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MEET Melanie Harding

Head of Operations New Zealand

Team Operations

Segment Corporate Risk and Broking

Location Auckland, New Zealand

Year hired 2006

University University of Limerick, Ireland, B.A. (honors) European studies (Insurance major/ French minor)

Personal interests

I spend a lot of time cheering on my three soccer-mad boys. I’m also passionate about rugby, and have competed in half marathons and other running events.

Can you tell us about your career progression at Willis Towers Watson?

I came on board as an account director, where I served as a client advocate across the largest brokerage accounts the company managed in New Zealand. I worked together with the broking teams in London, Singapore and Australia to put together complex insurance programs that were tailor-made for some of these clients. Within this role, I was also involved in establishing the Risk Solutions practice in New Zealand, together with a national client service manager role to create “best practice” service standards for clients across New Zealand.

After I gave birth to twin boys in 2008, I wanted to reassess working five days a week. Thankfully, the company was amenable to me working part time, and keeping my key accounts and maintaining the strong relationship with clients I had established. I took a leave of absence in 2010, and then returned to Willis Towers Watson working on a project basis. In 2015, I assumed my current role as head of Operations, where I am accountable for the execution of the Operations strategy within the New Zealand business. I have three boys now and still work on a part-time basis, which affords me a positive work/life balance.

Can you tell us about the day-to-day responsibilities of your job?

My role is to lead the Operations strategy for New Zealand which reflects the international objectives to deliver value to both the business and our clients. I work in partnership with both the Australian Operations team and our support team in Mumbai to achieve optimum service delivery for our processes. My days are varied but I usually have Skype meetings with key stakeholders, cross-geographies, as well as weekly huddles with my team to check in on workload and prioritization, and work through any challenges we may have — engaging in problem solving and coaching where necessary.

What are the key challenges of your role? How have you overcome them?

Working across various geographies requires a different way of communicating; however, Skype is a key tool to overcoming this issue, especially if there is more than one country to align for meetings. The Operations role in New Zealand was a newly created position at the time I was appointed and there wasn’t a framework I could reference. However, this has given me the opportunity to access my background in broking to approach the role with “fresh eyes” and identify opportunities within the business to improve efficiencies and help define the role.

What training and development opportunities have you received in your role?

Having been with Willis Towers Watson for 12 years to date, I have watched the company change and evolve over time. I have been involved in client advocacy, change management and leadership training. I also participated in the Operational Development Program, which was a three-day introduction to the fundamental principles of operational excellence. As part of this program, I had to submit a portfolio to the Institute of Leadership and Management, which resulted in an accreditation. The post-course coaching was invaluable, and I use the tools I learned in this course every day in some form.

What is your proudest achievement since joining Willis Towers Watson?

I am most proud of the fact that my career and the opportunities here have given me the flexibility to work reduced hours in an effort to balance my role as a mum with the work I do at Willis Towers Watson. In a more traditionally male centric industry such as insurance, I was one of the first women to design a work/life balance that worked for both me and the company. Now, across the company, there are a number of “nontraditional” work arrangements that are in line with how people work today, with the flexibility and agility to get the job done. It’s been a win/win for both.

How would you describe the culture at Willis Towers Watson?

The culture is one of the standouts for me at Willis Towers Watson, as the term “one team” is really practiced within the organization, to the benefit of our clients. It really is “glocal” at Willis Towers Watson.

What do you like best about working at Willis Towers Watson?

I love working for a company that has global reach and allows me to tap into the experience and resources that come with this benefit. The colleagues that I work with, both in New Zealand and overseas, make my day-to-day experiences really enjoyable and challenge me in different ways. In addition, as my role is a national one, I work with everyone across the business and the rewards for being able to help someone else, even if it’s just a “quick win,” make my job really worthwhile.

Was there anything that surprised you about your role or the company?

I found the degree of teamwork and client commitment to be top priority — whether I was working with London, Singapore, Australia or a local team — the client was the key focus, regardless of geography or business unit.

What is your hope for your career in the future?

The ability to make a difference is really important to me, both from the perspective of a woman in the insurance industry, a working mother and a member of the leadership team in New Zealand. Part of my role is to drive change that will make our organization more efficient and effective in what we do, which, in turn, will directly impact the work/life balance for my colleagues.

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