Su Partridge talks to Chris Wheal.

After working for a Lloyd’s broker, Su Partridge moved into recruitment, specialising in the insurance industry. She set up her own company, SJ Partridge, in Chelmsford, Essex, 12 years ago. She recruits for insurers and brokers such as HSBC, Towergate, AXA, JLT, Lorica and many independents. The company has 12 staff.

How did you make it to where you are today?

I worked as a policy technician at Lloyd’s broker Lander Heywood in Fenchurch Street. I supported an account executive and did some policy wordings for high net worth insurance. I ran backwards and forwards to speak to underwriters at Lloyd’s. It was quite laborious. I then went into sales for an offshoot of Olivetti, setting up a telesales team there.

When I decided to leave, I contacted the recruitment firm that found me that job. They suggested I could join their industry and I became involved in the insurance recruitment market. I worked for an employer for 11 years then set up on my own. All my insurance clients stayed with me and I really value their support.

What are the key challenges ahead?

The industry craves high-calibre employees. During the recession of the late 1980s and the minor slump in the 1990s, companies didn’t recruit as many graduates or trainees. Now, when clients want someone with maybe 10 years’ experience, there are not as many people of the right calibre. Firms now want people with a wider set of skills. They want employees who can do renewals, process them, then go out and win new business. We have to identify, attract and retain in a cost-effective manner. Clients also have to acknowledge that speed is key and decisions have to be made quickly, so communication within a company is vital. The biggest mistake we see is when the wrong people interview the right people. Interviewers need to know what a business requires and relay this in an impartial and constructive manner to a potential employee.

What has changed the most since you started?

The biggest change is the number of insurance companies, intermediaries and brokers that have merged, changed name or been sold. Where there were once 25 insurance businesses in one area, there now may be fewer than 10. Technology has played a major part in making businesses much more efficient, competitive and direct.

The FSA has brought in greater controls for employers and employees, which has had a positive impact on the recruitment process. But it can cause problems. Companies often set minimum requirements, such as five GCSEs. There are people who have years of experience but never passed those exams so they cannot meet the minimum standards. Some companies are missing out because of these rules.

What advice would you offer someone just starting out?

Get qualifications, such as the CII exams – even if you have 10 years’ experience already. The regulator is driving up the requirements. Work for a large company and a small company to have the experience of both. Aim to specialise in one area, but make that an area you enjoy.

What is the biggest mistake you have ever made?

Not starting my own business years earlier. It was like a breath of fresh air when I did it.

What was your biggest success?

Building a reputation for successfully placing people in this industry. I have seen some

great career moves and celebrated business developments. It is very satisfying to be involved. This job has also allowed me to build long-standing friendships. We have also been behind the development, progression and expansion of many of our clients’ businesses. We have even placed people in companies where they have found their future husbands or wives.

Talk about some of your contemporaries and friends

Someone like Stuart Reid springs to mind. I met him and Alex Shead back in the early 1990s when they set up Stuart Alexander. They were scary for a mere recruitment consultant at the time – all pinstripe suits and confidence. Then over the years I watched as Reid went on to become very successful.

What is your unique selling point?

Experience and knowledge. We have been established a long time. We understand the markets and people. We give no-nonsense advice that everyone comprehends.

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

I love to travel and I like socialising with all my friends. I am currently writing a book about people (be afraid). I also enjoy horses, motor racing and I am learning to play golf – badly.

What is your favourite book/film/football team?

Book: I have recently finished reading an autobiography of Howard Hughes.

Film: Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

Football: Manchester United is a great football team. I had a crush on George Best when I was very young. IT

Day in the life

6:00am I get up and shower. I never have breakfast, just a coffee. My son has to leave for school at 7.30am and I have three dogs that
I have to feed and walk before then.

7:45am I leave for work, it is only 15 minutes away.

8:00am I work with my secretary, Emma, to look at web applications that have come in overnight. We also go through the voice mail messages. We get a lot of interest overnight because people often do not want their bosses to know they are looking for another job. That makes our mornings the busiest time.

8:30am The rest of the staff arrive so we talk through what is happening with each client or candidate and make sure everyone is clear what they need to do and that I know where we are with each client.

9:00am I start contacting my own new candidates. I get about 20 applications a day. Some are one-off jobs, but many firms are constantly looking for new people in their markets. If I had five commercial account executives or experienced claims people this week, I could place them all.

11:00am I start to follow up client vacancies and make sure all CVs are sent to the right people for the right jobs.

12:30pm I normally have a sandwich at my desk, although I do have regular business lunches. Many insurance people like to eat and drink in vast quantities so you can lose the whole afternoon if you are not careful.

2:00pm I go out to a client and talk through his recruitment needs. I am often involved with major projects for some clients.

3:00pm I get back to the office and catch up. There are more applications and more CVs to go through.

4:00pm I leave about 4pm. I am always contactable by phone, BlackBerry or laptop, these days you have to be. I have communications Nasa would be proud of. I usually do a bit of shopping and try to get home by 5pm as my son gets home at 6pm.

6:00pm I have dinner with my son and then I might take him to the golf course or driving range. He is very good and thinks he might turn pro. I just play along with him, actually I drive the buggy or look good in the clubhouse.

8:00pm I return home to watch a bit of television and have a glass of wine. I may sneak a look at my laptop, as people usually register in the evening. Then I can see what I need to do in the morning.

10:30pm I take my dogs, Bert, Finley and Douglas, for the last walk of the day.

11:00pm Time for bed.