Louise Soulsby is the UK External Communications Director at Aviva
Louise Soulsby “kind of fell into the job” she now has, as one of the most senior Comms people at Aviva. It’s one of the UK’s largest insurance companies with 33 million customers and an operating profit of over £3billion.
As one of the most senior people in the industry, she has come a long way from where it all started. “I can remember writing up my CV, sending it out to everybody, printing it all, walking around, delivering it by hand.” It was both a brave and unusual thing to do – to knock on doors and look for work, but Louise says: “I guess I've not really thought about it because it was such a long time ago, but I was so desperate just to find a job at that time and earn money and pay off my debts, that I just, I just did it.”
For all the increasing use of technology and paperwork surrounding a modern Comms role, it is still basically about relationships and the ability to build bridges and communicate. While Louise plays down the significance of her early determination to get work, it seems to me to be significant. It showed an early confidence with building face-to-face relationships and an understanding of the importance of personal connections. Nevertheless, she says: “I think I'm actually an introvert, if I'm honest. But I really enjoy being around people. But I think sometimes is quite hard going into a new situation where you need to try and build a relationship.”
Her dad was a Londoner and her mum was from Yorkshire. They met in Newquay and moved to Zambia where her dad worked in a mine. “I've got three framed pictures of my dad setting up some explosives with his hard hat on. And you can actually see on one of the pictures where he pressed the detonator and the explosion behind him.”
Her main memories of Africa were “Blue skies, sunshine, starting school really early in the morning so it could start and finish before it got too hot. It got so hot that I remember being driven back from school with my brother and our clothes would be sticking to our bodies from the heat. As my mom pulled down the drive we would already be changing in the car and we would run and jump into the swimming pool.”
The family returned to the UK and she remembers sitting in the back of a car in a much colder, greyer England, being driven round looking at boarding schools “being absolutely petrified.” But in the end she stayed with her parents who settled in York, where they ended up running a small post office.
Her first job was temping as a typist at Railtrack. She moved into her first proper job being an assistant to an account director role. From there she moved to the very different experience of a Comms role.
The new job was important in building her crisis management skills, as she had to deal with the repercussions of some terrible railway accidents. One in particular sticks in her mind. There was an awful accident in which a man, who had been up all night, fell asleep at the wheel of his vehicle and ended up driving onto the East Coast main line. A freight train came along and derailed and shortly after was hit by a passenger train. It was a devastating incident in which people were killed. It was a terrible experience and a tragic event.
Amongst other things Louise says: “I think that sort of experience gives you a great deal of perspective about the other things you have to deal with. It also teaches you to try and keep very calm during a crisis and to think things through in a logical and rational way.”
Her current job may be very different from her time at Railtrack, but there is still a sense of a mission to help people at times of crisis. “I think about the role that we in the insurance industry play in people's lives. It's being there when it really matters, when customers have been flooded or they've had a house fire. It’s about support during a time of critical illness. It’s about being there and supporting customers at sometimes devastating moments in people's lives, and knowing that at those times our industry and our colleagues can actually make such a huge difference.”
“I never planned on being in this industry but it’s wonderful to work with such incredible people, who want to do their very best every day to help people when they need it most and that's great. So amazing.”
Louise Soulsby is on Twitter @louise_soulsby
See more profiles of industry leaders here