My plans or God’s? - Sean Scott chooses insurance arena over World Bank job
In an industry characterised by frequent inconveniences and a lack of innovation, Canopy Insurance Limited comes as the proverbial breath of fresh air. The new group health and life insurance start-up, backed by two of Jamaica’s most trusted companies – GraceKennedy and the Musson Group – has at its helm Managing Director Sean Scott.
With a cursory glance at his résumé, one would be puzzled as to how the Stanford University and Harvard Business School alumnus who has spent much of his professional career in boardrooms and business meetings, focused on consumer goods, business development, strategy and marketing, would end up being one of the most talked-about personalities in the insurance field in Jamaica?
Well, Scott’s journey into the insurance arena can be summed up in the simple adage – ‘While you’re busy making plans, God laughs’.
His journey to Canopy started upon completion of his bachelor of arts degree in political science and economics at Stanford University. A fresh-faced and eager Scott had gained the attention of the World Bank and, as a result, was the recipient of a job offer which would see him relocating to Mexico City, to help the bank fulfil its mission to ‘Rid the World of Poverty’. With this prospect on the horizon, Scott decided to make a trip back home to arrange his affairs, where he reconnected with his high school sweetheart, Krissy Morgan.
“Looking back now, this was a sliding-doors moment. Although I never appreciated it at the time, this was my first major career decision where my gut told me to put my family and country first, and to trust that with those priorities in check, the career stuff would work itself out,” Scott said.
He never made it to the World Bank and ended up instead marrying Krissy, which he beams was “the best decision of my life, hands down”. He was also fortuitously recruited to a management consulting firm run by Michael Fairbanks, a prestigious business strategist and Harvard professor, where Scott would later go on to earn his MBA. As faith would have it, the firm had one major client in Jamaica – GraceKennedy – and before Scott knew it, he was on a project team helping to guide GraceKennedy’s vision to become a global consumer brand.
“At 22, I was the young person writing notes on the whiteboard, preparing and doing a lot of the groundwork, listening to Mr Orane and Mr Wehby debate important decisions. But I realised pretty soon that I saw myself in the seat of those executives, building companies, managing groups of people towards a specific vision,” he remarked
Scott then transitioned to his first management position at 24, working for J. Wray & Nephew, overseeing their largest export market, which was, ironically, Mexico. He spent years honing his commercial acumen and finding his leadership style under the tutelage of the late William ‘Billy’ McConnell and his son David, before applying and being accepted to Harvard Business School, where he obtained his MBA.
Post-graduation, rather than remaining in the United States, Scott resolved to return to Jamaica. This decision saw him joining the Wisynco Group in 2011, where he became the CEO of their quick-service restaurant division at the tender age of 29. He later assumed the dual role as the distribution giant’s head of strategy and mergers and acquisitions, participating in the company’s impressive organic growth, acquisitions and eventual IPO.
Looking back on his career journey to date, Scott comments: “Every time I had the opportunity to go away and study, I always chose to come back home. There’s a common story in Jamaica where persons with the opportunity often leave. I’ve always wanted to reverse that narrative and to use my training and education to make a positive impact on my country.”
When asked if he has any advice to give young people interested in following a business path, Scott shares: “Always look for the opportunity where you have the chance to make an impact in something that you are passionate about, and choose the job where you will be surrounded by the best people, not just the one with the biggest salary.”
Appropriately, Scott’s decision to lead Canopy – the innovative health insurance start-up – is aligned with these principles he espouses. While contemplating his subsequent career move, Scott was dealt a blow that would alter his life trajectory when a loved one was diagnosed with a life-threatening disease and he was forced to embrace the role of a caregiver. During that year, Scott says he had first-hand experience of the challenges of the health industry, which led him to the notion that insurance companies could do more to improve the overall experience of those they cover.
“People need insurance when they’re very vulnerable, and during that time they want an insurance company to remove the hassle of paperwork and make it easy to get urgent care paid for. Having just gone through that experience myself, there was a light-bulb moment and I thought, ‘I can use my experience in strategy, understanding consumer needs and finding solutions that intercept technology and customer service to make a difference in this industry.’”
Although tight-lipped on the innovations that Canopy will be bringing to the table, until its official launch, Scott has assured that the firm will provide world-class service, while reducing the bureaucracy of dealing with insurance in Jamaica; change, he shared, that is long overdue.