International Women’s Week: Jenny Burns CEO of KBS Albion
Jenny Burns is the new CEO of KBS Albion. Jenny previously worked at Just for two years where she created a new brand following the merger of two fierce rivals in the retirement income market. She transformed the business from a traditional annuity provider to a service brand with a strong social purpose at its core.
Prior to Just, Jenny worked at RSA Insurance for almost five years where she was the Group Communications, Brand and Social Media Director. During her time at RSA she transformed how people worked by leading the move from an old-fashioned office space to the Walkie Talkie building and spearheaded the cultural change required to maximise a £40m investment in new technology, which improved the productivity of almost 25,000 employees by bringing them together under one virtual roof.
Jenny has been client side for almost 25 years so it’s a really interesting move that she is now joining an agency.
Jenny has also been named by PRWeek as their internal communications personality of the decade.
- What will a typical day as CEO of KBS Albion look like?
One of the many attractions of taking on a CEO role is that, just like my previous roles, no two days will be the same. Some days I will be on the road spending time with current and prospective clients and others will be spent working from our offices in Shoreditch, getting stuck into projects and coaching and nurturing the team.
I will really value my days working from home as it will give me the space to reflect on how we’re performing as a business and quiet time to read; ensuring I keep up to speed with the latest technology, innovation and market news. I also speak at quite a few breakfast and evening events which give me the chance to share our latest insights and the great work we’re doing.
Regardless of where I am and what I’m up to, I’m an early riser- I do my best work first thing in the morning. I’m a strong believer that it’s vital to understand where and when you work best.
I love variety during the week and think it’s an important factor in keeping me stimulated and happy, however it does mean you need a wide-ranging wardrobe to match - tailored looks for client meetings, smart casual for speaking events, informal in the office, and at home… jim-jams, of course!
Whilst at RSA, you spearheaded the cultural change required to maximise a £40m investment in new technology. What steps did you take to achieve this?
RSA employed 23,000 people in 33 countries at the time I worked there and the main rationale for such a big investment was to connect our people to improve collaboration. As we all know deploying technology on this scale is tricky, especially given the amount of legacy systems that RSA had, however that’s nothing compared to changing human habits and behaviours – and that’s what it takes to get value from such an investment.
No one likes to be told they need to change, so I started by recruiting some change agents or changemakers. I called them ‘Trailblazers’ and they were a mixture of people from right across the business, including some early adopters and some cynics. We developed an intensive programme of development and training to ensure our Trailblazers had the knowledge and support they needed to evoke a change from within the business.
However, change is rarely sustainable without support from the top. Leaders can often be accused of seeming fake or contrived though, so we took a unique approach to ensure our managers were authentic by deploying a ‘reserve mentoring’ scheme- teaming up our junior, but more technology savvy Trailblazers with leaders to coach and train them. As a result, our technology adoption was fast and most importantly, it stuck!
- What was it like making the transition to an agency, having spent 25 years on the client side?
I’m only a few days in and I already feel liberated. Working in large corporates is a great experience and I actually like the complexity found in big organisations (mainly because I’m itching to simplify everything), but working in an agency is faster, more agile and far less bureaucratic.
Whilst I do need to adapt to a new way of working, I’m super keen to ensure I don’t forget my roots and will be able to share some unique insights with the team having worked client side for so long.
What piece of advice would you give an aspiring female leader?
Stay female! I know that sounds funny, but in male dominated environments too many women try to be more masculine to fit in. I believe women have some unique skills and capabilities. In particular, we tend to be more highly tuned when it comes to emotional intelligence and empathy, which are both really important for connecting with people and customers. Diversity is critical in driving innovation, so don’t become an alpha-female!
And finally, what does International Women's Day mean to you?
Regardless of size, all businesses should be focused on ensuring that they have a more diverse workforce when making hiring decisions, however I recognise we’re not there yet. So International Women’s Day is vital in raising awareness of this important topic by celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women globally.
I’m confident that if we use International Women’s Day as a catalyst for change, it won’t take the currently predicted 200 years to achieve gender equality! #PressforProgress
Albion’s website: https://www.albion.co/
Albion’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/kbsalbion
Albion’s blog: https://blog.albion.co/
Jenny’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/jennyburns55?lang=en
Jenny’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jennyburns55/