VALERIE MARGARET BAKER
6-5-1947 - 20-1-2013
Valerie Baker founded Gold Seal in 1995, as a sole practitioner providing services in risk management consulting to the Insurance Broking businesses. The establishment and subsequent growth of Gold Seal has been a continuation of her 50 years holding the Insurance industry to its motto “uberrima fides” – “utmost good faith”.
Valerie was a pioneer of successful women in Australian insurance – certainly in insurance broking. She died of mesothelioma in a German clinic on January 20 2013 after a year long fight against mesothelioma at the great Hallwang Clinic in Germany’s Black Forest.
Valerie was the first woman in Australia to become a director of an insurance broking company – the august former Melbourne brokers to upmarket business, Tolley & Gardner.
She pioneered independent management auditing of insurance brokers – keeping many solvent in turbulent times, helping some to expand across the nation and, above all, to comply with all the regulations of the mandatory Australian Financial Service Licence.
Her knowledge of insurance and insurance broking and her belief in “uberrima fides” stretched from Lloyd’s of London to New York, Hong Kong and throughout Australia.
She embraced a battle cry as her business life progressed - “constructive unreasonableness”. Many executives in the insurance industry ascribed to this because of the benefits that she had brought to their bottom lines after they had taken her counsel.
Valerie was born in Sandgate, Folkestone, Kent in England to Amalia and Stan Baker in 1947.
Her academic life was not a happy one when immediately after World War 2 there was prejudice among the small community because Valerie’s mother was Italian.
This prejudice was exemplified by one teacher who told Valerie she would “never amount to anything” because of her heritage. Valerie used this remark as a motivator all her life and career, and defied her teachers by leaving a wonderful legacy to the women in Australian business.
When Valerie was 16 her family migrated to Australia in 1963. On arrival in Melbourne they were assisted by Amalia’s family who had settled in Australia in the late 1920s and 1930s. The family quickly found their feet and before too long Valerie was contributing to the economy. After vowing to her parents that she would further her education in Australia, she quickly decided work was a better option.
She chose to enter the insurance industry as a 16-year-old in 1963, saying: “This is a career for me” and set out on her path through an old-time insurer – the then Union Insurance Society of Canton, later GRE and nowadays Zurich Australia. Her vast network in the industry dates from those days and was enhanced throughout the years through all the iterations of her career.
Her career path took off from her decision one month after being hired as an addressograph operator to apply for a position as a policy typist in 1963, which she achieved.
With natural intelligence and determination, she quickly learnt the various clauses and conditions required in insurance policies of the day. The challenges of the job inspired her to start studying at “The Institute”, now the Australian and New Zealand Institute of Insurance and Finance.
“I enjoyed this greatly as I was the only girl at the lectures” she said in 2011.
“Management’s encouragement to learn and study constantly became my vehicle to achievement and I’ll always be indebted to them for the opportunity for advancement.”
The “management” she referred to was her first woman boss Marjorie (Bon) Marris and manager Max Salveson, who both remained lifelong close friends.
At the age of 19 she was appointed to the position of Claims Manager for Fire and General Accident, another name on the emerging insurance ladder. In doing this, she set a template, did the hard yards for women who followed her.
Early in her insurance broker days, Baker became a founding member of Adsum, now Women in Insurance, a group supporting women seeking careers in the insurance industry.
Valerie mentored many women in the industry, particularly through a program known as “Training Women as Executives”. Her passion for led to her being the inaugural chairperson of the Insurance Employers’ Industrial Association for Equal Employment Opportunities programmes.
When GRE merged with other insurers in the 70s, Valerie was advised that in the merged entity in which she would have been employed, married women would be employed only as casuals with no entitlement to superannuation or pension.
However at this time Valerie had became engaged to Ron Bryan, who became her first husband.
As a believer in equality, she took the opportunity to join Tolley and Gardner Insurance Brokers, a company that had no such restrictions.
The two principals of that company supported her broking work and showed their confidence by appointing her as company director in 1976 at the age of 29.
The former Melbourne Herald was moved to report that she was the first female director of an insurance operation in Australia. The headline read “Destined to Succeed”.
Apart from insurance broking, she developed further knowledge and skills in external interests.
Some of these included chairing various associations, promoting the insurance industry in Europe, attending international conferences as an employer representative, and being active on several committees focused on training and education, and setting accreditation standards.
During her time at Tolley and Gardener she was elected an Annual Subscriber at Lloyd’s of London and to the board of Meadows Tolley Insurance Brokers Ltd.
In 1987 Baker also jointly formed Film Insurance Underwriting Agencies Pty Ltd, which she sold in 2011.
In 1991 several broking and underwriting interests were sold to Jardine Lloyd Thompson (JLT) in Australia and Baker became the first woman appointed to the board of Jardine Australia Insurance Brokers, as national director – strategic planning with responsibilities throughout the Pacific Rim.
In 1992 she was appointed one of the first QPIBs (Qualified Professional Insurance Broker) and Fellow of the National Insurance Brokers Association (NIBA) and became the most highly placed woman in the insurance broking industry.
After being retained by NIBA to write the first Professional Indemnity Loss Control audit system and authoring the first Gold Book – a Guidance Manual for Professional Insurance Brokers, in 1994 Valerie launched one of the industry’s biggest steps forward – Gold Seal.
Many companies throughout the industry acknowledge the benefits of advice and counsel this consultancy has given to broking firms, small to large. Initially Gold Seal delivered Professional Indemnity loss control audit services, but rapidly expanded to include consulting, legal, training, education human resources and HR/IR support to insurance intermediaries.
In 2011 Valerie was nominated for the ANZIIF Lifetime Achievement Award. This award recognises individuals who have contributed to advancing, promoting and improving the standing and development of the insurance industry. Valerie was described in the nomination as “a leader and valued contributor to the industry over the course of her career”.
In her final days, Valerie Baker handed over operational control of Gold Seal to her sister Sheila and Valerie’s second husband David Burles remains as shareholder.
Valerie Baker Memorial Award
In March 2014 the inaugural Valerie Baker Memorial Award recognising excellence in professional practice in the General Insurance intermediary sector was awarded.
The Award memorialises the achievements Valerie made during her lifetime towards the professionalism of the Insurance Broking and Underwriting Agency industries and continues her work in encouraging high potential individuals. The winner receives a trip to London including business class fares and accommodation plus attendance at an appropriate industry short course and a tour of the Lloyd's of London facility. The prize is based in London because of Valerie's affiliation and achievement in that market as an Australian GI Broker and also to acknowledge and underline the importance of knowledge of operations of the London market to Australian intermediaries.
It is awarded nationally once every year and is sponsored jointly by Gold Seal and the Steadfast Group.