Director of Rees Astley, Steve Sadler talks to Chris Wheal about his career

Steve Sadler is a director of Rees Astley, a broker based in the heart of Mid Wales. Established in 1969, the company has three offices – in Aberystwyth, Newtown and Oswestry – and 30 staff. It services clients in Mid and West Wales and Shropshire. As well as commercial and personal insurances, Rees Astley specialises in offering online performing arts insurance.

How did you make it to where you are today?

I started my career in insurance with Municipal Mutual (now Zurich Municipal) at the Norwich branch in 1978. After eight years, I joined Eagle Star Norwich as a trainee inspector, working at the Ipswich, Shrewsbury and Birmingham offices. I moved into broking in 1997 when I became a director of Dixon Chalmers in Telford. In 2001, we sold the business and I worked for five years with Country Mutual before joining Rees Astley as a director in January 2006.

What are the key challenges ahead?

Quite simply how are we going to profitably grow our business? Every broker in the country, along with every direct writer or internet solution, is fishing in the same restricted pond and someone will go hungry. Our every effort is aimed at constantly improving what we do and adding value at every opportunity. The solution to profitable growth is in effective planning. I believe in the old saying that “anyone who doesn’t plan is planning for failure”. When you have identified the opportunities you then have to be brave enough to take them. Technology will continue to drive change in the industry and no doubt lighten the profit.

What has changed the most since you started in insurance?

Back in 1978, when I joined Municipal Mutual, there wasn’t a computer in the office, the typing pool took up the second floor and modern technology was the dictation machine. Details of motor policies were kept on cards and the head clerk checked every letter that went out. You needed a degree in old English to understand the policy wording and the typical company car was a Ford Escort (1100cc) or Austin Allegro with the luxury extra of a heater. For those joining the industry today change is a part of the culture of insurance.

What advice would you offer someone just starting out?

Work hard but work smart. Be persistent in everything you do, don’t give up. Set yourself personal goals and seek to exceed them. Take your insurance exams to the highest level available and qualify quickly. Adopt a ‘can do’ attitude and positive approach to life. Have fun and make friends on your way to success and don’t burn bridges.

What is the biggest mistake you have ever made?

Apart from not buying more staff discounted Eagle Star shares when they were offered in the 1980s, the only other slight regret was not getting the branch manager’s position in Jersey. Given my dislike of paying tax and my love of the water it could have been heaven.

What was your biggest success?

To date that would be staying married for 28 years. Given the hours that I can work, my wife and family are very supportive. Anyone who runs a business will know that the effort required at times to drive the business on is demanding.

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

The one person I will mention is Andrew Paddick who will be missed. Love him or loathe him, he did try to make a difference and often carried it off with flair. As for friends, while 30 years in the industry reminds me I am getting older, it is difficult to attend an insurance function and not meet old acquaintances, who remind me how thin I used to be, or how much hair I once had. Who would be without friends?

What is your unique selling point?

A unique selling point for Rees Astley is that it is a Welsh company operating in Wales with Welsh-speaking staff committed to a professional, personal service. For those people who value this service, it can be a competitive edge. Another major advantage for our clients is that Rees Astley has an equally strong financial services division.

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

Play guitar at every opportunity. I own an old Quest Attack II electric guitar, a Peavey 100 watt amplifier, (sounds good in the spare room!) and a Fender acoustic. My playing skills haven’t developed much over the years but it’s fun annoying the neighbours. Next best thing in life are the holidays, and I am a keen walker, rambling in the Shropshire hills and Welsh mountains.

What is your favourite book/film/football team?

There is only one football team and that is Norwich City. I have many favourite films but if I had to pick one it would be The Last of the Mohicans. Daniel Day Lewis is a great actor. I prefer factual books – autobiographies, or those describing a journey, such as Murphy’s Bar.

Day in the life

6.30 The alarm goes off. Depending upon the night before and what the day has in store, I get out of bed between 6.30 and 7.30. I am not a morning person. A good breakfast is an absolute must.

9.30 I arrive at work. My journey to the Rees Astley office takes an hour through the Welsh countryside, plenty of time to contemplate the day or catch up with the news. First thing every morning my account handler, Janet, will spend an hour updating me on the work situation and reviewing what needs to be done.

10.30 First port of call is my email and that moment of dread as the inbox starts to climb. I am a happy worker if there are fewer than 20 emails. Luckily we have a good spam system, so very little rogue mail gets through.

15.00 Oblivious to the fact that lunch time has arrived and fuelled by a hearty breakfast, I usually work through until about 2.30pm to 3pm before the run of endless telephone calls and the flicker of the computer screen finally takes its toll. At this stage I usually grab a sandwich and some fresh air before returning to more of the same.

17.00 Bliss. The office clears and I can work uninterrupted for an hour or two before the return journey. On the way back Radio 5 is the channel of choice as I unwind with the latest sports updates.

19.00 After a day at the office the regular time I arrive home is 20.00. At this stage, if it’s not Friday (football night) or Tuesday (gym night), my favourite way to relax is with a glass of wine in front of the TV in winter, or in the garden in summer.