Workplace Leaders
Ardonagh Group
Group HR Director

Fiona Claybrook

In the rapidly changing landscape of modern business, crafting a robust equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) policy presents a formidable challenge for organisations. As companies expand their horizons and welcome diverse talent, they must navigate a complex journey toward fostering a more inclusive and equitable workplace. Few understand this better than Fiona Claybrook, Group HR Director of the Ardonagh Group, one of the world’s leading independent insurance distribution platforms.

Luke James, Co-host of The Interview, sat down with Fiona to discuss topics including her career trajectory, the importance of inclusive leadership, and the challenge of integrating different working cultures. 

Fiona's Journey

Luke: Let’s start with a brief introduction to yourself and your current organisation.

I’m the Group HR Director for the Ardonagh Group. I’ve been here for just under nine years, and I’ve spent the majority of my career working in HR roles in the insurance sector. I’ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity to work across many different roles in HR, starting off in employee relations before moving on to business partnering, global development, and organisational design. We’re a fairly young company, and we’ve grown rapidly in recent years: when I joined, we had 3,500 people in the UK, but now we have more than 10,000 across over 30 countries. We’re a people-focused business with a dynamic culture in one of the most competitive markets in the world. 

Luke: I’d like to hear more about your journey. How did you arrive in your current role?

I earned a Master’s Degree in Industrial Relations, and my first graduate job was doing employee relations with Co-operative Insurance. That provided a solid foundation for learning the fundamentals of HR, and I spent the next five years working my way up. From there, I decided to move into the tech sector, and I worked for Marconi for six years, which gave me the opportunity to work internationally in a number of HR roles. During the sale of Marconi to Ericcson, I worked out in Sweden for a while before I returned to the UK to take up a role with Aviva, where I set up an internal headhunting team. I  soon became the HR Director for the largest division in the company before I left to spend more time with my family. But soon after, as a favour to a friend, I took on a role with Towergate Insurance, helping to grow the company until it eventually became a founding business within The Ardonagh Group. 

Luke: What are the most important things to get right when embedding a culture of inclusion and belonging across a whole organisation? 

You need to have alignment between the leadership, the ambitions of the company, and the needs of employees. My job isn’t about sticking slogans on a poster: it’s really about engaging people in those difficult conversations and making sure our leadership teams understand their responsibilities. Businesses should reflect the communities that they work in, so as a global business, we need to put a strong emphasis on EDI.

Luke: It seems employees these days are busier than ever. How do you find the time to engage everyone on EDI issues?

People need to feel like they can contribute to the conversation and that their voices will be listened to. But they’re not just seeking common understanding — they want to seek action, too. So we have a few initiatives, including a radio station which celebrates events like  National Inclusion Week and Black History Month, to share experience, knowledge and learning that will help drive change. We also make sure to embed our ethos in things like our engagement surveys and leadership programs. 

Luke: Your company has made a number of mergers and acquisitions. What challenges does this pose when integrating different working cultures?

That’s a great question. We’ve certainly learned a lot through the process. Over the last three or four years, we’ve been bringing in 25-30 companies annually. As a large company, when you acquire a smaller business, the differences are less due to culture and more to the disparity in size between the organisations. Over time, we’ve refined our approach, and mergers and acquisitions have become a highly disciplined part of our HR framework. Part of our strategy has always been to acquire businesses that share our values, but you still need to prepare people for the culture they’ll be coming into and make sure they have a positive experience in the onboarding process. 

Luke: How are you fostering a culture of continuous learning and growth at Ardonagh?

We’re committed to providing high standard development opportunities for everyone: all our employees must do 15 hours of continuous professional development (CPD) every year, no matter what sector they are in. We support that through e-learning, our code of conduct, and our EDI policy. Our larger regions have dedicated L&D functions, and we also have our Ardonagh Academy, which operates across the Group, running everything from internships to mentoring programs. All of our senior leaders have gone through training to become mentors. Our organisation connects people from across the world and allows us to share knowledge and experiences. We have a philosophy of sustainable leadership, which means leaving things better than you found them, and our approach is built around that. 

Luke: What traits and habits are needed to succeed in people leadership?

We’ve gathered data from interviews with our leaders and employees to find out what good leadership means. From that, we identified five key attributes: collaboration, agility, ownership, respect, and empathy. It’s crucial that it’s not just corporate speak – our people have told us that these are the values which really matter to them. 

Luke: How do you articulate the link between culture and the higher-level commercial goals of your organisation?

It’s an ongoing challenge for all HR professionals. Over the last few years, the expectations of key shareholders have changed, and there’s been a greater emphasis on issues like diversity and inclusion. Shareholders now understand that diversity drives success, but you need to have the right culture and leadership in place to unleash that. Creating that alignment between culture, leadership, and business is a place where HR can make a real difference. 

Luke: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received in your career?

Step out of your comfort zone. You need to put yourself out there if you want to grow. That advice has encouraged me to try new things, learn new skills, and open my mind to new ideas. 

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