Sam White is the founder and CEO of Stella Insurance, a female-centric motor insurance business that’s unapologetically led by women and designed for women.
To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?
I am a serial entrepreneur with a passion for building the right kind of businesses that have the power to change the world for the better. Currently, I am the founder and CEO of Stella Insurance and the founder and Chair of Freedom Services Group.
My first job out of university was in the insurance sector which gave me a taste of what it was like as a woman in a male-dominated industry. I realised pretty quickly that I wanted to do things differently and carve out a path for myself.
In the late 90’s, at the age of 24, I took the risk to set up my first business in the UK which was a claims management business called Action 356. Back then, as a young woman with no tangible business experience, getting financial help was almost impossible.
In fact, I couldn’t get a bank overdraft approved to expand without my father pretending to be involved in the business – incredibly frustrating when the business was already profitable, and I had solid plans for development! Because of those early experiences, I adopted self-reliance and bootstrapped the growth of my business every step of the way.
Twenty years on, I have diversified and set up several insurance businesses under the umbrella of Freedom Services and eventually led me to launch Stella Insurance in Australia – a women-led brand dedicated to developing insurance products that are designed with women in mind.
What does a day in your life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
To be fair, my day to day looks a bit different every day. It also differs if I’m in a different city or country! I think the most important step to my day is starting it in a great way, a ‘feel good’ way. This helps set me up with a positive mindset ready for anything that gets thrown at me for the rest of the day!
For example, I’ve just travelled to Australia and one of the main reasons I flew over this time is to give the keynote at InsurtechLive 23, a major event for those of us in the industry. So, on this particular day, I was up at 4am, went straight for a gym session to help me get over my jetlag and to make sure I was physically and mentally prepared to stand up on stage and deliver my speech to a global audience.
The Stella team, wanting to make the most of my time here, had lined up a full day of shooting video content and then it was off to the main event. People may think that public speaking should be a breeze for a CEO but let me tell you, it is still a daunting task and one that I’ve challenged myself to get better at.
While I know one of my strengths is the ability to speak of the cuff, delivering a prepared speech is an entirely different skills and nothing works better than rehearse, rehearse, rehearse – and that is exactly what I did, probably to the detriment of everyone around me who I made listen to my speech over and over again!
Thankfully, I couldn’t have asked for a warmer, more receptive audience. In the end, I thoroughly enjoyed myself and was reminded again that sometimes you just have to lean into experiences that make you uncomfortable.
What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?
Work-life balance to me doesn’t mean a hard divide between work and life. In fact, it means continuously striving to complete my goals and aspirations for my businesses but doing it with passion. If I’m not passionate about what I do, then what’s the point?
It also means building a strong team around me so that I am able to trust my team at the end of the day knowing we’re on track to meet our goals. This in turn, allows me to relax and enjoy my time at home with my wife and kids.
In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?
In October 2022, I made the decision to eliminate alcohol from my life forever. Since making the choice to be sober, I feel great mentally and physically. I know that each decision made in business and in life is made with clarity of mind.
Increasingly I’ve come across other CEOs and peers around me choosing to cut down. For me, at 47 years old, there are so many positives after quitting alcohol. My sleep and mental clarity are much better. In the past, even if I was just drinking on the weekend, I wouldn’t get full charge back until midweek, which is not ideal when I need to be on my best form at all times when leading several businesses.
Alcohol still plays a huge part in work socialising for many industries, I definitely struggled a little at first to adjust from being expected to be the most ‘fun’ in the room to being comfortable saying no and showing my peers I can enjoy my time without alcohol. If anything, I come away with better conversations and can build stronger relationships as a result.
The health implications of alcohol are even greater if there’s a high pressure work environment where people are leaning on alcohol to relieve stress. I believe working cultures should become more human where, as business leaders, we are facilitating emotionally safe and open environments for our employees. We don’t need alcohol to do this, you just need the right kind of environment of curiosity and non-judgement.
Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?
There are two books that I would highly recommend! Brene Brown and her series Atlas of the Heart really shows how we use language to denote emotions, and how that impacts on our interpersonal relationships.
The second book would be Alain de Botton’s The Course of Love which really had a profound impact on my perception of interpersonal relationships, and how we can tell ourselves stories about how we’re engaging with people, and whether that is a true story or not.
These books advised me on how to reflect upon my work and life relationships. It allowed me to ask internal questions about myself and how better to engage with others.
If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?
Mo Gawdat. I wouldn’t like to read his interview, I’d rather conduct the interview myself on my Human Business podcast. Mo is the former Chief Business Officer at Google, and the creator of ‘One Billion Happy’.
I admire Mo for his resilience to overcome the hardest battle anyone could go through, the loss of a child. Mo lost his son due to a surgical complication, after this he turned his entire life around.
He made it his life’s mission to honour Ali and share everything his son had taught him while on this Earth. Mo did this by creating ‘One Billion Happy’ which will hopefully help others learn how to be happy in their own way and share this knowledge on and on.
As a former Google employee, Mo has spoken a lot about having a work-life balance now more than ever and I’d love the opportunity to pick his brain.
Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
I’d love to give anyone reading a little advice: don’t be afraid to pursue your goals. Nobody’s watching so don’t assume that other people care about what you are doing! Confidence will take you a long way and learning how to be comfortable with publicly speaking will allow you to build your community of like minded people. Having the confidence to put yourself out there is no easy hurdle so yes, take my advice above! But, nonetheless remember to take time out of your day to reflect upon your path and find inner balance.
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