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Inside View: Admiral Insurance

Hear from Executive Recruitment Manager Wendy Sleat on what MBAs can do to get hired at the leading UK-based insurance firm. And which business schools they like to pick from.

If there is one thing that attracts MBA students to Admiral Insurance – besides the opportunities for consultancy work and international exposure, it is the strong business school culture that built the very foundations of the company.

Admiral Group Plc was set-up by two INSEAD Business School alums, Henry Engelhardt and David Stevens, and the firm continues to pluck the very best from schools across Europe.

As well as working with INSEAD, their recruitment officers scour a raft of b-schools in Europe and just began offering internship opportunities for MBA students for the first time in the UK.

There are also opportunities for MBAs to work in France, Spain, Italy and the United States, and international experience and bilingual qualities will serve you well at interview.

Consulting experience, while desirable, is not essential – although MBAs can expect to work in business development and project management roles. It might impress if you’ve worked at top firms before, but Admiral looks at all candidates whom are skilled and prepared to get their hands dirty, and work their way up.

What’s more, promotion is something of a fast process and within two years MBAs are expected to have moved onto more senior roles.

International MBAs – from outside the EU – have reason to be confident, too. Admiral has adapted its hiring process for international candidates applying for roles in the UK. They have an A-rating as a Tier 4 Sponsor by UK Visa and Immigration (UKVI). Where other companies are put off because of the bureaucracy involved, Admiral sees it as a strength – and they scoop up the brightest graduates by helping to guide them through the process of securing work visas.

Wendy Sleat, Executive Recruitment Manager at the company, is responsible for hiring MBAs. And she knows a thing or two about climbing the corporate ladder; she worked her way up from the frontline back in 1996. An understanding of the customer-facing roles is essential at Admiral and MBAs usually learn from the bottom-up with an induction at the firms’ Cardiff HQ, Wendy says.

She speaks exclusively to BusinessBecause about what employment opportunities there are for MBAs at the leading insurance company and how you can get hired.

While the UK’s insurance industry has faced capital constraints and increased regulation, Admiral has continued to expand its hiring. For MBAs, it may be a safe bet – and the chance to work in some of the most popular functions.

Why do you see MBA students as great potential hires?

Historically our MBA hiring-focus comes from a very strong tradition; the company itself was set-up by two INSEAD MBA alums, our CEO Henry Engelhardt and COO David Stevens. Since then there has been a strong culture of hiring MBAs predominantly from INSEAD.

The attraction is that you get the crème of the crop. But also the people are already at the top of their game in employment terms, with five or seven years’ experience. Over the last few years we’ve broadened and have links with University of Bath - School of Management, Manchester Business School (MBS) and SDA Bocconi.

The net isn’t limited but we do look to the best of the best schools.

Is several years’ work experience necessary?

Even if they have less, but they’ve been high-flyers and achieved more in less time, then they are the kind of people we want to cherry-pick. Its excellence we look for. And in various backgrounds; we’d expect all the key skills to be identified, such as planning and communication.

Languages are also important. We’re an international company so we need people who can work overseas for us. We have operations in France, Spain, Italy and India. We normally say English is a given and another international language is required to be considered for international roles.

What are the other main qualities you look for in your potential MBA hires?

We do look for people from a variety of backgrounds. We’ve taken engineers for example. But if they can demonstrate they can learn from the ground-up and have a willingness to get their hands dirty then they will fit.

The first thing our MBAs do is go on an induction program that our frontline staff go on; so they see the nitty-gritty of the business and they take phone calls with customers. It’s important for them to have an understanding of what the issues are for customers, before taking on project work and business development.

What areas of the business can MBAs expect to be placed into?

There are two main streams we hire into, both of which are project-based. One of them is focused on the UK market and you will be working with our COO or other relevant manager. You work on current and upcoming projects for business development in the UK market.

We also hire into an international stream and that’s headed up by either our CEO or other relevant person.

The difference at Admiral is, if you went into a larger consultancy firm, it’s unlikely you would work with and report directly to the CEO. We have a very close working relationship here and excellent exposure to the senior management group.

Which countries can MBAs expect to work in?

We have operations in France Spain, Italy and also the U.S. It could be very wide-reaching so there’s some flexibility with that. It depends on whether they have a preference but ideally we like them to spend some time in Cardiff (HQ) to get a good grounding of the overall operations and to soak up the culture, and learn about the business from a grassroots level.

What can an MBA candidate expect after a year at Admiral Insurance?

Our promotion tends to happen quickly. We don’t follow a strict program as many of the other larger brands do. Everybody comes in and the expectation is that they do frontline learning, and then MBAs normally go into project work. So within 18 months to two years we expect them to have moved up.

The insurance industry has faced a lot of challenges, such as increased regulation and capital constraints - how has Admiral managed to stay competitive?

We have a very specific business plan and we have an excellent management team and pricing department that make sure we make best rates at the right times.

People have challenged us and that’s been well debated. But throughout the recession we continue to recruit and grow. We’ve also added to our product line, offering home insurance for the last year, so we are still growing.

Yes, things slow down, there are challenges that we’re all aware of, but we have an excellent team leading the business so I’m sure we will navigate through them.

Do you plan to adopt a different hiring process for MBA students in the future?

Not so much different. Our MBA hiring strategy has always been the best for internationals and I don’t think that will alter.

We're introducing internships, which is something new - previously we've had a project-based approach. We may also widen the portfolio of business schools that we visit for recruiting.

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