With 450 staff, including 135 lawyers, assets of $96 billion, and insurance deals with one in three Australians, the numbers involved in Anna Lenahan’s job at Suncorp are staggering. Lenahan began work as a clinical psychologist at the South Eastern Health Board in Ireland. In 1985, her husband, Niall, landed a role in Perth in mining. With two young daughters, Lenahan took a year off to be full-time mum and “almost went mad”, so she enrolled to study law at the University of Western Australia. She chose many criminal law subjects that tied in with her work as a psychologist and was so engrossed in the content she didn’t realise she was pregnant with her third child until 16 weeks into the pregnancy. Lenahan went on to work as a Crown Prosecutor in Perth. When her husband wanted to move to Sydney, she followed, and, in 2007, she took what could have been seen as a backward step, accepting a graduate role at Allens Arthur Robinson. She built a practice in the financial services area and rose to the position of Partner. Five years ago, about the same time as her husband was retiring, Lenahan was headhunted to join Suncorp as Executive General Manager Group General Counsel and Company Secretary. In 2013, her role was elevated to a Group Executive position, making her part of the Group’s Senior Leadership Team. In March, she was promoted to Chief Risk and Legal Officer, an expanded role including risk and responsibility for another 350 staff. At Suncorp she has been involved in the restructure of the insurance giant that has 9 million customers in Australia and New Zealand. Her role includes building Suncorp’s business and managing the company’s regulatory commitments. She also advises the Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director and the Board of Directors on legal matters. One of her big achievements has been leading a review of the external legal providers used by Suncorp. She has reduced the number of external law firms from 150 to 24. She shares details of the job she loves with JANE SOUTHWARD.
“When I look at everything I have done in my life, I see there is a part of me that is always looking for something different and that next challenge.
When I talk to graduates, that’s what I tell them – don’t be afraid to look for the next challenge. Some challenges come to you and others you look for.
When we moved to Sydney in 2007, I joined Allens and because I had only government experience as a psychologist in health and as a crown prosecutor in Perth. I actually joined as a graduate, and I was fine with that.
There was a bit of discussion about that. The main concern was that I would not be able to deal with answering to people who were much younger than me. I really didn’t have a problem with it. I just didn’t know what I didn’t know, and I knew I didn’t know it. I had a lot to learn, and when you have a lot to learn you have to recognise that. I was fortunate to accelerate quickly and I ended up being Partner.
Working in-house is different to working in a private firm. There is no doubt there is still stress. It’s a lot of work and you have plans to deliver to. You have deadlines and there are decisions to be made, but it is a different sort of stress to that in a private practice environment.