Heidi Stewart, group CEO at BHSF, speaks to Health & Protection about taking inspiration from Muhammad Yunus, her roller skating skills, not taking a traditional route to career success and how the Prince’s Trust changed her life.
How did you get your start in the sector?
I have only been in the insurance sector for two years as CEO at BHSF.
However, I have spent the last 20 years working in health, social mobility and mental health sectors. I spent the last 10 years in commercial roles leading bids for large government outsourced contracts in employment, disability and health in the UK, Australia and USA.
I think it’s fair to say I did not take the typical path to CEO. I was lucky enough to get involved with the Prince’s Trust at 16 and they changed my life and helped me set up my first business. I think this experience instilled an entrepreneurial streak in me and a desire to break down barriers.
What do you enjoy most about your current role?
I feel incredibly privileged to be the person who leads a business that can implement positive change for our colleagues and our customers. This comes with a huge responsibility that I don’t take lightly.
Our ambition as a business is to ensure everyone will know someone that BHSF has had a positive impact on.
Who is your role model – in life or in work?
That is a tough one to answer as there are some incredible people I really admire. They all tend to be people driven by purpose and a mission to make a difference.
The person I most admire in business is Muhammad Yunus who founded Grameen Bank providing micro-credit to some of the poorest of the poor with an emphasis on helping women to establish businesses.
Who has been your most important mentor in your career so far and why?
I am not a big fan of most management books, but I recently read a fantastic book called How to Lead with Purpose by Liam Black.
I contacted Liam to say how much I love the book and I am now very lucky to have him as my mentor. He is not afraid to ask me difficult questions and he pushes me outside of my comfort zone which is what you need from a mentor.
What advice would you give to people thinking about a career in the sector?
I would advise anyone to think about what really motivates and drives them. If they want to work for a business that has real purpose then the health cash plan or mutual sector is a great place to be.
There is nothing wrong with making money or profit – but what we do with that profit is what matters.
What has been your biggest setback and how did you overcome it?
I think not coming from the classic university educated background and not following the traditional route to CEO has led to imposter syndrome at points in my career. However, I am getting more comfortable with it.
I am overcoming this by recognising that people are often ‘differently clever’ and I think I bring different skills to the business.
Laugh or cry – what did your most memorable client or case make you want to do and why?
The most memorable would be in a previous role when we set up crisis houses to support people who were at risk of suicide.
Every person that left the home in a better place inspired me and sparked an ambition to ensure people never had to get to that point.
Hence being so proud of the mental health support we provide at BHSF that aims to prevent the need for crisis houses in the future by providing in the moment support and counselling before things escalate.
What’s your ultimate goal for your career?
I don’t have a goal for my career as such, but I have big goals and ambitions for BHSF. I am driven by our mission and purpose and if I can leave the business having had a greater impact on those accessing health and wellbeing support then I would see that as a success.
How would your boss describe you?
Resilient I think, as I can overcome setbacks and keep going. I have a good ability to get up the next day and go again.
What is your biggest talent away from work?
I love anything creative – from pottery to making clothes and learning a new creative skill. I am rubbish at baking but love cake decorating – anything that requires focus is a great way to switch off. I am also a pretty good roller-skater.
What mantra do you live by?
Deal with the knowns and don’t catastrophise what could happen. This really helps me stay calm and grounded when I face challenges and stops problems escalating in my head.
What song would you regard as your theme tune?
I love music so it’s really hard to pick just one but my go-to on a difficult day is always Pink – I am Here.