Shona Robertson grew up in Insch, where her parents still live, but has travelled all over the world. She tells Natasha Mckim about the big decision she made to take back control of her life and leave the sport she loved.
What do skiing and insurance have in common? Shona Robertson was able to take skills learned during her career in skiing and use them in her day-to-day job in the family business.
Shona is more than familiar with the family firm of H & R Insurance. From the age of four, Shona was in the offices playing with money, and perhaps hindering the staff. She joined as a partner in 2004 when her father retired, but there are still staff members working there who remember her as a little girl.
“The family business was formed in 1972 by my dad,” she said. “When I was little I was in the office a lot and enjoyed spending time with my dad.”
But Shona wasn’t always involved in the family business. At the age of eight she developed a buzz from skiing down the slopes of the Lecht. Skiing came about “by chance”. One day she and her mother were picking up a new car, a convertible Escort, and drove with the hood down along the road to the Lecht. It was a “lovely spring day” and the sun was shining down and the skiing looked fun to the pair in the car.
“We got in two weekends of skiing before the snow melted. We did lessons and I was hooked. The following winter we were at the Lecht every weekend and then went on our first skiing holiday to Austria. The instructor there said my sister and I were quite talented,” she said.
Upon their arrival back home, their dad promptly enrolled the girls in the Aberdeen Ski Club and “the rest was history”. Once Shona had tasted success she was not going back. A year in the Scottish Ski Team was followed by a stint with the British Alpine Ski Team, where they would spend all winter abroad, from November to April. At the point where Shona became the number two in the UK, the Olympic selectors overlooked her.
“There was a lot of politics going on at the time,” Shona said. “I wasn’t in charge of my own future. I had to make a decision if I was going to focus the next four years of my life on the Olympics, or to cut my losses, go to university and regain control in my life.”
When Shona finished her skiing career, she ventured on to a business computing degree at RGU. Having left school at the age of 16, she had no Highers to her name. A summer access course solved that problem and soon she finished her degree and joined H & R Insurance full time. Later she went to the City of London Business School to study a masters degree in regulated financial services.
She said: “Living in London was great. If you go out in Aberdeen everyone is more together, whereas in London it is like several mini cities. And when the tubes stop it is difficult to get around. It was nice to come back.”
Her years of travelling and skiing have not gone to waste, instead they have left Shona with some essential skills, such as dedication and a work ethic. Learning to have a positive mental attitude and taking control of what is controllable has been helpful in business to her.
“Working hard as an athlete put work into context. I’m the kind of person who always has to be doing something. If I have ten minutes spare then I will do a task, and then often run late,” she said.
Shona thrives on being busy. Her day-to-day tasks involve running the company, making strategic decisions, implementing any chances and rolling them out, running projects, banking, IT and dealing with client issues. The company has a phone structure in place which leads an unanswered phone call to her office, because the clients are very important to Shona.
Because their clients have been affected by the downturn in Aberdeen, they have also felt the negative effects. Shona looks at it as something which is one of those uncontrollable issues, which they can ride out, work out other ways of managing the business, and help their clients as much as possible.