In our special column this time, we are pleased to host an interview with Sophia Bullard, Crew Health Programme Director, UK P&I Club who discusses about her role in the mental health department and highlights the importance of gender equality inside the shipping industry.
Mrs. Bullard mentions that listening to others more experienced colleagues and with specialized knowledge has been a worthwhile investment in her career so far as well as her involvement with charities; not only on professional level but equally satisfying for her personal life.
SAFETY4SEA: How did it come about that you joined shipping industry and your field of expertise specifically?
Sophia Bullard: After I had my first son, I spent a couple of years at home before I returned to work. I previously worked in the financial services industry but was interested to widen my experience and work within a different sector. In the spring of 1992, I was offered an administrative position at Thomas Miller & Co Ltd (Manager of the UK P&I Club). After a few years, I was promoted into a trainee claims position and then on to management of a central service team. In 2004, I heard about the PEME (Pre-Employment Medical Examination) Director role and I applied. The rest, as they say, is history.
S4S: What about your current job/ role most excites you and why?
S.B.: No two days are the same when working with people and health. I would definitely say I enjoy the unpredictable element of my work. My role is continually changing, it keeps me on my toes and ensures I’m always learning. I also like being able to help people and it’s very satisfying when a member comes to us with a challenging situation and we are instrumental in resolving the situation.
Last, but not least, I really enjoy meeting other people in the industry who care about crew. My involvement with the charities over the last four or five years has been extremely enjoyable and satisfying on both personal and professional levels.
S4S: When you think of the word successful who’s the first person who comes to mind and why?
S.B.: Richard Branson. I have always found him fascinating; he seems to be a charismatic, and inspiring leader who followed his own goals and pushes the boundaries no matter what sector he chooses to venture into.
S4S: Who is/was the most influential person/mentor to you & why ?
S.B.: I am fortunate in that I have worked with some wonderful mentors and really motivated people in my career. One of my previous managers really stands out. He really pushed me to try new things and even suggested I should apply for my current role. He knew me quite well and he saw my potential long before I did myself. He even knew that, despite my somewhat limited knowledge on the subject of crew medicals in the beginning, I would grow and thrive in the role.
S4S: What is the best and what was the worst piece of advice you’ve ever been given and why?
S.B.: The best advice I received was from my parents who brought me up to ask questions, follow my gut instincts and speak up for myself. At many points in my personal and professional life I have gone back to that advice and leant on it to help get me through.
The worst advice I received was many years ago when I was told by a friend not to bother to try and better myself. I was going for a new job at the time and they tried to talk me out of it before I even had the interview. Fortunately, I didn’t listen. I took that as a challenge and went on to get the promotion.
S4S: What is the most worthwhile career investment (in energy, time, money) you’ve ever made?
S.B.: My most worthwhile career investment has to be the time I have spent listening to my learned and more experienced colleagues. At the Club there are so many people with a wealth of specialised knowledge who are more than happy to share it. People are often kind enough to invest their time and knowledge when asked. As my experience has grown, I can see that investment in the growth of others is extremely rewarding.
S4S: If you could give a piece of advice to your 18-year-old-self one thing, what would it be and why? What piece of advice should you ignore?
S.B.: Step outside your comfort zone. Follow your instincts and don’t be held back by other people who don’t share your vision or views.”
S4S: In the last five years, what new belief, behaviour, or habit has most improved your business life?
S.B.: Interestingly, it is my crew wellness projects with the seafarer charities (particularly Sailors Society, ISWAN, Apostleship of the Seas and Mission to Seafarers) which have a big impact on me and improved my business life. My personal support of maritime charities has been very satisfying and I am proud to be a Global Ambassador of Sailors Society. It has given me the opportunities to make a tangible difference to great causes, educate myself on a range of maritime topics and meet other fascinating, dedicated and like-minded people in our industry.
My involvement in mental health initiatives has taught me a lot about myself and others. This has led to a change in my attitude to life and interaction with others in a most positive way.
S4S: What would you like to change in the current maritime landscape and your area of expertise specifically and why?
S.B.: I really hope in the future we can see a more even gender balance within the industry, particularly for those at sea. While on shore we have started to embrace diversity and gender equality, there is still a long way to go on this subject. I personally feel a more equal workforce may even solve some of the mental health issues we currently see.
S4S: What is your personal motto?
S.B.: ‘’We must become the change we wish to see in the world.” (Mohandas (Mahatma) Ghandi)
About Sophia Bullard, Crew Health Programme Director, UK P&I Club
Sophia joined Thomas Miller in 1992 and from 1994 worked as a claims handler dealing mainly with French and Spanish members. In 2004 Sophia became the Crew Health Programme Director. As part of her work in the Crew Health Programme, Sophia has undertaken a large number of clinic audits, implemented the standard medical form and clinic guidelines. She has also led the scheme through the largest period of growth and development with a doubling of approved clinic facilities and a fourfold member increase. Sophia is a Director of Thomas Miller & Co. Ltd.