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Square Mile and Me: Zurich Insurance chief of staff Nigel Emson

Each week we ask a City figure to take a trip down memory lane. Today, Nigel Emson, chief of staff at Zurich Insurance, takes us through his career, from road haulage to financial services

What was your first job?

I worked in haulage supply, I can still tell you the size and thread of stray nuts and bolts.

What was your first role in the insurance sector?

Initially I started in banking, but my first role in insurance was at Eagle Star developing a distribution strategy with many people who went on to be leading lights in our industry – happy memories.

When did you know you wanted to build a career in the City?

Since my graduate days I have been interested – well obsessed, if I am being honest – with economics. My plan was to do a PhD and be an economist, but events intervened so I joined financial services and it’s been great – no regrets.

What’s one thing you love about the City of London?

The people. They inspire me to try and be better at what I do and how I do it every day.

And one thing you would change?

I believe the City is one of the UK’s strongest competitive advantages. I love the way its activities enable so many individuals and businesses to achieve their own successes and I love its competitive spirit. I wish every child in the country, whatever their circumstances, thought it could be a place where they could achieve their dreams. It’s why I’m so passionate and involved with the work Sophie Hulm is doing at Progress Together.

What’s been your most memorable business lunch?

The one that stands out is trying to finalise a business proposal in the tearoom of a Mayfair hotel accompanied by a pianist who had an uncanny knack of playing dramatic mood music at critical moments. It was like being in my own silent movie – both surreal and funny looking back on it.

And any business faux pas?

Working late, I once made a rather embarrassing and over-the-top effort to stop a lift’s doors from closing, only to find when I did get them back open that I was staring at the CEO and his two sons. I was sure I could see them trying not to giggle as we made our way down to the ground floor.

What’s been your proudest moment?

There have been many over the years. I love people, so achieving a Masters degree in coaching and mentoring was pretty special and enabled me to be confident I was a bit more than an ‘enthusiastic amateur’ in my efforts to help people develop.

And who do you look up to?

On a regular basis I am wowed by the people I meet in our industry and by seeing how good they are at what they do. One person who stands out in my career is Gary Shaughnessy CBE, who held many senior roles in Zurich. Gary combines driven business ambition with a genuine empathy. He cares about people – and takes on an infeasible number of increasingly challenging endeavours for charity every year. He is truly inspirational.

Are you optimistic for the year ahead?

Yes, absolutely. I am hopeful the economic uncertainty is receding, and I can see signs of growth. We have a great industry, new customer challenges to solve and there are always new people to work with and learn from.

We’re going for lunch, and you’re picking – where are we going?

My family is half Thai and I love the food; so Som Saa in Spitalfields.

And if we’re grabbing a drink after work?

As a non-drinker I tend to let my colleagues choose. Planet of the Grapes in Leadenhall is nice.

Where’s home during the week?

Cirencester in the Cotswolds

And where might we find you at the weekend?

Easy one – being a taxi driver for my three children who are busy with their exciting lives!

You’ve got a well-deserved two weeks off. Where are you going and who with?

I’d always take the family. As to where, I don’t like lying on beaches, so somewhere with a bit of history, where I could meet and learn from people who are different from me.

Quickfire:

Favourite book? I read avidly but my favourite is only 48 pages – I Can’t Accept Not Trying
by Michael Jordan.

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Favourite film? Heat – Robert De Niro and Al Pacino are such great actors.

Favourite artist/musician? James Brown – especially the song Living in America!

Favourite place in London? Parliament Square – history, architecture and the heart of
democracy!

Cocktail order? It would have to be some kind of fruity mocktail.

Coffee order? I am a tea drinker, I love tea!