Talking Up a Storm with Compass Insure MD Ismail Ismail

We sat down with our new Managing Director (and up until now bean counter-in-chief) Ismail for a serious chat about the state of world affairs. But it’s been that kind of year and we are all pretty done – so we decided to change course and explore a few irreverent deets with our man at the helm. It turned out to be surprising and entertaining…

Firstly, as most of you know, this is a person who loves food – so this question was a breeze for him.

If you could only eat one dessert for the rest of your life, what would it be?

That’s easy. Ice Cream. And yes, it’s delicious and reminds everyone of childhood. But In my lateral brain, I’ve decided on ice cream because it has endless variety. I can still have a different flavour every day for the rest of my life.

Well, that’s clever! So, Mr Ismail (he asked if we were referring to him by first name or last), we do hope it means that everyone involved with Compass Insure gets lots of delicious goodies over the next year – just so we can explore what dessert we’d like to pick as our ‘forever treat.’ And report back at year-end, of course.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a medical doctor. I even did three years of my BSc before changing to accounting. Ironically, soon after my appointment as Managing Director of Compass Insure, a close friend called to congratulate me, adding: ‘is this not always what you wanted to be growing up?’

I was initially confused but realised he meant MD – medical doctor. Sometimes in life you need to see your blessings through a different lens it. In my case, I have good people to show me.

But there’s a part of me that still has a strong desire to serve people, to assist in some way. I try to do that where I can.

Right now, I’m really concerned with mental health issues. Because we often don’t recognise it in others or ourselves. Plus most of us have no clue as to how to talk about it without embarrassment and awkwardness. In a time of Covid and generally high social conflict, this seems more important than ever. This has really been brought home for me by the fact that I lost a close friend in February of this year – due to depression.

Tell us about a memory that made you cringe.

Okay (he pauses with a boyish smile). This is an easy, if still cringe-worthy, memory. It happened during my varsity days. I was chatting to a friend on Mxit. You remember Mxit, right? So, he kept coaxing me into admitting one of the girls on campus was cute. I finally agreed that the girl with green jacket, blue jeans and weird trainers was cute. But in typing her name; I unintentionally sent the message to her. The cringe part is that she just sent back four question marks???? There was no WhatsApp to quickly delete a message you regret sending back then.

That was cold! I was mortified. I avoided her and her friends for weeks.

But there’s an eventually????

Yes! Eventually, I found my courage. It took six months but I asked her out.

Of course, it was worth it because we got married. I still blush about it though!

What qualities do you admire in leaders?

It’s a quality that delivers results for leaders but its’ also a quality that I admire in all people.

Grit! It’s under-valued, isn’t it? That baseline grit. The mix of courage, perseverance, effort and passion. That resilience – to just keep going, having the capacity recover from difficulties. To stay the course.

And we actually see a lot of it in the insurance industry; especially among our specialist partners and brokers. This is especially true now and shows because we are experiencing constantly shifting sands. Covid has aggravated the pace of change but it didn’t ‘start the fire.’ And grit (with a healthy dose of flexibility) will see us through tough times, especially when the world seems to have turned on its head. I also believe leaders need a sense of humour, to laugh and to reframe situations and experiences to see the lighter side.

Tell us something that most people would be surprised to know about you?

I love cold weather! But the people in the office know that. I admire random acts of kindness, love inspirational podcasts and people who believe that they can positively change the world and actually take action to do so.

What are you most proud of regarding the company?

Compass Insure is in a good place. You know – I’ve been told that ‘people’ are a clichéd answer. But really, is there any other answer for a specialist insurance company? We are about partnerships and people are key. In the ten years that I’ve been with the company, I’ve seen that our infrastructure is important and our ability to integrate new tech platforms is vital. But it’s accessibility and robust and committed relationships that drive the business.

This year has also showed that even with remote working – our people are ‘people’s people.’ They’re committed to supporting our clients but they also want to engage. And we really like chatting, having a bit of fun. That’s what we’ve missed most about being at the office.

What do you do during a typical day?

Actually, it’s a surprising mix of things. This is a corporate with entrepreneurial partners. That means, I get to be involved in everything from Group Exco meetings to profit commission discussions; to risk analysis and touch base sessions with team members.

But we also want to go out to the market more –spend more time talking to UMA’s, our brokers and clients.

During the lockdown, one of the most common pieces of feedback from our specialist partners was that they liked how much we were able to support them through the transition. This is important for me! As a team, I want us to do more of this going forward.

Do you have a sense of humour?

Did I tell you I am happily married? I am happy. My wife is married.