Pauline Quayle founded her own insurance broker Chartwell in 1988. She sold it to Bridge Insurance Brokers just before Christmas.

How did you make it to where you are today?

After sixth form college I went to work for an insurance broker in its Wigan office.

I then worked for a national broker but I preferred the cut and thrust of being in a busy provincial office dealing with all disciplines so I went back to work for a provincial broker again. When that was bought by a national broker I decided to set up my own firm.

I believe that provincial brokers are in a unique position to deal with their clients as they work on a personal relationship and have empathy as they are in business themselves. You never say to a client “no we don’t do that”, which is what some nationals say.

My clients weren’t happy and nor was I, so I set up Chartwell. My husband said it might be difficult for me to get agencies as I was a young woman but I went to my first meeting with Guardian Royal Exchange and came out with a cover note book and I thought “What’s so difficult about that?”.

Within nine months I’d moved premises and taken on three staff. I sold our financial services division a while back and on 20 December last year I sold Chartwell to Bridge Insurance Brokers. I am still working for them.

What are the key challenges ahead?

Survival. It can be a very lonely place for the small broker. The soft market and driving costs of regulation, plus the ongoing consolidation, makes it very hard. I class my own business as one of the casualties. We needed to be part of a bigger organisation. The key is making sure you become part of a bigger organisation that fits with your business and your clients. That is the modern challenge.

What has changed the most since you started in insurance?

The fun’s gone out of it. It was always a sociable industry and sociability was important. You used to work hard and play hard. Now it’s all work and no play. Regulation has killed that and consolidation has removed many of the characters.

What advice would you offer someone just starting out?

I’d tell them not to bother. It breaks my heart to say that. I’ve been passionate about the insurance industry but now I don’t think there are the opportunities to do what I did. That’s a real shame.

What is the biggest mistake you have ever made?

“You never say to a client ‘no we don’t do that’, which is what some nationals say

I’ve made loads. If you don’t make mistakes, you don’t grow as a person. Mistakes have to be made. Not selling out earlier was probably a mistake – when people came along years ago offering big sums of money I didn’t anticipate the changes happening in the market. But, going through this process means that I have learnt a lot about myself and I am ready for my next challenge. I am going to do something very different.

What was your biggest success?

Having my kids. I have one of each – a boy and a girl. They are 15 and 14. I’ve taken them to Biba conferences; I’ve taken them everywhere. They are great kids. I don’t care if people think that’s a typical thing for a woman to say. It doesn’t make me any less of a businessperson.

What is your unique selling point?

Being interested in people and then putting that into practice by helping them with their insurance. Networking is my strength. There is always an opportunity – you are never far away from your next client or your next contract.

Talk about some of your contemporaries and friends in the insurance market.

With all the work I have done through Biba I have met most of the luminaries in the industry and have admired some of them. There are some people who have a huge commitment to the industry and not just their own companies.

One would be Mike Slack, who has done a tremendous amount of work for brokers. I worked closely with Mike Williams when regulation was a germ of an idea. Richard Sheikh and Ian Laycock have been Biba colleagues and industry stalwarts.

Locally there are several brokers I rate, such as Martin O’Hara who runs Caunce O’Hara in Manchester. And I am just getting to know the people at Bridge. I am amazed I didn’t know them before. They are lovely people.

When you are not working what do you do to relax?

I like cooking. I watch Warrington Wolves rugby league club and my kids play sport.

What is your favourite book/film/football team?

Warrington Wolves is my team. I like murder mysteries and autobiographies. I’m not sure it counts as a favourite film but I have been travelling to the Far East a lot recently and I have watched High School Musical five times because it has been the film on every flight.

Day in the life

5.00 Get up. I have set up some new businesses in the world of games and toys and I have to email Hong Kong, so I do that first thing. Then I look at my emails from work. I sometimes work from home. I don’t have breakfast – it is too early for food.

9.00 It depends whether I am in the office or meeting clients. A lot of the time I tend to be driving. I’ll get the train if the meeting is in central London but if it is Oxford, say, then I’ll drive. And I always drive when I’m going
north – to Glasgow, for example – because it is an easy journey. When I am in my car, it
becomes my office. I do a lot of business on
the phone so I use the driving time to get a
lot of calls done. My main area of the business has been in sales so I’m often out meeting clients or prospecting new clients. The office is a 15-minute drive away, although it is relocating to Manchester soon.

12.00 There are always management issues that take up your time. It might be regulation compliance or an insurance company visit to discuss the agency or a new client, or rates, or perhaps we’re negotiating the renewal for a particular client. It might be a problem with a claim that needs sorting out with the insurer. These meetings rarely take more than an hour. We seem to have it down to a fine art that most meetings fill an hour and then stop.

1pm I’ll have lunch at my desk. Sometimes I’ll miss lunch too. I wish I was wasting away as a result but I can assure you that I am not.

2pm I am likely to be travelling again to meet clients or will be in and out of meetings. At different times of the year there are certain things that take up your time. You might be in the middle of a big renewal cycle, or prospecting and planning who to approach
and how. I’m only meant to be working on a part-time basis these days and over the next few months my workload should tail off with my new businesses picking up, so I am doing a
few days a week and then a few days on my new projects.
Last week, I went to London to meet a client in the afternoon, had dinner with another client, met a prospective client in the morning and then flew to Hong Kong for three days with my other businesses.

5pm I’ll often stay late after everyone has gone – sometimes until 7pm. It’s nice when it’s quiet and you have no distractions. You can tie up the loose ends. There are always emails to answer these days and sometimes during the day you don’t have time to answer them all. That quiet period gives me a chance to finish everything off.

7pm I’ll get home and mix myself a gin and tonic and start chopping around in the kitchen preparing dinner, waiting for Coronation Street to come on.