Kara McInnes is on a blazing pathway forward to success. McInnes, who is currently National Claims Service Manager at CHU Underwriting Agencies, spent her long weekend working on her MBA, which she sees as part of her game plan of becoming Chief Operating Officer in the business.
“I'm very, very passionate about growth and development, especially now over the last year,” she says. “I’m experiencing firsthand what can come from a targeted plan as well as having good people in your corner.”
Grateful for opportunities
Under the leadership of CEO Kimberley Jonsson and Head of Claims David Gow, McInnes has the sense that the business believes in her. She is grateful for the opportunities she’s been presented with.
McInnes says the process of doing her MBA has expanded her network and improved her profile in the industry she loves.
“Doing my MBA has opened a lot of doors for me,” she says. “I've met a lot of people in the last two years, plus I have learned a lot from the academic work that I've been able to apply in real life situations. It's helped me build my confidence."
McInnes has also invested in her own executive coach to develop her presentation skills and enjoys both official and unofficial mentorship from Gow and Jonsson respectively. Additionally, through her own network, McInnes also enlisted a mentor outside the insurance industry.
“It's really good to have a mentor that helps you debrief situations without the internal biases and knowledge you might have,” she says. “That kind of person can truly bring a fresh perspective.”
Having worked in the insurance industry for nearly 14 years, McInnes admits she can sometimes get a bit blinkered. Having worked in business and government, her external mentor has a lot of experience, especially when it comes to presenting to boards. “Because she’s a bit older than me she's provided a lot of insight and growth,” McInnes says.
She adds that each of her support people contribute to a different facet of her development. “It is my recommendation that when you're looking for a mentor, choose one that can be a guide to you, rather than giving you the answers. They're there to act as your sounding board and bring a fresh new perspective.
Strong work ethic
Born and raised in Brisbane, McInnes went straight into the workforce, after completing year 12. Like many, she didn’t enjoy school, so it was her mother, a truck driver, and father, also in the motor industry, who most influenced her strong work ethic and positive mindset.
Her start in insurance came in 2011 from a secondment as a leader to the Royal Automobile Club of Queensland (RACQ) from her then employer Queensland Motorways [now Linkt].
She joined CHU in 2017 as claims team manager but says her real journey began in 2020, when Insurance Business named her a “Young Gun”.
“This moment kick started my desire to do something with my career and the belief that I could achieve anything I put my mind to,” she says. “I realised I’m smarter than I was giving myself credit for, and decided it was time I actually applied myself.”
Thinking realistically and seriously about what she wanted landed her a promotion to National Claims Service Manager in 2021.
Giving it her all
McInnes describes the current role as both strategic and operational, a combination she absolutely loves. Her biggest personal challenge is to exceed all the expectations set for her.
“I'm successfully giving 110 per cent to my job, my study and my personal life but it’s at the risk of burning the candle at both ends,” she says. “I'm a big believer that you spend a lot of time at work, so I never want anyone in my team to hate their job.
“I try to come up with strategies that suit both the business and my people, and it's a very fine line to walk so being able to get that right always fills me with pride. I love meeting the requirements of the business and having a really good group of people that just love what they do and give their all every day.”
For McInnes, one of the most important qualities of a leader is the ability to see different perspectives. “There are multiple styles that you can take as a leader but I think the best haven't pigeonholed themselves,” she says. They can apply what’s most needed for any individual.
“Of course, you also need to know what's going on, to know the numbers, your supply chain and how to manage it appropriately. But in order to get good outcomes, you also need to have a genuine level of care.
“My goal as a leader is to take a fluid approach, to unlock my people’s full potential. And I always want them to far exceed myself. You need to be selfless because without people you are nothing.”
Being of service
McInnes, who is a member of the ANZIIF Generation i Council, which works to attract young people to the insurance industry, also serves on the Rising Stars in Insurance Seminar committee.
One of the reasons this work is important to her is the regret that she didn't do more academic study earlier.
“I could have applied myself back in my younger days and achieved all of my goals by now had I understood or appreciated the benefits of academic learning,” she says.
“Prior to my MBA, I was doing on the job learning and what I call aimless development. I've wasted 15 years doing short courses for no specific reason. It’s only been over the last two years that I've been able to really stop and think about what it is I want to do and where I want to go.”
Not surprisingly, McInnes’s goal is to reach an executive level. Specifically, the COO role, due to her love of operations.
“Now that I know what I want to do, I can target my development, which is great and there's an end goal in sight which motivates me more to reach it.”
The importance of lifelong learning
She hopes a message from the upcoming Rising Stars in Insurance Seminars in Sydney, Melbourne and Auckland will impart the importance of academic learning and stepping outside your comfort zone.
“Nothing good is achieved in your comfort zone,” she says. “Don't be afraid to step out of it because that will be when you achieve the most. I can't thank Kimberly Jonsson and David Gow enough for the opportunities that they've provided me.”
Rather than just “developing for the sake of developing”, she also suggests being intentional and targeting your learning towards a specific goal.
“Value your growth and development and that will see you progress within your role and career," she says.
“I would also say I spent years being afraid of academic learning because I was fearful of failure. There was a lot of self-doubt because I don't like to let myself and others down. I always like to go above and beyond.
“That’s why it’s so important to have a mentor. It was my mentors who gave me the confidence to go for the MBA. They told me, ‘you got this'."
What a mentor can bring
McInnes hopes participants at each of the Rising Stars in Insurance seminars will come away understanding what a mentor can bring to the table and with the confidence to approach someone to be their mentor.
“I want to be able to eradicate any myths that they've got plus be able to understand how to identify who's a good mentor for them and what the benefits of having that person will be.
“And there are many people on the panel who have achieved some amazing heights in their career partly because of their mentor and that will be truly inspirational.”