What kind of salesperson charters a plane to take high-flying insurance executives and a bunch of jolly-happy journalists to Iceland, just for a product launch?
The answer is Julie Rodilosso, the chief executive of Rarrigini & Rosso, who thinks she is about to hit the big time with a new back-office system called 24-7 Broking.
Two weeks ago, her company took an 80-strong party on a two day trip to the “land of the midnight sun” where they were treated to whitewater rafting and horse riding before a sales presentation that included a modern-dance troupe.
It was a product launch that is unheard of in the insurance world, where companies normally go as far as a slide show followed by a glass of wine.
Yet, as soon as you meet her, it is obvious why Rodilosso would favour the big splash. Tall, attractive and with a no-nonsense manner, she makes an indelible mark.
But she also has a belief in selling that borders on the evangelical, something she says is just an extension of what she learned when teaching English literature in Italy.
“Teaching and selling are the same thing,” she says. “You're communicating a message in a way that people want to listen and in a way that people get something from it – they learn something.”
Rodilosso, though, now believes she has the product to match her ambitions: 24-7 Broking – an integrated online back-office system that enables brokers to do everything they need for business except make the tea, from a quote engine and accounting to spreadsheets and word processing.
If she can sell the product, the company will become the service support company for a large proportion of the UK's 7,000 intermediaries.
“I feel like we're leaving footprints in the sand by offering business services support to a broker market that's come of age and is frustrated by inadequate systems that have held them back and affected their administration process,” she says.
“They're being held back by their technology to produce documentation and offer additional services to their customers.
“They're desperate to offer more and they've been restricted by the tools they've been given. There are a core of very professional, very innovative brokers out there and they shouldn't be held back.”
Her determination becomes more apparent when you consider her company's turnover was £2.4m last year and profits about £450,000. The trip to Iceland must have eaten a sizeable chunk of this.
But Rodilosso has another reason for big spending. She has been working in the industry for more than 20 years and says it is crying out for dynamism. As the days of the stereotypical grey-suited insurance man become numbered, brokers need to learn to sell their high-tech incarnation.
“We're very poor at marketing ourselves because, for over 300 years, we haven't changed our procedures,” she says.
“The word ‘sales' is disgusting here. In England it's seen as dirty, in the US it's seen as a profession.”
To do this, Rodilosso says brokers need to come to terms with themselves as salespeople.
“People buy off them for independent advice and service,” she says. “We're selling ourselves every day and anyone who says he's not is a liar.”
Rodilosso started selling insurance at age 19, became a sales manager, then a national sales and marketing director and finally company director. She set up R&R five years ago – the name is combination of her own and the two Italian car makers Ferrari and Lambourghini.
“I suddenly decided I'd had enough of working for someone else,” she says. “It was as easy as that, I knew what I wanted.
“That year was the most wonderful Christmas I've ever had because I felt free, I was where I was meant to be, like I'd been born.
“The last five years have been the most exciting, rewarding and enjoyable years of my life.”
Although the past five years have not been easy, they have been successful – enough so that Rodilosso has been able to turn an 18th-century priory into her home – but she is determined that, with 24-7 and “guts, determination, professionalism and delivery”, things will get even bigger.
“R&R wants to be the biggest and best business support group in the industry,” she says. “Within five years it will be a serious player.”
Rodilosso was born in Birmingham, the daughter of the managing director of a big US company, but grew up in South Africa and Nairobi. Moving between the strictures of apartheid South Africa, the freedom of upper-class Nairobi and the conservatism of England left Rodilosso alert to change and eager to adapt.
“Living in Africa gives you a completely different aspect of life,” she says. “You're closer to nature, closer to danger, your senses are alive. It always leaves a mark on your life.”
As for her staff, she makes no excuses that she can be demanding to work for. Her determination to succeed means she expects excellence all the time. Often staff are employed for one task and find themselves doing a myriad of others.
Rodilosso demands the same kind of excellence from herself.
“I'm highly sensitive when I don't get it, I get very disappointed when I make a mistake, if I don't think someone is 100% satisfied.”
“I work 24 hours a day, work is my life, which sounds really sad for some people but it's horses for courses, I genuinely love what I do,” she says. “People who live without goals must have a very sad existence.”