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Young CEO’s tips to scholarship recipients

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Pursuing careers: the recipients of the Abic 2019 scholarship awards (Photograph by Scott Neil)

He is possibly the youngest reinsurance CEO in the world, and Thomas Olunloyo was happy to share his three top career tips with 21 scholarship recipients.

His advice is to listen with the intent of understanding, to not be afraid of making mistakes, and to give your all to turn a conviction into action.

Mr Olunloyo leads Legal & General Reinsurance in Bermuda. He explained his tips during a speech at the Association of Bermuda International Companies’ 42nd Education Awards.

Abic members have supported the scholarship programme since 1977, which has provided scholarship support to more than 650 students pursuing higher education.

About two years ago, at the age of 33, Mr Olunloyo became CEO of Legal and General Reinsurance in Bermuda. He said: “I was told at the time that made me youngest CEO in the business in the world.”

He said that 20 years earlier he had been a homeless child in London.

“The first thing I want to say is that anything is possible. You can’t do things by yourself, you need a helping hand,” he said.

Explaining the first of his three tips to the scholarship recipients at a luncheon in the Harbourview Restaurant, he said: “Lesson one is to listen. Listening is the single most powerful thing that you can do.

“Listen to advice. Seeking advice is a sign of maturity and growth.”

He said that over the years he has not become smarter, but he has become more focused.

“And that is simply because of all the incredible men and women in my path [who] even today, advise me, guide me and help me become the best that I can be.”

He quoted the words of former US newspaper columnist Doug Larson, who wrote: “Wisdom is a reward you get for a lifetime of listening.”

Mr Olunloyo said: “Our natural inclination is always to speak first or to listen with the intent of replying rather than understanding. So you want to listen with the intent of understanding and not replying. That means sometimes not talking — just absorbing all the gifts that you receive.

“You benefit from the experience of those around you, who have come before you, who have laid the path for you, and who are willing to share their experience with you.”

He gave an example from earlier in his career when he worked for MetLife Assurance in London, and was doing a deal that had a 12 noon deadline. Half an hour before that deadline the seller called and asked to make a few last-minute changes to the deal.

“We needed to decide within 15 minutes. I went to the CEO and said they want to do a deal, can we change these things in the contract to get it done? And he said ‘no’. It was a flat no — no way.”

The reason was that the CEO had learnt that whenever you are backed into a corner business-wise and forced to make a snap decision without time to consider, the answer is always no.

“Those words have stayed with me in the ten years since, and have guided a lot of decisions I have made, and often led to the right outcome for me and the business.”

Mr Olunloyo said listening is wisdom and can be the difference between success and failure, and between making the right choice and the wrong choice.

He encouraged the scholarship awardees to find someone they can trust, such as their Abic programme mentor, and actively seek their advice.

His second lesson was to not be afraid to make mistakes.

“We live in a world that puts a premium on perfection. You go on Instagram and everybody looks good. But of course, nothing is perfect. Life is all about being imperfect, getting things wrong and learning from those mistakes,” he said.

“Richard Branson said, you don’t learn to walk by following the rules, you learn by doing and by falling over. Making mistakes means that you are learning faster. There will be circumstances where you fall short, but if you can learn, you can grow. And if you grow you succeed.”

Mr Olunloyo said he failed in his first job, but the lessons he learnt he took to his second job, at MetLife, and there he had ended up being the highest rated employee for the company in the UK, something that ultimately led to him becoming CEO at Legal and General Reinsurance.

He said: “At this stage in my career, I’m not afraid to make mistakes any more. I know that for every mistake I make I am going to learn, and learn faster than a lot of people around me. That is the foundation of my success.”

He termed the third lesson as a call to action, and said it was “beautifully captured in the Bible”.

Mr Olunloyo said: “There is a passage that says, whatever your hand finds to do, you do it with all your might.

“There is nothing that can move mountains in life more than conviction, and when that conviction turns to action. Don’t hold back, give it everything. Because that is what separates champions from everyone else on the field.”

Abic’s scholarship programme is one of the largest on the island and it is made possible by Bermuda’s international companies.

In addition to the scholarships, there were a number of special awards this year.

The Glen J. Miskiewicz Memorial Award was presented to Keneilla Morrison; the Michelle Outerbridge Memorial Award was presented to Asha Bicarie; the Shernelle Outerbridge Memorial Award was presented to Zahkari Minors; and the Stephen Edwards Memorial Award was presented to Jordan Smith.

The other Abic Education Awards 2019 recipients were Brady Cordeiro, Shani Darrell, Zariah Franklin-Grant, Zya Fraser, Nicholas Hassell, Marley Hines, Finn Maitland, Naomi Proctor, Aaron Ratteray, Daniel Ritchie, Faiz Shakir, Kiara Virgil-Wainwright, Jalen Wales, Jade Weaver, Sofia Welmer, Zantae Dill, and Nicole Walker who collected the Alumni Award.

This article has been amended to correct the spelling of Mr Olunloyo’s name.

Sharing advice: Thomas Olunloyo, CEO of Legal and General Re, who was the guest speaker at Abic’s 42nd Education Awards luncheon (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)