I spy for the ABI: our man from Washington

Stephen Sklaroff: Association of British Insurers
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The Independent Online

Stephen Sklaroff began his career as a scientist but then moved to the civil service and worked his way up through the ranks. Starting off at the Department of Energy, he became first secretary at the British Embassy in Washington, and then went on to work at the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). Now, at 43, Mr Sklaroff is the deputy director general of the Association of British Insurers (ABI).

Stephen Sklaroff began his career as a scientist but then moved to the civil service and worked his way up through the ranks. Starting off at the Department of Energy, he became first secretary at the British Embassy in Washington, and then went on to work at the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). Now, at 43, Mr Sklaroff is the deputy director general of the Association of British Insurers (ABI).

How did you get started in this industry, and what is your day-to-day role?

I'd worked in the civil service industry for 15 years and wanted to try my hand at something different. Having had contact with the City and financial services, it seemed a good idea to move in that direction. The position of deputy director general at the ABI came up in February of this year and I decided to apply.

As deputy director general, I deputise across the board for Mary Francis, the director general. In addition, I am responsible for the association's research programme, which concentrates on economic research and statistics, and for European and international affairs. This involves marketing issues outside the EU.

What did you do before?

I started my career as a research scientist but decided to move into the civil service in 1984. I began working at the Department of Energy and became private secretary to the secretary of state for energy, working for Peter Walker and Cecil Parkinson. I was also involved in the privatisation of the electricity industry.

In the early Nineties I moved to Washington to become first secretary at the British Embassy. There I had responsibility for energy, environment and telecommunications policies. In 1993 I went to the DTI where I worked for Margaret Beckett, Peter Mandelson and Stephen Byers.

What qualifications do you have and are they relevant to what you do today?

I have a first in biological science from Edinburgh University and did a PhD in biochemistry at University College London.

My qualifications aren't directly relevant but, as people always say, it is useful to have gone through a rigorous learning process, although the subject that you study doesn't always matter.

Is this the job you have always wanted to do?

I never really had a clear idea of where I wanted to end up. As a boy I was interested in both art and science, and for reasons unknown to me now, I ended up going into science. However, halfway through my PhD research I decided that I didn't want to make my career in science. It was at this time that someone pointed out to me I could do well in the civil service sector, so off I went.

Have there been any key moments in your career?

There have been three key moments. One was deciding that I didn't want to spend my career at the lab bench and making the leap into the civil services. Another was working as a diplomat in Washington, and the third was working in communications at the DTI.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you had known before?

Nothing ever happens as quickly as you like it to. Had I known this when I was younger, it would have been very useful.

What advice would you give to people starting out in this industry?

There are numerous ways to get into the financial sector. One is to go into the many different firms which operate in the sector, ranging from investment banking to retail banking and insurance. If, like myself, you are more interested in the public-policy end of the industry, the best thing to do is work for one of the dozens of trade bodies. I would always recommend a stint in the government machinery because it teaches you how everything works.

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