When professional guidance seems hard to come by, wisdom is sometime working just around the corner.

Christina Neylon had just entered a new phase of her insurance career when the NIBA mentoring program paired her with Queenscorp Director Russell Neville, who has seen more than his share of transition within the decades he has spent in the industry. The NIBA mentoring program brought the two Toowoomba locals together.

Christina Neylon

“I first heard about the NIBA mentoring program through the NIBA website. I thought it would be a really good way to meet other people in the industry. Being in Toowoomba, I don’t really get the chance to mingle with others in my profession that much, as most of the big events are held in Brisbane. I thought it would be a great opportunity to connect.

I have never been involved in mentoring before. Russell and I decided to run it fairly casually. Luckily his office, here in Toowoomba, was only a walk away from where I was at the time. Once a week, we would work out a time in Russ’s schedule, as his is usually fuller than mine. I’d walk over and we’d have a coffee, usually for about an hour and a half. We’d have a chat and see where that led us. There’d be times in between meetings when I’d think of question or something that I wanted to know a bit more about, and I’d just make a mental note of it and bring it up during our next chat.

A lot of the things I wanted to talk about were a little bit different to other mentees in the program who were new to the industry. For myself, it was actually more of a personal and professional
development exercise. I had found myself in a bit of a professional rut and I wanted to ignite the passion again. Sitting down with Russ and really nutting out what I wanted to do, and where I wanted to go – I got a lot out of it. I had knowledge of the industry ahead  of the program; it was more about myself and what the industry could do for me going forward.

I learnt so much from Russ; he is an encyclopaedia of knowledge. He’s phenomenal. We’ve got a continuing relationship now, which is fantastic.

I learnt how to approach the industry and how to sit within the industry as a professional. I learnt how to conduct myself, how to operate within the particular dynamics of a business, how to get what I want out of the business and how to move in the direction that I want to go.

Russell didn’t mollycoddle me. He wasn’t there to hold my hand. He wasn’t there to preach to me or to baby me. He treated me like a professional colleague. There was never a moment where I felt I was inadequate or that I didn’t know what I was talking about. Russ treated me as an esteemed colleague, someone that he was also asking questions of in return. I think that’s how it needs to be
approached. If you’ve got a mentor that just sits you down and preaches, I don’t think you’ll get the full benefit.

One of the biggest things, and I said it in my finishing speech, was that he taught me that it’s okay not to know everything. I think he said that in the first five minutes of us meeting one another. He said, ‘it’s okay that you don’t know everything. You will never know everything about the industry. As long as you know were to go to get the information, you’re set.’ That was a big thing that stuck with me.

The program has definitely changed the way I think about and approach things, personally and professionally. I’ve just started in a new position. I am now the Branch Manager of Ausure Coast &
Country. It came out of the blue. The opportunity came up and I could see where it was going to take me, I could see that it was what I wanted to do. Instead of just sitting there, umming and ahhing and thinking about it 20 million times without actually doing it, I stepped up and said to myself, ‘I can do this. This is where I want to go.’ I just put my hand out and grabbed the position.

The program is definitely worthwhile.  I’ve recommended it to a few other people in the industry. You don’t know who you are going to be paired up with but no doubt it is going to be someone that’s been in the industry a long time that knows what they’re doing. And, even if you only learn a handful of things out of it, it’s a handful of things you didn’t know before. You are never going to be worse off by doing a program like this. That person who is sitting there going, ‘I want more out of this, I want more knowledge, more opportunities,’ this is definitely for them.

Russell Neville“I had read about the program and thought it was an excellent idea. I was then persuaded to do it by my daughter. She’s keen on developing the Young Professionals, and I guess recognising the many years experience I’ve got in insurance broking, she thought that I should pass that on.

Basically, Christina and I discussed her career aspirations, her family life and how that might evolve with her career, what changes she might have to make if she were to achieve what she wanted to achieve. Where she might want to refocus in a different area, or to move onto different objectives.

I would throw questions at her, and she would come back and say, ‘you know, I’ve been thinking about that.’ Having gone through what I have been through, I think it’s far better to ask questions. You ask people questions and once they respond, you don’t say ‘well you can’t do that.’ My approach is to say, ‘that’s great. How are you going to achieve that if you have this, this and this to deal with too?’ It gets them to think through obstacles and consequences. The point with Christina was, if you really want to get to the top of the profession, are you willing to sacrifice where you live, and appreciate that, at times, you are going to be spending a bit of time away from your family? Because that’s what some big aspirations entail.

What stood out about Christina was her vitality and her keenness to progress, and also to complete her diploma, which she has since done. That was one little focus that we agreed on, that she would get the final assignments for her diploma done, and finish as quickly as possible. Christina did that and achieved great results. She not only finished it, but she did very well.

That was one of the first priorities – let’s get that qualification out of the way. That was the first focus, then she could move forward to start working on her other goals. It was about establishing a list of priorities for her.

I found the program a very enjoyable experience. It is great to see the keenness and ambition of young people coming through, and Christina is a stand out. I guess she stands out as having the drive and ambition that some young people lack.

To a certain extent, I think what I have realised out of it is that in the insurance profession we need higher and more professional qualifications. If we want to be regarded as a leading profession, we must have a proper qualification. A bachelor’s degree, that stands up along side law and finance.

For me, it was a very rewarding experience. It emphasised how the industry has changed due to technology, and how young brokers are being taught processes differently now.  They may not get the solid grounding in the way I did, where, you know, you started at the bottom as an office junior and then move through different departments, learning from the ground up. You learnt how to draft endorsements and how to draft policies, that sort of thing, which doesn’t occur these days to the same extent. Brokers got more grounding in the technical aspects than what I am seeing today. This is why I think that higher levels of education are required.

I would strongly recommend the mentor program. I think this type of thing isn’t just for insurance, every industry needs mentors. You are not going to force people to do one thing or another, but you can pass on your experience and your guidance.”