As Eleazu assumes his new position as ManyPets’ UK chief executive, he speaks to Insurance Times about why the role is so important to him and how he aims to lift others up
Back in 2020, Oke Eleazu – who works at pet insurance MGA ManyPets – was challenged by his teenage daughter to “do more” for ethnic minorities.
Speaking exclusively to Insurance Times, Eleazu reveals that he is well on the way to fulfilling this ambition since he has now been promoted from chief operating officer to UK chief executive, effective from 4 April 2022.
Eleazu who is British Nigerian descent is one of the few ethnic minority chief executives in insurance. He tells Insurance Times: “I want this to be something that inspires others to do the same. If you can’t see it, you can’t be it.
“I spent a lot of time focusing on myself and what I could achieve as an individual and that was enough for me.
“But now I see, and maybe it’s because I have young teenagers, that it is important for people to be inspired.
“I didn’t see many people of colour in senior roles in insurance, but it’s much easier [for career progression] if you can see people who have achieved it, understand their journey and know that could be you.”
Building a magnet
As ManyPets plans to further scale its business, the MGA decided that it wanted to introduce business unit chief executives in its key territories, to speed up decision-making and get closer to customers – particularly in the UK and US.
This was the driver behind Eleazu’s new job role. He continues to report to ManyPets group chief executive Steven Mendel.
Eleazu says: “My drive has always been to build a business that customers love and that colleagues love to work at.
”We need to have a business that almost exceeds what a pet insurer is. I believe that when we do that, people tell other people. It creates a flywheel.”
Eleazu also leads ManyPets’ inclusion council, which was established in 2021. This includes three core working groups that focus on projects to drive meaningful change around diversity and inclusion in the business.
“If you want to find a needle in a haystack, build a magnet, Eleazu adds.
“I have been amazed since we started this journey of inclusion over the last two and a half years what an incredible impact it has had on our colleagues and how attractive it has made us look.”
As part of the inclusion council’s work, new starters joining ManyPets now go through a “levelling up” induction. This examines all types of inclusion, such as racial, sexual orientation, neurodiversity and religion.
“I have learnt so much more about diversity. I [approached it] from a racial perspective, but it’s so much more than that,” Eleazu says.
The MGA tries to ensure that its hiring process is as fair as possible by sourcing talent from various channels and looking outside the insurance industry too.
In its job interview process, there is always two people conducting each meeting. For leadership roles, ManyPets uses a panel interview featuring a wider peer group.
ManyPets believes this hiring approach helps it to avoid groupthink, discrimination, nepotism and affinity biases.
Eleazu is most proud of being the sponsor of the MGA’s diversity focus – he thinks the steps the firm has taken has helped to shift its culture, making it more attractive to everyone.
He adds that the word “many” featured in the MGA’s business name, is therefore reflective of the diverse workforce. As of May 2022, more than 50% of ManyPets’ positions are occupied by women.
“We have some very strong female leaders on our senior team. The word ‘many’ is really important to us as a business – it’s defining as it’s for all,” Eleazu says.
Eleazu’s late mother was also proud of his achievements, when told of his new position she said: ”That’s my son, he’s done it.”
Not labelling people
For Eleazu, the key to creating a diverse organisational culture is talking about it openly and giving people a voice.
“I am not about trying to label people and put them into boxes. I am about celebrating individuality and what they bring to our business,” he explains.
“I am one of the few black faces [in insurance] – I am definitely one of the few black chief executives, but you get used to it.
”Before, there were very few places to have a voice about [diversity]. By talking about it, trying to be a role model to pull up others, you hope that you make it better for the future.
“But the insurance industry has got so far to go - there’s still so much totalism.”
He advocates calling out racism and misogyny as well as talking openly about why it happens.
Commenting on Aviva chief executive Amanda Blanc’s recent AGM experience, Eleazu adds: “Unfortunately, sexism and racism are both alive and well in society and the workplace is just a reflection of that.
”However, where it now appears to be socially unacceptable to be openly racist, the same does not seem to be the case for sexism.
”Intersectionality comes into play here too and I would imagine that black female leaders are the most criticised of all. We need to have zero tolerance of casual sexism and misogyny.”