exCEO Insight: Nick Mew of Auto & General, Dial Direct & Budget Insurance

From an Articles Clerk in Southampton (UK) in the early 70s to a Senior Auditor in Burmuda during the late 70s; and then finally becoming CEO of Telesure Investment Holdings here in sunny South Africa – Nick Mew’s rise to glory as one of SA’s foremost business figureheads spanned a good few decades. Tirelessly and tenaciously he worked his way through the ranks to become the head of arguably one of the most successful short term insurance companies South Africa has ever seen. Telesure Investment Holdings stables many of SA’s most iconic short term insurance brands such as: Auto & General Insurance,  Dial Direct Insurance, Budget Insurance, First for Women, 1 Life Insurance, The group has also diversified into property and hospitality in recent years, and has added The Saxon Hotel, Shambala Private Game Reserve and Steyn City to it’s already impressive lineup.

The Telesure group is responsible for some South African firsts in the short-term insurance industry, most notably these are:

  • A truly customisable vehicle insurance solution which puts consumers in control of their vehicle cover.
  • An innovative Service Charter for customers and brokers with self-imposed penalty payments.
  • Paperless and telephonic insurance.
  • Scientific risk rating and electronic underwriting.
  • Business Insurance for SMEs that can be arranged and underwritten telephonically.
  • On-line quotes and claims, 24 hours a day, with claim tracking capability.
  • A cash-back bonus, enabling clients to get their first year’s premium back after four uninterrupted years of claims-free cover, or 25 percent of their premiums paid over the four years, whichever is the lesser
  • Direct short-term insurance.
  • Direct long-term insurance (1Life).
  • Voice logging to keep records of contracts.
  • “Cover with care” for the female market (1st for Women Insurance).
  • Plain Business Writing in all policy books.
  • Online aggregator site – Hippo.
  • An insurance product for South Africa’s Afrikaans speaking community – Virseker.

The Telesure group and its UK subsidiaries were founded, and are headed up by billionaire tycoon, Douw Steyn. As of December 2014, Douw breezed into the 170th spoth of the UK’s rich list with a £600-million fortune he’s amassed to date. Douw is in good company with a few other well known South Africans featuring on the list, namely: Nicky Oppenheimer, Mark Shuttleworth and Donald Gordon. This makes Douw richer than the Queen of England who’s pegged at 285 on the list. Douw’s flamboyant character has landed him in a bit of hot water over the years; most notably with a string of ex-wives and lovers.

Currently, Nick is a non-executive director and 2015 marks 3 decades of being at the helm of the Telesure group. Nick Mew joined the group in 1985 as Financial Director, then becoming CEO in 1998. An impressive career spanning many, many years.

Here’s the interview with Nick;

What were 2 of the biggest challenges you faced as CEO and how did you overcome them?

Managing people is one of the most important tasks but I’d say dealing with bureaucracy and excessive legislation is particularly difficult these days and a huge drain on energy and creativity. I dealt with that by delegating the task to experts on the subject. That made it expensive but at least it freed me up to concentrate on more constructive matters !

What does it take to be better than the next guy doing the same job, ie what is your personal recipe to better than the other guy?

Better than the next guy:  The simple answer is probably just work harder, but I’ve always found that if you’re more focused you find smarter, better ways of working which will give you an edge. So don’t try and do too many things at once.

What are some productivity tips you can give for turbocharging one’s day and getting things done?

Productivity tips:   This follows on  from the last point in that you need to try to delegate tasks which you’re no good at so that you can spend more time doing what you enjoy and are good at. Anything that cuts down wasted time is advantageous. Sometimes if I had a meeting with particularly chatty people I’d schedule it at a very precise time such as from. 10:08 to 10:41. This makes those attending acutely aware that time is critical and so there was a good chance of getting rid of them on time.

It’s a common perception that to get ahead in business you need to be ruthless. Do you believe this to be true?

There will be situations where you have to take a tough line and in fact to be successful you must always do what’s best for the business but you should always remember to be considerate and have regard for those who are likely to suffer as a result. (Unless it’s a competitor in which case the harsher the blow the better)

Looking back, can you give any advice on how to better deal with work stress?

A certain amount of stress is necessary in business and can be a great motivator but if it becomes overwhelming and seems never ending then it’ll just wear you down. The best thing is to identify those issues causing most stress and make a concerted effort to resolve or at least mitigate them. If you’re just a born worrier then you should find a way to take your mind off the problems for a while. A good hobby that requires concentration should do the trick. Golf is quite a good one.

How did you balance work and family life and can you give any tips?

Balancing work and family. I don’t think I got it right really. I lived in a state of severe stress until I reached 50 years of age then more or less retired to a non-executive position. I’d say it’s better to have a more even balance throughout than going from one extreme to the other. As the saying goes ” Life’s a journey, enjoy the ride!”

If you could have dinner with anyone throughout history, dead or alive, who would that be and why?

I think Winston Churchill would be as good as any. Apart from being very witty, he led an absolutely fascinating life and I expect he’d make sure we went to a pretty decent restaurant!

What was the most profound thing you learnt or bit advice you received during your years as CEO?

Back the Good News Guys who make a habit of success and avoid the bad news guys who always give a dozen reasons why things went wrong!

Christopher Mills, CEO at iMod Digital
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Mr Mantality

Mr Mantality

Lover of gadgets, men's culture, cool stuff, Earl Grey tea and all things manly. An optimist in his prime. When he's not keeping the wheels turning at Mantality HQ you'll find him trawling the web, and visiting trade shows to find the newest and coolest gadgets. During his down time he's usually with his 2 dogs, on the golf course, cycling or basking in the literary company of Oscar Wilde, Bret Easton Ellis or Martin Amis whilst drinking espresso strong enough to strip paint.

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