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‘Surround yourself with the right people’: How Louise O’Shea made Confused.com so successful
A recent interview with Louise O'Shea, CEO of Confused.com, as featured in The Independent
Louise O’Shea applied for the role of CEO at Confused.com in 2017 while heavily pregnant with her second child. “I was so massive my chair had to be pushed back for me to sit comfortably during the interview. I do remember thinking, I wish this opportunity had come up in six months, but I wasn’t going to let it pass me,” she tells The Independent.
Under her leadership, the firm’s operating profits jumped to £20.4m in 2019, from £10.1m in 2017. The company also achieved the milestone of £1bn revenue since its launch in 2002.
“I definitely believe that people who love what they do, do it better, which in turn brings in strong financial results. The results are just there to show you that you’re doing a good job,” she says.
Since she became chief executive, Confused.com also joined the Tech Talent Charter, a nationwide initiative set up to help organisations deliver greater gender equality in the tech sector.
“When I became finance director at the company, I was the only woman on the senior management team. Obviously, when I applied for the CEO job, I could see lots of opportunities for the business, there were many people I wanted to work with and things I wanted to change.
“I got the call about the job when I had already given birth, so I went into the office with an eight-week-old baby and just being able to do that felt quite significant. To be a CEO and have an eight-week-old baby and, at the time, a two-year-old as well – I still feel pretty proud of the fact that I managed to do that,” she says.
In fact, breaking out of her comfort zone is something Ms O’Shea has sought to do throughout her career.
After studying history at the University of Edinburgh, she trained and qualified to become a chartered accountant before joining PwC. “I’d done a lot of development work during university and I wanted to prove that doing the right thing was good for business.
“I knew that I wasn’t going to be taken seriously unless I learnt to speak the right language. As I hadn’t studied economics since my A-levels, learning accountancy and finance felt like the right route for me,” she says.
Looking for a new challenge she then started working for IT services firm Fujitsu as the technology sector felt like another area women usually “shy away from”.
But she candidly admits that it was “love” that eventually led her to work at Confused.com. “I met my husband through work and we decided to move to Cardiff, which coming from London, felt like the countryside. Once we got there, I looked at the list of best places to work within Wales and I found Confused.com.
“That was 10 years ago but now running a recognisable fintech business in Wales is one of the things I take pride in. When I was living in London, it felt like the world stopped outside the M25. When my husband and I left, it almost felt like a step back in our careers but it’s been the complete opposite.”
Confused.com, which is part of Wales’ only FTSE 100 company in Admiral, was the very first ever comparison business for insurance allowing consumers to find the best deals online. “It was amazing tech supported by a team that was focused on the quality of their product from day one.”
Today, the tech business has a workforce of 250 and growing in the centre of Cardiff. Ms O’Shea, worked at the firm for about 10 years before taking over from Martin Coriat as chief executive.
People might no longer be looking at travel insurance but many are sitting inside their homes thinking about how much energy they might be consuming
Since then, she has put a particular focus on strengthening the company’s culture and values – which makes it stand out among competitors today.
In addition to putting more women on the management team, Ms O’Shea also strived to put values like the recognition of employees and good communications to the forefront.
Coincidentally in March, Admiral, the car insurer and owner of Confused.com, also became the second FTSE 100 company with a female chief executive and a female chair.
“People tend to move around a lot in the tech sector, whereas we have really high retention, which is extremely valuable in terms of intellectual property. It also reflects the strength of our company’s culture as well as the core purpose of the business. We are still a small company but with a really strong call to action, and it gives us a good enough reason to get out of bed and work late, if necessary.
“I describe our mission as a David versus Goliath story. All our customers are David and the big institutions are Goliath and they need help to stand up. We combine all our knowledge and expertise together to resolve that,” she says.
While Admiral has halted plans to hand out a special dividend to shareholders due to the current coronavirus pandemic, none of the firm’s staff have been furloughed, with all being paid full salaries.
Ms O’Shea says she takes pride in the fact that all the employees at Confused.com have adapted quickly to working remotely and are fortunately “healthy and connected”.
If anything, the company is now busier than before as customers have become more anxious about their finances.
“We’ve seen a huge volume of customers come to us because they’re worried. Our aim is to relieve any stress that we possibly can and help them save money,” she says.
At the moment her biggest challenge is to adapt as quickly as possible to changing consumer needs and working with a team that needs an added level layer of support.
“There are loads of pain points that we can do something about for our customers. People might no longer be looking at travel insurance but many are sitting inside their homes thinking about how much energy they might be consuming. In a situation like this, it’s about identifying your customer needs and addressing them quickly.”
Ms O’Shea admits that professionally what she misses most during the pandemic is the inspiration and ideas she usually gets through small daily interactions or networking events. “I’m trying to find other creative outlets, like masterclasses, for example.
“As a chief executive, you can’t just work on your core business for 24 hours a day. Part of the job is to look beyond the immediate, so the challenge has been to find other ways to do that at the moment.”
The biggest lesson she has learnt from her career? “To surround yourself with the right people.
“When you have the right team around you, it makes a world of difference how much you enjoy your job and therefore how much you’re able to achieve. So if you need to make tough decisions about changes in your team, make them quickly, don’t wait,” she concludes.