Spotlight on Marisa Hall – Head of the Thinking Ahead Institute

Tell me a little about yourself: I’d say that I’m a glass-half-full kind of person – forever the optimist and prone to thinking that there must be a better way of doing things. I’m quite driven, which for work is a good thing but for my family is probably annoying, especially when I insist that we need to finish putting up the Christmas tree late into the night, or be efficient and do 10 errands in a single car trip (because we’re there already!). Hmmm…maybe I need to do some self-reflection on this point!
I’m married, have two kids and, despite their constant pleas, have no dog. I’m a British-Trinidadian-Jamaican (if that’s a thing) and spent the first 21 years of my life walking around in flip flops in the Caribbean. An actuary by qualification, an investment consultant by work background and a bleeding heart for young people and children in need.

What has been the highlight of your career so far? Corny I know but it’s genuinely working with the Thinking Ahead Institute! I remember going to a World Economic Forum special interest group meeting in Germany a few years back and being asked to explain what I did. One person grabbed me afterwards and said that they wish they could work for the Institute because there was so much purpose in what we do (and also commented that we had a cool name too – ha!).  I’m going to be greedy and say that my close second was winning the CEO Circle Awards for outstanding contribution to the values of Willis Towers Watson and going to Miami to meet our CEO. But what mattered more, and what remains with me to this day, was hearing all of the wonderful things that my colleagues and people in the industry had said in the nomination form (which my boss forced me to listen to). Our industry has some amazing and talented people and so it felt a privilege to hear their thoughts. 

What is your favourite thing about working for TAI? I love the ‘aha’ moments! We spend a lot of time in the team trying to answer questions that don’t have obvious answers but we think are critical. It can be difficult and sometimes frustrating when we just seem to be stuck. But it always comes (though not necessarily in the way that we might have envisaged) – that ‘aha’ moment when someone says something and things just start clicking together. We are each so different in the team, and for me, the best bit is when I can turn something quite nuanced into a message that others want to hear and connect with. I love working with the team – we value each other’s voice and that’s a beautiful dynamic to be in.  

What motivates you? In my quiet moments, I like to stretch my memory back to as far as I can, and often imagine myself sitting in a mango tree eating mangos at my grandma’s house in Tobago, or playing marbles with my brother and sister on the concrete floor of our house. My life is so different from when I was a child. I grew up in Trinidad in a very small town and went to the local primary school. I remember having friends that had to study under street lights because they didn’t have electricity at home and kids who had to bathe at school because they didn’t have water. I also remember feeling fortunate to be ‘bright’ and to pass common entrance exams to get into high school – there were so many kids that didn’t and had to find another path to their lives that didn’t involve being educated beyond age 11. I feel incredibly privileged, but in a way that is probably different to what most might expect. I didn’t come from a well-off family but I survived. I got an education, made it through university, got a job and am now part of an industry that manages the wealth of billions of people. But I still can’t forget how I grew up, and the many lives that were left behind – and so my natural state is to be quite driven and constantly seek purpose in what I do. 

As a child what did you want to be when you grew up? A maths teacher! My mom was a high school teacher and I used to spend lots of time in the staff room by myself while she finished classes. I would put on her high heels, pick up a ruler and walk around pretending to teach imaginary kids. In another life, I sometimes wish I was a gardener as I really love beautiful gardens – but I don’t think I have the patience (or the skill set) for it!

If you could give your younger self one piece of advice what would it be? Tomorrow is a new day. No matter how bad something may seem, no matter how difficult it is, you can get through it. Being resilient is one of the most important skill sets that anyone can have.  Advice that I’m still trying to learn: don’t be so hard on yourself…

Who does the cooking in your household? I can’t say that there’s too much cooking going on but when it does happen, it’s done by my husband, Kurt. Both he and my son are really fussy eaters (aka – they don’t like anything that I make) and so if the kids want anything good, they normally ask him. I like to think of myself as the person who maintains order and tidies up afterwards as the kitchen is normally a nightmare once he’s finished!

How would your husband describe you in three words: Just had to ask him! Outcomes focussed, detailed and a lateral thinker. Can I just note here that he also said I’m rubbish at playing football – he and the kids have recently started calling me the ‘antidote to winning’!