Steve Wardlaw is a respected international business lawyer and prominent gay rights campaigner.
Ranked highly across leading LGBT lists of influence, he co-founded Emerald Life to change the insurance industry for the better, bringing with him his passion for equality and his zeal for good business.
This year, Steve is on the judging panel for the RBS British LGBT Awards 2016.
How long have you been in the industry for, what’s your current job title?
I trained as a lawyer, which I began practicing around 25 years ago. Over that time, I specialised in energy law, to spent a lot of time abroad, including eight years in Moscow with my husband Ian, running the Moscow office of my last law firm Baker Botts. For a good few years, discussions with friends tended to regularly refer to unfair treatment for LGBT customers in the insurance, but also financial services sector generally. At that time, I was working on a lot of LGBT advocacy causes, and I began to wonder whether I could combine the two with a LGBT-facing business that would work for equality.
One of the great things about my time in Moscow was the great friendships that we made, including my business partner Heidi, who was running General Motors in Moscow when we met. With her financial and analytical skills it seemed like a great match. Heidi moved here and we assembled a team of insurance experts to try and put our ideas into practice.
Today, I’m the co-founder and chairman of Emerald Life, and we are striving to be a different type of insurance provider – of course great products, but also focused on engaging with the community, and making sure the gaps in equality of servicefor LGBT people are being addressed by the service and products we offer.
Do you have a mentor, and if so, who?
My first tutor at Kings College London, a gay barrister from Aberdare called Jeff Price who was the first member of his family, and the first in his village, to go to university. He was a strong advocate for social justice in all its forms, and taught be a lot about trying to strive continuously to change things. But I also have to say my husband of 21 years Ian, who is a great supporter of what we are doing at Emerald Life and who convinced me to make the leap of faith and start Emerald Life!
Which business leader do you admire most, and why?
I think I need a Frankenstein’s monster – the customer service of a Richard Branson, the product innovation of a Steve Jobs, and the perseverance of a James Dyson. Seriously, it is always good to listen to people up and down the chain. You never know when you need that advice.
What’s the biggest lesson you have learned to date?
Stop talking about it and just do it. This was said to me probably hundreds of times by friends and family.
What’s your favourite business quotation or life motto?
You are only as strong as your weakest link. In my previous profession and this one, it is important to understand what that means, then assemble, mentor and incentivise the best talent to join and –importantly – stay with you!
What’s the best business book you’ve ever read?
I prefer books on quantum mechanics. When you read about utterly crazy science that affects our entire universe on a sub-molecular scale, it puts a negotiation of a share purchase contract into perspective.
Tell us about Emerald Life?
Emerald is the UK’s first full-service insurance provider dedicated to the needs of the gay and lesbian community.
Emerald Life is the culmination of a lot of research, a couple of years of detailed planning and a good measure of listening to the issues LGBT people have faced traditionally across the financial services. Our goal is to provide an equality of service, missing for so long, for the LGBT community – initially in the insurance market. Our ultimate aim is to change the financial services for the better, bringing the LGBT community more central to the considerations of the sector, setting in motion LGBT consumer confidence across the industry.