As CEO, a new Ingrid emerges
“I have been given a gift.” It’s not often that you hear people talking of their jobs in this way, but for Ingrid Innes, the CEO of ICBL, this is exactly the way she feels about her role with the company, and being here in Barbados.
Ingrid is no stranger to the Caribbean – after all, she was born in Guyana and lived there for a short time before moving to Canada. While Barbados is new to her, it is a place that she intends to put her mark on during her tenure here.
Ingrid quoted JFK who once said, “To whom much is given, much is expected”. To Ingrid that means “When you’re a CEO, much is expected of you,” she says. “Not just from a community and charitable giving perspective, but I also have a certain level obligation to my people and I take that very seriously as they are looking for me to lead them on a journey of change and growth and this means that I have to be there for them and be able to provide the help and direction they need.”
Ingrid was tapped for this position because of her more than 30 years of work experience at companies like Manulife Financial, then working as a management consultant with NewLink Group Inc. and with ICBL’s majority owner in Bermuda, BF&M Insurance Group.
As a woman holding key executive positions throughout her career, Ingrid is fully aware of the balancing act that many women do every day achieving success in business and their personal lives.
This chapter of her life is something that she welcomed, despite the fact that it means she has to spend some time apart from her husband Byren, whose business operations are mostly based in Canada. But as Ingrid will tell you, she is familiar with making trade-offs.
“I was working as a consultant for ICBL’s parent company in Bermuda advising them on their operations,” Ingrid recalled. “The president of that company and chairman of ICBL approached me about the position.”
This was a stellar move, because at one point Ingrid had left the corporate world and decided to focus on consulting. It was a move that was rooted in spending more time with her family.
“I had left the corporate world about eight years ago and joined my husband’s company as an Executive Consultant and Head of the Operations Consulting Practice,” the mother of four recalled.
“I worked for Manulife Financial at the time, and my husband had decided to open his own Consulting business four years earlier. We had a young daughter [it was the second marriage for both of us] and we agreed that he would take care of her while he was consulting and I focused on my career. I had been a single parent and had had to work a couple of jobs to make ends meet, and that caused me not to spend as much time with my children as I would have liked after my first marriage ended. This worked well, but it started to impact his business as he needed to devote more time to his clients as the business grew and I was on the road 70 per cent of the time. As well, the children at Chelsea’s school never saw me because it was always her dad showing up. So we made a conscious decision for me to stay at home.”
Having worked for many years in the corporate world and charting a course for success, stepping away wasn’t easy, but she knew it was necessary.
“I really loved my job and was reluctant to leave. But our daughter was the age, at ten, where I felt it was critical for me to be around her.” Ingrid said. “My husband said not to worry as we would be able to balance this – both time for my daughter and he would welcome me to consult with his clients to keep me busy and challenged in between.”
Eventually, Ingrid came to peace with her decision. The time away from her daughter and the gap in their relationship became clear when she would drive her to school on mornings and not know what to say to her.
“She was going to a school where I had to drive her every day. I wanted to have conversations with her but I didn’t know what to say to her, nor did she know what to say to me,” Ingrid said. “Then one day I asked, “What did you learn today that you didn’t know or was an “aha”?’’ as I had learned in the corporate world that the key to building rapport was asking questions. She was reluctant at first to engage but after my persistence, she knew I would have continued to ask her questions of her every day, gave in and my “aha” moment because we started building our rapport from there.”
Their talks on mornings and in the afternoons grew, and mother and daughter learned more about each other and grew very close. “I looked forward to those talks and sharing of her days and experiences with me – those per precious moments and times that I will continue to cherish for the rest of my life”
“During the second term Chelsea said, ‘Mum, there is a job opening at the school for a classroom mum. Do you want to apply for it?’” I did apply and ended up not getting the job (I dejecticed as I had never been rejected for a job) and Chelsea and I very disappointed about it, but from then on I got really involved in other aspects at the school, leading major fund raising activities – this she loved.”
What was ironic about that period of Ingrid’s life was that she got to know her daughter in a way that she would have missed had she not been in a position to step away.
“That move to leave my job and spend that critical time with her was the best decision I ever made,” she said.
Having missed that critical time with her other children, Ingrid was determined to do it right, (or at least do it better) the second time around.
When Chelsea decided to finish up her last year of high school in Switzerland, Ingrid returned to consulting and took on an a consulting assignment in Bermuda and eventually was offered the position in Barbados.
“The opportunity came at a really good time for me,” Ingrid said. “When my daughter was ready to move on I was able to consider doing something like this.”
With Chelsea now in university in Canada and her other children having reached adulthood and leading their own lives, Ingrid is more focused on her current position, although she may approach it now from a different perspective.
“I’ve more knowledge, have more experience and my consulting experience allows me to approach challenges and issues in a more focused, pragmatic and analytical manner,” she said. “Now I take more things into account, look for empirical data to support decisions and take a collaborative approach with my team. Before I was sometimes accused of bulldozing my way into getting things done.”
As a woman of colour, a head of a major corporation and having worked primarily in North America, Ingrid has learned that for a woman to succeed in the workplace she must be at the top of her game.
“I had to work harder than most people to be able to accomplish my goals. Being a woman and also being a woman of colour, I felt I had to work even harder than others.” she said. “I suppose that as a result I now expect people around me to work just as hard.”
Toughness, hard work and focus are attributes that Ingrid says she always had and she credits her 90-year-old mother for instilling them in her. But she cautions that as a working woman there must be a delicate balancing act in work, life and family, and with the right partner, women can do it.
“I find that people of my age are often afraid to upgrade their skills. They need to continuously upgrade their skills and try new things in order to grow – and embrace change.” she said.
“I credit a lot of my success to having great advisors and mentors over the years and would advise that women should get a mentor and listen and take advice from that mentor. They also need to focus on their goals and never deviate from them.”