Speaking from experience
Peta White is senior managing director at Markel Global Reinsurance and was one of the earliest members of our Women in Hamilton project.
She has also now joined the Women in Reinsurance (WiRe) board on Bermuda, which is dedicated to promoting the professional development of women working in Bermuda’s reinsurance market. WiRe’s focus is on education, mentoring and networking and White is passionate about helping others in the industry, both male and female.
As White admits, she is similar to a lot of her peers in that she fell into the reinsurance industry almost by accident. Born on Bermuda, she went away to boarding school at the age of 12 and then on to university in the US.
“I went to MIT and I was there when Hurricane Andrew happened in 1992,” she says. “I wasn’t really paying attention at the time to the magnitude of effects the hurricane had on the world, and certainly not on its effect on Bermuda, with the influx of reinsurance companies that came here as a result.”
After White graduated she came back to Bermuda with plans to move to Europe, at least for a few years, when she was asked by Cat Limited, which had just set up at that time, to join.
“I went to the interview and said I didn’t even understand my own insurance contract, let alone what reinsurance was,” White recalls. “But they replied ‘stay for the summer and see how you like it’—and that was in 1994.”
Since then she has had a broad spectrum of responsibilities and experiences on the Island. She started out in catastrophe modelling and then moved into the actuarial department, gaining experience and five qualifications in that area.
“ACE bought us, and created ACE Tempest Re, in 1998. I stayed in actuarial until 2002, when I moved over to the international underwriting desk, where I stayed for four years. In 2006 I moved to Max Re, a company that didn’t have a large focus on property cat business but after Hurricane Katrina it wanted to expand its property cat business.
“I came over to build out an international book, to provide some diversification for their US book which was growing quickly,” she says.
“In 2010 we merged with Harbor Point and became Alterra, where I continued to head the international desk. Then in 2013, when Markel bought us, I moved over to head the North American property desk.
“I am currently senior managing director, head of North America property reinsurance, as well as co-head of global reinsurance operations. I’ve worked in the industry for 20-odd years now. There have been lots of name changes but I’ve moved house only once.”
White has worked across a number of disciplines, with a variety of responsibilities, some in a team environment and some working solo. Her experience has allowed her to pass on a few tips for those now entering the market.
“One tip is ‘don’t sweat the small stuff’,” says White. “This is something I learned early on, and it is a real game-changer. Don’t focus on or stress over the little things, just learn to brush it off and move on to the more important things. It’s surprising how many people over-analyse and get caught up worrying about some of the trivia. Save your energy for what is meaningful and life can be more enjoyable.”
White says she has also learned along the way that you can teach yourself almost anything, including confidence, the ability to react quickly, and what she thinks is the most important, the ability to be positive.
“You have choices in all aspects of your life and you can bring any attitude to the environment. Think about how you want to face the day and manage it so you are set up for the right experience. You’ll be amazed at what opportunities come your way when you emit positivity, and it just feeds upon itself.”
A major tip for balance in life is to live in the moment.
“When you’re at work, you’re focused on the tasks at hand and you perform at your best,” White advises. “When you are at home, you need to do the same. People need to spend quality time with their family or friends and be there 100 percent.
“Don’t bring your phone or your Blackberry out, especially at the dinner table. Just enjoy that moment. I go out to dinner and see many people staring at their phones and not at their families. I get it if there’s an urgent deal, but far too many people are at risk of losing balance and taking family time for granted.
“Also, communicate with your spouse. Tell them if you’re going to be very busy, especially if you have to work on weekends. When an evening meeting is booked, let your spouse know when the appointment is made, not the afternoon of the dinner. Then you can both work it out and plan ahead.”
White recommends two books for those entering the market or trying to progress further: Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff at Work by Richard Carlson; and Grit to Great by Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval.
“Both of these books are fairly short and easy to read but powerful,” she concludes.