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Making global leaders at Markel

In a competitive global market, it’s essential to identify and develop leaders who are passionate about building, retaining, and leading high-performing teams.

How Markel’s leadership programs develop the next generation of leaders.

Since 1930, Markel has evolved from insuring jitney buses in Norfolk, Virginia, to becoming a Fortune 500 company with business operations around the world. Many have asked, “How has the company grown so consistently since the beginning?” Beyond products or expertise, the answer lies in the company’s culture—called the Markel Style—and the ability to create leaders who serve as guardians of that culture.

In a competitive global market, it’s essential to identify and develop leaders who are passionate about building, retaining, and leading high-performing teams. This requires establishing global leadership development programs that support a working environment where individual and team potential is maximized.

“As the global insurance industry continues to dynamically develop, it is essential that we build Markel’s leadership capabilities to handle the ever-changing business landscape,” said Sue Davies, Markel’s Chief Human Resources Officer.

Lara Nichols, Markel’s Managing Director, Strategic HR Business Partnerships, further explained: “As a company with offices in multiple countries, we’ve woven the global aspect into our programs to show participants that they can be a leader whether they are based in Singapore, Richmond, or San Francisco. We want to create global cohorts and empower them to contribute their expertise and ideas to run a global business that exceeds our customers’ expectations.”

Markel business leaders and human resource business partners identify eligible employees for enrollment in a leadership development program. Typical participants are identified as having high potential and demonstrate a record of strong performance. Talent Development ensures that representation in the leadership programs reflects the diversity of Markel and its many functional units. “We have a thorough, rigorous way of identifying participants for the leadership development programs which provides us with a base of diverse, high-performing employees to draw from,” Lara noted.

Markel’s leadership development programs

The Markel Style notes that as a company, Markel provides “an atmosphere in which people can reach their personal potential.” To help employees fulfill that goal, Markel has identified leadership behaviors that align with the Markel Style: own change, create purpose, make bold decisions, lead authentically, cultivate greatness, shape the future, and collaborate across boundaries. These behaviors are the foundation for three signature leadership development programs geared specifically to developing great leaders.

“These three programs help Markel employees develop leadership capabilities, equipping them to take on a broader role at Markel or get involved with bigger strategic projects across the company,” said Clare Williams, Global Head of Leadership Development, who helps manage the programs with Kelly Arnold, Talent Development Partner at Markel.

Executive Leadership Program

The Executive Leadership Program (ELP) reflects the highest level of leadership at Markel. ELP focuses on senior global leaders from Markel with over ten years of professional experience. Participants work on strengthening their executive leadership competencies, practicing effective global leadership skills, and developing the capabilities to lead corporate-level strategic projects which they work on during the program. Upon completing ELP, graduates are better prepared to advance to senior positions, according to Mia Finsness, an ELP graduate and Markel’s Managing Executive, Global Casualty Underwriting and Claims.

“ELP was an intense program, but the opportunity to meet and engage with a group of inspiring, emerging leaders from across Markel made it incredibly rewarding and worth the time and commitment required,” Mia recalled. “As someone who tends to suffer from imposter syndrome, I really benefited from the small group format and interacting with the participants and facilitators. The subsequent growth in my career and sphere of influence coming out of ELP can be attributed in large part to the lessons I learned—both in and out of the classroom.”

Accelerated Leadership Program

Markel also offers the Accelerated Leadership Program (ALP), a mid-level leadership program for employees with five to ten years of professional experience. ALP focuses on preparing leaders to take on broader leadership roles within Markel and prepares them to lead special cross-functional projects and drive innovative customer and product solutions. They graduate with a higher sense of self awareness for individual performance and team development.

“The Accelerated Leadership Program has given me the opportunity to better understand how Markel operates across its different business units,” said James Mackay, Head of Security. “Working with such a diverse mix of individuals allowed me to recognize that regardless of your location, business unit, or area of management expertise, we all have the same issues to deal with. This makes you feel like you’re not alone or the first person to attempt to deal with a specific issue.”

Leadership Foundations Program

Of the three programs, the Leadership Foundations Program (LFP), has the most participants—including both individual contributors and people managers. Designed for aspiring leaders, LFP introduces leadership essentials such as emotional intelligence, trust, and communication. In addition, people leaders in the program work on developing core leadership traits and management capabilities. LFP is fully virtual with participants located in multiple time zones—from London to Singapore.

“I have been on calls and in classes where I was the only person from Asia and everyone else was from the US,” said Markel International’s Wanshi Lin, a Senior Underwriter based in Singapore. “It is hard to build new relationships virtually, but I did grow closer to a fellow colleague in Dubai as we caught up to discuss our progress during the course and see how each other was doing.”

Becoming a global leader and building lasting connections

Regardless of their career outcomes, participants embrace the new bonds they form with colleagues in the leadership programs, creating new opportunities for global collaboration at Markel. “It’s exciting to see networks being created through the leadership programs especially when they are with people they might not have ordinarily crossed paths with,” said Clare.

Mia agreed, noting: “Taking the time to connect with the other participants and engage as much as possible is not only a good lesson for getting the most out of a leadership program but also beneficial for one’s career. The more you engage with others across divisions, the more you learn about the business, and the more opportunities you have to be involved in the company’s success.”

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