David Newman talks to Chris Wheal about his life and career

David Newman is chief executive of Britain’s biggest biker broker Carole Nash. The broker has 300 staff in Altrincham, just outside Manchester, and a further 40 in Dublin in Ireland. It offers a range of personal lines products for the biker community, including car, household and travel. It considers itself a motorcycle business that helps bikers lead the life they want to lead. The firm was bought by Groupama in 2006 and currently has a GWP of approx £50m. Last year it made a pre-tax profit of £6.26m

How did you make it to where you are today?

I left school and became a firearms instructor, teaching pistol shooting for four years. We taught individuals for sport as well as the navy and police. I started working at Britannic Assurance, now part of Resolution, as an agent in the direct sales force. I studied part-time for a management degree and then an MBA over the next ten years and ended up managing the sales force. Through my studies I got interested in marketing and moved to that within Britannic, before moving to Chase de Vere and then the Cooperative Bank. I was head-hunted by Groupama to run Carole Nash in September 2007.

What are the key challenges ahead?

Now we are part of a larger international group, it is important that we stay focused on our customers and continue to give them what they need. We also have to make sure we deliver the commercial performance to our shareholder. Groupama gives us a lot of autonomy so we can stay the Carole Nash that the biker community knows so well. We put a lot back into biking and the biking community. To our customers, Carole Nash is a biker business not an insurance business and we need to remember that.

What has changed the most since you started in insurance?

Well, 21 years ago I had a customer base of about 500 people in Suffolk and I went to their homes, gave them financial advice and collected cash from them. Every afternoon I had to go to the bank to deposit that cash and I had to write out the accounts by hand, in triplicate every week. Now technology does much of that and helps us manage our customers more remotely and more efficiently, but being close to the customer is still key.

What advice would you offer someone just starting out?

I would encourage it. The UK financial services industry is a great place to work, with a worldwide reputation. I am biased towards Manchester so I would recommend starting out here. I would urge that they study for their academic qualifications but add to them with business experience.

What is the biggest mistake you have ever made?

My biggest mistake was about four years ago, climbing a glacier near Mont Blanc. We had come down and only had about 200 yards to go. I had stowed my ice axe in my rucksack and as every ice climber will tell you, you must always have your ice axe to hand. I slipped and was sliding off the mountain. Somehow – purely by luck – I managed to stop myself sliding the off the end of the glacier and over a huge drop into Chamonix. I’ll never do that again and I’ll never switch off in anything I do just because the end is in sight.

What was your biggest success?

Marrying my wife, Debbie 19 years ago and having two children who put up with me being away from home a lot. The family home is in Herefordshire and I have a flat in Manchester, plus I have been away a lot for both work and recreation.

Talk about some of your contemporaries and friends

David Neave at CIS, Andy Watson, now at HSBC, Bill Haynes, the former managing director at Britannic, Peter Maskell at BHSF, Francois Xavier-Boisseau at Groupama and Dave Bowcock who has been at Carole Nash for 15 years and who has been really helpful in helping me understand the motorcycle category.

What is your unique selling point?

That I look at everything from the market – and the customer’s – end of the telescope, rather than starting from the numbers end. You have to have a knowledge of the market and what the customer wants. The profits will follow. I also use my international experience .

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

I tend to do outdoor stuff. At the family farm in Herefordshire I like to get out and walk. I recently took my family on a boat down a river in Borneo. I am a member of the Explorers Club, which, until it let me in, had an esteemed membership.

What is your favourite book/film/football team?

Book: Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie. Film: Nanook of the North – the best documentary ever made albeit in 1922. TV: The West Wing, Football team: We’re only a couple of miles from Old Trafford and I am a big Manchester United fan.

Day in the life

6:45am Wake up, listen to the 7am news on Radio 4 and check my Blackberry while having breakfast. It is a quiet time as I am alone during the week.

7:30am I will buy a (Manchester) Guardian on the way to the tram and read it on the way to work.

8:30am Chat with colleagues, check emails and my diary.

9:00am Our stats for the previous day are posted so I will talk to the heads of the different income streams about those figures. If there are any that are really good I will congratulate them, if there are any that are below what was expected we will talk about why and what we can do about it.

10:00am Meetings. Could be a leadership team meeting to look at trading over the past couple of weeks, about what we are doing on treating customers fairly or new initiatives.

11:30am A one-to-one with my PA to deal with my diary and administration.

12:00pm Check emails and look at motorcycle websites and read the blogs to see what the issues are.

12:45pm A quick lunch with another executive director – a bowl of soup and a chance to catch up.

1:30pm Review reports of meetings, read reports from meetings I was not at and write my own reports.

3:00pm Go to the training centre to speak to new staff. I meet every new starter. As bikers ride more in the summer we recruit from January to June so I probably go there three times in every four weeks and talk to four to six new joiners at a time. I talk and then they get to ask questions

4:00pm I will stop in to our customer repair centre to give a tenth anniversary present and cake to a member of staff. We have a lot of staff who have been with us for ten years now so I seem to be doing this a lot which is great. It gives me a chance to talk to them about how things are going too.

5:00pm Go through the management accounts with the finance director and catch up with anyone else I need to see.

6:00pm Final check of emails and write any myself, then I check the weather for the next five days. Our planning capacity for our call centres depends on the weather. If it will be a sunny weekend lots of bikers will be out and we can expect lots of calls. Finally I will check the Carole Nash website. Nick Sanders is riding round the world but not only is he doing 500 miles a day every day, he is doing a video diary of it on our website so I’ll look at that every evening.

6:30pm I leave to go home.

7:00pm I am right in the city centre so often I will meet up with an insurer for dinner or a chat, or catch up with friends.