As managing director and executive director of the CACI insurance group in Ireland, Mary Ryan leads a 150-strong team that has grown tenfold since 2006.

“It’s a very special place to work,” says Ryan, winner of this year’s Great Place to Work Most Trusted Leader Award. “When you find yourself looking forward to coming to work every day there is something special about the place. It has to be about the people. We have a very diverse team of more than 25 nationalities. It’s also about our culture, which is built on a common purpose and shared goals.”

CACI comprises three regulated life, non-life and reinsurance entities, which are subsidiaries of Crédit Agricole Assurances.

“Our products are financial-protection products such as mortgage and personal-loan protection, distributed primarily via Crédit Agricole Group retail banking and consumer finance subsidiaries in France, Italy, Germany, Poland, Spain, and Portugal,” says Ryan. “We produce excellent results and create significant value for the Crédit Agricole Assurances Group. We are a recognised centre of excellence in the group and we lead the way in terms of workplace culture, diversity, and inclusion.”

I place a very strong emphasis on our purpose. It is important that everyone understands what we do, how we do it, and why we do it— Mary Ryan

That leadership is based on a firmly rooted understanding of the human dimension of the highly technical products that the team in Dublin generate.

“I place a very strong emphasis on our purpose. It is important that everyone understands what we do, how we do it, and why we do it. We have highly technical people here who love working with numbers. But it is important to make the human connection real when they are pricing a product for distribution to a customer in northern Italy through a branch they may never see.”

That relates to the nature of those products, Ryan says. “When people contact us, they could be bereaved, ill and not able to pay their mortgage or other bills, unemployed and so on. It’s about letting our people see that our products are useful to customers at times when they need them most. We get our people to step back from the financial aspects and see the purpose of our products. We are protecting people when they are at their most fragile.

“No matter where our employees work in the value chain of our companies, everyone has a role to play in protecting our customers.”

This requires consistent communication in relation to the organisation’s vision, mission, values, strategy and objectives.

“We communicate very clearly the role each person plays in the achievement of those,” says Ryan. “We do this through simple and transparent communication. We make the strategy real for people so that each employee can see clearly how they contribute to our success. It gives people recognition and a great sense of achievement.”

Diversity and inclusion is another key element of the culture, says Ryan.

“Our culture is based on a strong commitment to each other whereby we celebrate our diversity and constantly work on maintaining an inclusive environment where everyone can bring their whole self to work and nobody is left on the outside,” she explains.

With so many nationalities in our team, we have phenomenal diversity. We create a space where everyone knows they can be themselves — Mary Ryan

“I am very active in the diversity and inclusion space with Insurance Ireland. With so many nationalities in our team, we have phenomenal diversity. We celebrate that and create an environment where people can come to work and be themselves and be their best selves. We have a culture and values team who run a whole programme of initiatives and events through the year. Last year they launched our partnership with Dublin LGBTQ+ Pride CLG. We don’t ask people about their sexuality but we create a space where everyone knows they can be themselves.”

The team also runs the highly successful Flavours of CACI event. “Each of our nationalities cook their national dish and we get to taste them in our kitchen,” Ryan says. “We are celebrating the flavours of each country represented. You can feel the sense of pride and belonging in our people. It’s a very special event.”

Ryan believes the Most Trusted Leader Award is probably the highest accolade she could get for her leadership.

“I place trust at the very core of my interactions as a leader with everyone – all staff and all stakeholders. Trust has to be earned and I try to earn it for myself and bestow it on others as well. It is a two-way street; the trust I have in my people and the trust they have in me. I’ve always felt it is the cornerstone of good leadership. I accept this award on behalf of myself but more importantly on behalf of my people who have put their trust in me.”

In the end, it all boils down to a clear sense of purpose, Ryan concludes.

“Some people can underestimate its value, but for me it is crucial. It is about understanding why we come to work every day. It can be difficult to put figures on it but when I see our high-performing people mobilised around a common purpose, delivering the results, it gives me a great sense of personal satisfaction as a leader and it certainly delivers a better employee and customer experience.”