Shirine’s career has been a transition from finance to consulting, and then to operations. She started in the US public sector before moving on to telecommunications, consumer products, retail and then insurance. She has led global teams delivering large scale technology and business change in FTSE 100 and Fortune 500 organisations, including several mergers and acquisitions. She has worked in the US, UK, across Europe and in Asia Pacific. She spent her childhood travelling around the world due to her father’s job and had lived on every continent except for Antarctica before the age of 12.
Early Life & Education
Shirine Khoury-Haq spent her early life moving around the globe for her father’s work in the oil business. She says: “Basically, we just travelled wherever the oil was and then, sometimes they just decided to move to another country as well. So, what that meant for me, and then my sister who was born seven and a half years later, was that we went to lots of different school systems, often in the middle of the year.” The travelling gave Shirine experience of different cultures, the skills of assimilating into different school systems and exposure to different languages; alongside her native Turkish, she learned English, French, Portuguese and Spanish.
Shirine finished high school in Australia, then went to the Australian National University, where she gained a degree in accounting and economics. With a move to the US, Shirine then took a qualification that allowed her to be a certified public accountant in the US. She went on to gain an MBA at Ohio State University and in the UK was sponsored by IBM to take part in a leadership programme at Bristol Business School, the University of West of England.
Shirine started working at the age of fourteen with a waitressing job in Pizza Hut, she continued to work through high school and university taking the opportunity to build up experience as well as fund her education and her start in life.
When Shirine first moved to the US, and while her Australian qualifications were being evaluated for the US equivalent, she took a job selling Kirby vacuum cleaners door-to-door to pay the rent.
In 1996, having worked for the McDonald’s Corporation whilst at high school, Shirine returned to take up a dual role as Finance and Operations Manager doing both the accounting and financial management for McDonald’s-owned restaurants, and an operational role, to help those restaurants operate better. She was also studying for her MBA at the same time. She says of the experience: “I loved my time at McDonald’s because I was promoted a couple of times, and by the time I left I was responsible for 160 restaurants. I had a lot of leverage, so I could do what I needed to do.” During that time Shirine says that she learned the “methodology of how a McDonald’s is most efficiently run”, and was able to use it as a basis to build tools around to help her quickly ingest the operational data of the restaurants she worked with and understand their issues, helping managers to fix the issues and improve sales and profitability.
In 1998, having spent two years at McDonald’s and gained her MBA, Shirine found she most enjoyed the consulting part of her role, so took the decision to focus on that with a move to IBM as an Associate Manager. She explains: “I looked at a number of different consultancies. This was in 1998, so, it was on the cusp of the dotcom boom and everything was around the internet and technology, and IBM seemed to be on the real leading edge of that. I also liked, and I really work best this way, their approach to just giving me professional space. …. They wanted me for my experience, and they were very interested in what I could bring to them, and they were willing to give me space to do that.”
Shirine spent three years with IBM in the US before transferring to the UK when she met her UK based husband.
In 2007, after six years with IBM in the UK, Shirine was appointed Group Head of Operations and UK Chief Operating Officer at Catlin, the biggest syndicate and managing agent within Lloyd’s at that time.
Lloyd's of London
A move to Lloyd’s of London followed in 2014 to take up the position of Chief Operating Officer. She says: “One of my remits was to modernise the way that we work within Lloyd’s. However, this is a market, there are so many big risks where Lloyd’s has a slice, but our competitors have slices of the same risk. So really, within the London insurance market, if we’re going to modernise, we need to modernise the way everybody does business. There was a high-level vision that I and some others who were brave enough to come in in early, developed. We took that to the wider market, and I was asked to lead the modernisation by the market at the time.”
There had been previous modernisation attempts which had failed so Shirine found herself spending her first two years at Lloyd’s Shirine building the modernisation programme and holding more than 100 meetings with executive teams and boards across the market to try to convince them of the vision and to fund it. She explains: “I was told, I think I was the thirteenth person to come in to Lloyd’s to try to do this. However, I thought, I’m going to do it, because I could see a way to doing it. I could see that it was different from the ways that had been tried before.”
Working evenings and weekends Shirine was determined to get the modernisation programme underway. She says: “I worked to set that thing up, to get the very best people on board, to get the money, to get the vision, to get the programme set up, to get the leadership in place, so that afterwards my job became just making sure that the very talented people that were on the programme just had the space. If there was an obstacle, I would come in and try to remove that. If they needed something, I’d come in and try to give it to them.” This eventually allowed Shirine, after two years of “ignoring her Lloyd’s job”, to spend less time on the modernisation and start to look inwards at Lloyd’s.
Technology has been rising in importance in the insurance market as changes to the economy have forced changes to the way the market operates, Shirine explains: “The economics have really changed a lot in our markets, there are low interest rates, there’s a lot more money available, in terms of capital to be coming through the market, and we’re not seeing price fluctuations, they’re just low now, which has forced this market to start to look at things beyond just the underwriting profit. They’ve had to look at their expenses, how they work, and how efficient they are. So, technology has been rising in importance. Our clients (the biggest Names in the world) are investing heavily in technology and in data, and they are becoming much more savvy in terms of how they buy insurance, what they do and whether they self-insure or not. So, we need to make sure that we match up to that. We can’t have that discrepancy between how modern our clients are and how modern we’re not.”
