Features / If I Knew Then

If I Knew Then: James Woollam

By ellie pipe, Monday Aug 5, 2019

The managing director of insurance brokers Hayes Parsons, James Woollam has worked his way up the company and continues to grow it.

How did you start out in business?

I spent a lot of time after university finding reasons not to find a job, but there came a time when I needed to earn some money to continue travelling.

I joined Hayes Parsons Insurance Brokers on a three-month contract and haven’t looked back since. I am now the managing director and owner of one of the largest independent insurance brokers in the South West.

If you knew then what you know now, what mistakes might you have avoided?

I think making mistakes is a really important part of gaining experience and I would encourage people to make as many as possible, especially when starting out in business.

Making mistakes suggests you are taking risks and really pushing yourself. Providing you recognise those mistakes and learn from them, I feel you become a more rounded and more confident individual in time.  I therefore hope I wouldn’t have given my younger self any advice on how to avoid mistakes.

What advice would you have given yourself when starting out?

Aside from not being afraid to make mistakes, I would say the key piece of advice I would give is to not be worried about what others think.

When you are inexperienced you believe there is a magic formula for successfully running a business. The more important and senior people you meet, the more you realise that there is no one set formula and it is essential to be yourself and take risks.

If you knew then what you know now, would you still be sitting there?

Yes! Although I am not sure I would believe it, having initially joined Hayes Parsons for only three months.

What do you know now that you didn’t know then?

I learn something new every day, and I have come to realise that you never stop learning. This is another simple piece of advice which can really help as you realise that not only does no one else have all the answers, you don’t need all of them to make a success of your business.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received so far?

I was often told not to support Crystal Palace and to find a football team nearer to Bristol.  After dozens of trips to Croydon and a lot of ups and downs over the years, it is advice I should have followed.

What is your business highlight?

It is difficult as I feel we have had many different successes over the last few years. But if I had to choose, it would be the successful acquisition of another business a year ago in Salisbury. This turned us from a growing small business into a larger, acquisitive business and I feel really demonstrated how we have moved forward as an organisation in the last few years.

What is your business low point?

The failure to implement Brexit and when I got my dog run over at a company drinks event.

What keeps you awake?

Our biggest challenge as a business is attracting good people to our business. Insurance is a fantastic career, but as a trade we don’t do enough to publicise it.

We also struggle to recruit people with the right business skills and talking to other businesses it seems to be a challenge not limited to the insurance industry.

What’s changed from when you started out?

The pace of digitalisation is changing all industries at a very fast pace, and insurance is in the middle of a digital revolution. This should mean better outcomes for our clients and, hopefully, cheaper premiums, but it is incumbent on me to ensure we keep up with these changes or we could be left behind.

What’s still on your to-do list?

Over the next three years we want to double in size and build a new digital insurance platform.

What’s next for you in business and personally?

I am campaigning to allow my dog, Ollie, into the office and if I am successful would see this as my finest achievement to date.  Watch this space.

Read more: If I Knew Then: Angela Appiah Shippey


Related articles