GWII president Rianet Whitehead: 'I love every part of the journey I am on'

We recently sat down with Gauteng Women in Insurance president Rianet Whitehead, to catch up on her journey within insurance so far, her plans for GWII in 2019 and who inspires her.

Rianet Whitehead.
Rianet Whitehead.

The editor and co-owner of FAnews, she is a self-confessed “[part of a] happy family with a hubby and three boys aged 17, 17 and 14”.

According to her she also loves her job – “or rather, what other people call a job” – and enjoys the various facets of being involved with FAnews

While most of us, in some way or another, have interacted with Whitehead in the past few years (and having FAnews present at any particular industry event is something of a given), her future, like so many within insurance, was not planned for this industry at all.

“My journey – the short version – is that my dad start the magazine while he was an independent broker. I joined him after completing my Honours in Communication and spending a few years in the corporate world. My dad suddenly passed away, my mom sold the business, I bought it back from the buyer – and the rest is history.

“We are a fantastic team at FAnews and I literally love every part of the journey I am on. I always believe that things happen for a reason and our roads are often very different than what we thought it would be … I am happy that insurance was part of my path, as I believe we are working in an industry filled with a massive amount of opportunities … and we are embracing that at FAnews.”

Of course, putting in extra time over and above her normal “day job” to get involved with GWII took commitment and time, as well as teamwork. When asked if she would rather favour furthering herself, her peers or the industry we are in, she responded: “All three elements are critical and go hand in hand, because you cannot develop and grow in a silo.

“People often ask me how I manage to balance everything, and the short answer is that I surround myself with the right people and rely a lot on my team, and that is why growth for all parts is critical.”

It’s quite clear that Whitehead has big plans [with GWII] for the next few years, and hopes to inspire young talent within the industry (or for that matter, to attract more young talent). One of the programmes for which FAnews has become renowned is The Insurance Apprentice, which has grown by leaps and bounds over the past few years.

According to Whitehead, taking part in this reality show-style competition could be “one of the smartest things an insurance professional could do”. But she also stresses the importance of encouraging youth to start their careers within insurance: “I do believe that we need to attract bright people and people with a ‘can-do’ attitude. If you want to learn and you believe you can, we want you.

“I do hope that the messages GWII sends out, on what we stand for and what we are trying to achieve, is enough reason for women to choose this industry as one they want to be part of. I hope for an industry where client focus and service excellence are what we strive for more than ever before. And ultimately, we are looking for an industry people would want to work in ... the industry of choice.”

When asked about how she plans to improve (or what she plans to introduce) during her year as GWII president, she states: “I am very proud of GWII’s achievements, considering we are a very young institute. I am really fortunate to serve in a year where many changes have been implemented compared to previous years.

“We are still learning from other institutes to make sure we give our members enough reason to believe we are the best thing that ever happened to our industry … We believe the mix of events and learning opportunities we offer means that every woman will find something that make her feels that she belongs and she can grow.”

Whitehead clearly believes the various institutes contribute to growth within the insurance industry, re-iterating how easy it is to meet like-minded people at various networking events (hosted by these institutes), as well as mentors. Her advice? “Grab opportunities that come your way; put yourself in networking and growth environments even if it’s ‘not your style’, because that is the only way you can grow.”

She ends with highlighting the person who inspires her the most within the industry: “My fellow president [of the Insurance Institute of Gauteng], Carla Jordan, really inspires me in many ways. Carla’s work-life balance and positive attitude to life are things many of us can aspire to.

“We are also like-minded in many ways, and we have already joined forces to see how we can work together between our two institutes to ensure a better industry for all. We are both convinced that collaboration is key going forward. I wish Carla the best in her year as president of the IIG.”