In addition, Shirine goes on to says that technology itself is business for Lloyd’s, citing the example that Lloyd’s is the leader in cyber insurance.
To help ensure that the modernisation programme would work, Shirine introduced the best people she could find; not all of them came from the insurance industry, she says: “That was one obstacle to overcome, because people assume that if you didn’t know insurance, you couldn’t do the job. We have a lot of people in this market that know insurance, if you can marry them up with people who know about IT, data, and change management, and successful programme delivery, you can make some real magic happen.”
The programme used existing off the shelf solutions and partnered with technology firms where appropriate, at the same time as ensuring that they built an architecture and a set of tools that were modular to allow for adaptation further down the line, this together with a stream of work focused on innovation and new technologies allowed the team to try to “disrupt themselves along the way”.
Shirine says she learned quickly that communication was a very important element of the programme. After finding that their approach of updating one person per team to create a cascade of information through the company did not work effectively, the team took to “speaking to everybody, all the time, on every platform possible”.
Reflecting on the project, it’s progress, impact and what’s left to do, Shirine says: “To be able to digitise what we do in this market is tremendous. If I was going to start all over again, and if I had the faith of the market from day one, I probably would have set it up differently, in that, we were asked to make sure that we concentrated on four things, no more, because there wasn’t really a trust that we could do any more than four, because of history. We were asked to ensure that the first phase delivered benefits on its own, and that each one of the solutions could cover itself in terms of benefits realisation. We delivered four things, and some other things around it. We were also able to take in things from future phases, and bring them in. We are under budget at the moment, we’re ahead of time on a lot of things.”
She continues: “But the thing that we would like to do next is tie them all together, so that you have a straight-through process where one digital process is able to use the data produced by the previous digital process, and that the data that is put in is either only touched by a human once, or never at all. If I had had the faith of the market to begin with, we might have started the straight-through processing piece a bit earlier and invested in it, but when you were trying to convince people of the value of data, at the basic level, trying to explain to them, it was just too much at the time.”
Shirine worked on many initiatives within Lloyd’s to support employees and drive inclusivity. As well as mentoring many women and apprentices, she is also the executive sponsor of the Cultural Awareness Network within Lloyd’s which works on ethnic minority issues, working across the market on the issue. She chairs the EMpower steering committee that looks at issues around ethnic minorities on a cross industry basis. Shirine also led Lloyd’s employee engagement group which drove flexible working across the organisation, something that she believes is a “big driver of retention”.
She says: “I’ve never said no to anything I’ve been asked to do on this. It’s so, so important that we provide a path for people to follow. … So, we can help people to find ways through their careers to balance work and life, and provide an environment where they feel included, like they have a voice, where they can be promoted, and treated the way that every person needs to be treated. I try to get involved in all of those things and help people along that way as well.”
In ensuring inclusivity of all types, Shirine says: “It’s not just women, it’s ethnic minorities, it’s LGBT, it’s all forms of diversity, that, anyone who’s in a leadership position, I feel has a duty to help others who come after them.”
To this end, Shirine has insisted on balanced shortlists when hiring for her teams, pushing back when she has been presented with lists that lack diversity, she explains: “There have been a couple of instances where I’ve received a shortlist that all looked the same, and I refused to interview until I had something that looked a bit better. I would have hired the best person, regardless of what they were. But I’ll tell you, when those shortlists came up with other alternatives, a number of times the people that would have never made the first shortlist were absolutely the best candidates. I think that people in leadership positions have to insist on that, and you have to stand strong to that.”
Strengths to deal with adversity
Asked how she deals with adversity, Shirine describes herself as a survivor having learned coping tools from an early age when confronted with difficult circumstances. She explains: “I guess I always try to look at the bigger picture. I always think, this is not the be all and end all. There’s a big world out there. I do that in my professional life as well. I just think what is the absolute worst that could happen here. …I am an optimist. I always, think that things are going to turn out for the best. So even if it’s horrible today, it’s probably for a good reason, because things will get better down the road. I do always think there is more out there than just this thing that I’m dealing with now.”
Shirine’s values drive her, she says she “brings respect for everybody, honesty and transparency in all of my business and personal dealings”. In terms of leadership, Shirine says: “It’s important to me that the people that I lead and that I work with understand where we’re going, why we’re going there, that they’re part of developing that, but also that they feel completely empowered to deliver on it as well. I don’t like someone breathing down my neck, so I try not to breathe down their necks.”
At the time of recording the interview Shirine had just announced that she was leaving Lloyd’s. She says: “On a personal level, my goals are to feed and house and educate my children and to be happy with my husband. On a professional level, I’m leaving it open. I’ve had so much geographical experience, experience in lots of different industries, experience beyond tech and operations, so I’m just waiting to see what might be out there, and then I’ll set a new set of goals after that.”