Group CIO Lyn Grobler on finding career sponsors, knowing when to stop, and beating Imposter Syndrome
Lyn Grobler is Group CIO at Hyperion Insurance Group, responsible for delivering innovative technology to support the company’s ambitious growth plan, with a global remit encompassing over 40 territories. Recognised by Computer Weekly as one of the 25 most influential women in UK tech, Lyn has long been an advocate for greater gender balance in technology. She is also Vice-Chair of the Board for the Bank of Cyprus and a judge in our everywoman in Tech Awards. Here, Lyn chats to us about career planning, lockdown life and ‘pinch me’ career moments.
How have role models played a part in your career?
Role models have played a large part in my career, but they have all been men. That’s down to my generation! As one of the three top Computer Science students at University in Cape Town, I was given a graduate job at Marks & Spencer. Being a junior programmer there was a great place to start. When I was working for a small computer consultancy, the four partners — all men — taught me so much. Such important lessons about working hard, playing hard and being nice. They were such nice people and I could really look up to them. I was also supported throughout my career by (male) allies and sponsors behind closed doors. Without them I wouldn’t be where I am today.
How did you get those sponsors on board?
By being clear about where I was trying to get to and what I had delivered. It’s important to let people know what you’ve achieved and that you are open to opportunities. It can all too often sound like boasting, so I found a good way was to ask a few people for advice and during those conversations I was able to promote the work I had done but in a flattering way.
How did the Board role for the Bank of Cyprus come about?
It probably came too soon if I’m honest. I’d been at Hyperion for no time when I got the call, but I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to learn from such big players. Having a technology background helped a lot, particularly my knowledge about digital and mitigating cybersecurity risks. Each person on the Board brings not only their anchor skill, but a whole range of leadership skills and business knowhow that they’ve built up over time.
Have you noticed a change since more women joined the board?
I was the first woman on the Board and now we’re heading for 50%. I have noticed a change, or a different dynamic in the room. It’s a great environment. That might be down to gender, or it might be the diversity of skillsets and backgrounds we have. It’s so interesting. You learn so much.
Have you had a ‘pinch me’ moment in your career?
I’ve always been quite driven about moving up the career ladder, so when I was at BP and got a big step up to CIO role it was definitely a ‘pinch me’ moment.
Have the circumstances of the past months changed things for you?
Undoubtedly. Presenteeism is a big issue in the very traditional insurance industry. You used to have to be in the office to prove you were working. We’ve now proved that flexible working is effective. Productivity has gone up in many cases. One of our UK divisions has had their best ever three months! I’m really excited about saying that flexible working is there for everyone. We’ve tried to be very understanding of everyone’s individual circumstances, and this focus on our people has shifted into a different gear. And personally, I’m not doing that commute every day going forward. I’m going for a walk at the end of the day now and I listen to podcasts, which I’ve never done before ( I’m loving the everywoman podcasts!), and I’ll also keep up the Zoom calls with friends and family around the world. Why did we never do that before?
What’s been most challenging about managing people from afar?
I miss bumping into people and having a quick, no agenda chat. I hope we can get that back soon.
What are your top tips for a new leader?
Listen a lot. Work out with your team early on what your joint goals are. It’s so much easier to reach an agreed, joined-up goal.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
About ten years ago, a good friend advised me to know when to stop in your career and have an end in sight. Don’t just keep stumbling forwards. What does enough look like? I think about that quite often. It comes back to planning.
Who has inspired you?
Many people over the years. Without being too sycophantic, I’ll call out my boss David Howden. He stays true to what he wanted his company to be when he started it 25 years ago with just three people. He is so adamant about not changing the culture, and I really admire staying true to what you believe in.
Have you always had a career plan?
Early on in my career at BP I was forced to have a career plan. I had to put some structure around my thinking, and I often say it was the best thing I did for my career. It gave me something to believe in and talk about. It’s so easy to get caught up in your everyday job and not stand back to look at the bigger picture. It’s important to take a break and think about what is that flag on the hill that you’re trying to get to, personally or professionally.
Could you describe your ‘lead from behind’ style?
Nelson Mandela said: ‘It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.’ I like to put others first. Some of the most successful people are the quietest voices. They are the ones working hard and really making change happen. The inclusion part of diversity is making sure the quiet voices are heard. It’s about collaboration and working as a team rather than in silos.
What are your thoughts on Imposter Syndrome?
I think we need to realise that other people go through the same things we do. I couldn’t believe it when the former president of South Africa, F. W, de Klerk, spoke at BP and asked afterwards, ‘Was that ok?’ We are all human beings and we’re pretty similar in that sense. We want validation. When you are coming to a table where you’re not the wisest person, be bold, be brave and keep it factual. Keep reminding yourself that you have something to contribute or you wouldn’t be there.
What do you do to unwind?
Exercise is very important to me. I get up at 5.15am and go for a run three or four times a week. Then a walk in the evening and a glass of wine.