she concluded.

Vantage Risk, Laurie Orchard, Dinos Iordanou, Greg Hendrick,Insurance, Reinsurance, Bermuda, Class of 2020, Peta White, Startups, Diversity, Inclusion

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