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Personal trainers for FDs

Chris Stooke joined the Catlin Group, a FTSE-350 insurance and reinsurance
business, four-and-a-half years ago. Since then Catlin’s headcount has doubled
and its premium income trebled. The company has completed an IPO and a major

In recognition of this rapidly changing environment, the executive team and
some other senior staff members have participated in an executive coaching

Stooke is coached by Ian Angell of Praesta Partners, whom he meets once a
month for a couple of hours. “I have found the programme very helpful,” says
Stooke. “It allows time to reflect on what’s going on, the things that have gone
well and not so well, analysing why that is and what one might do differently.”

Many topics are discussed. “We have talked about the building up of my team,
relationships with the CEO and other members of the management team, dealing
with challenges such as a big systems project,” Stooke explains. “Usually, I go
away with one thing that I will definitely do.” In Stooke’s case, considerable
attention is given to behavioural issues. As an audit partner he worked with a
relatively homogenous group of people with a similar training background who
used an accepted methodology. It’s different in a commercial business. “The
people you deal with have more varied backgrounds, different perspectives and
responsibilities,” says Stooke.

“You have to be careful of defaulting to things that you are used to,” he
adds. For example, when he joined Catlin, Stokes initially “defaulted to
accounting standards” because they were familiar. He has since learnt to focus
on broader business issues.

How does Angell describe the role of the coach? “We try to help FDs think of
solutions and test out ideas in the security and confidentiality of the coaching
environment,” he says.

Feedback from CEOs highlights the potential performance improvements that FDs
can gain through coaching. For example, relationships with other board and
management group members and with non-execs often improve. “It’s about
developing confidence and being prepared to step out of the comfort zone in the
board and comment on things other than just finance,” says Angell. “Competence
is never really an issue. If anything, FDs are so good at what they do that they
find it difficult to lift their eyes to the other things they could do.”

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