Chris Slater

Founder and CEO, Oka, The Carbon Insurance Company

A seasoned entrepreneur with 20+ years of experience scaling businesses with profit and purpose, Chris is a values-led leader who enjoys taking on challenges.

As Founder & CEO of Oka, The Carbon Insurance Company, Chris is bringing this experience to the voluntary carbon market, working with a dedicated group of talented individuals to ensure that every carbon credit is insured. The need for insurance is clear, and Chris and the team are working with partners across the voluntary carbon market to deliver solutions that help clients mitigate risk in an unregulated and opaque market and achieve their net zero targets.

Before joining Oka, The Carbon Insurance Company, Chris spent 15 years as Co-Founder and COO of Simply Business, a UK/US-based insurtech. As a leader of the world’s first online quote and buy platform for small business insurance, Chris was the architect of many of the companies firsts; panel insurer creation, MGA build-out, delegated claims administration, price optimization, online:offline quote and buy, and more — including a spot at the top of the Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work For in 2015 and 2016, as well as becoming one of the UK’s first financial services B-Corp. After the company’s 2017 exit to the Travelers Group (NASDAQ:TRV) for $490m, Chris remained an advisor to the business.

For the past five years, Chris has worked across several organizations, including CEO of Sanctus, a UK workplace coaching business; building 53º Capital, a fund investing in European start-up and scale-up companies; and Trustee for Young Enterprise, the UK’s largest youth education charity.

Chris obtained a degree in Business Economics from the University of Liverpool and an MBA from Bayes Business School, City University, London.

1. What values are most important to you as a leader? 

Having used a personal coach for over 10 years, I’ve spent a lot of time understanding the values that drive me and ensuring my leadership aligns with them. I search for opportunities where I can truly live these values and often fall back on them when judging decisions. In no particular order they are:

– Competition: I need to work in an environment where we are trying to win. And not in the “winner takes all, everyone must lose” type approach but breaking new ground or trying new approaches to old problems. I need to feel like I’m challenging some norm or building something new. Launching Oka, The Carbon Insurance Company is my sweet spot as we look to build completely new insurance products. In a market that didn’t exist 20 years ago, we need to push back against the old and compete against the forces that are telling us it can’t be done. 

– Fairness: perhaps my strongest value, I believe in creating environments where everyone’s voice can be heard and I’m intolerant to situations where people feel like they are owed something. Respect needs to be earned, irrespective of seniority and sometimes to my downfall I like having more people in the room, rather than less, to stimulate ideas and drive change. 

– Autonomy: I hate being told what to do! Freedom of decision making is key and not just for me but also, I believe, for teams to really scale. Continuing to push autonomy down into an organisation is critical to build trust and move fast and where organisations often slow down as they get bigger. It’s why I need to work in fast growing startups and why a CEO role makes most sense!

– Ambition: this is about trying to be the best I can be and setting the conditions for others to also achieve greatness. I’m constantly looking for learning opportunities and surrounding myself with people who push me to be better. 

– Fun: an optimist by heart, life is too short to not be enjoying yourself. I search for joy in life, and never take myself too seriously. Humour can be so underrated in the work environment, but I believe is powerful in building high performing teams. Oh, and as a hedonist I’m always searching for the next party!

2. Who or what is your biggest inspiration?

In my formative years it was very much my dad through both his work ethic but also his constant curiosity and desire to learn new technologies. As an electronics engineer working throughout the 80’s and 90’s on high precision semiconductor programmes, he was always bringing home stories of the potential that technology had to change lives, and pushing Isaac Asimov books of space travel onto me (even if sci Fi never really appealed to me!) Until you become a parent yourself, you don’t necessarily realise how important yours are in instilling good values but his influence in pushing me to be better and take the hard option has stood me in good stead over my life. 

But in my working life, my biggest inspiration has to be my good friend Jason Stockwood who worked with me whilst at Simply Business and really catapulted me and the business forward when he joined as CEO in 2010. I’ve rarely met someone who thinks as big as him and who really does believe anything is possible for both him and the people around him. He always led with huge humility and to this day continues to inspire me in terms of finding balance in being a hugely successful entrepreneur but with priority at home as a father and husband. When faced with many large business decisions over the years I’ve often thought “what would Jason do” and more often than not, the choice has been right, even if painful or difficult. 

3. Best piece of advice you have been given?

Two pieces of advice stand out. The first was from an Argentinian deal maker who took me under his wing when I was 22 and he was leading a team negotiating the sale of a large U.K. life insurance business and allowed me to shadow him for 6 months. He said to me “the most powerful tool in negotiation is silence. Your counterparts will always fill the void and more often than not give away something they don’t want to give”. Generally, in life, this active listening advice has stood me well. 

The second piece of advice was given to me by an old handball coach when I was a teenager and trialling for the GB team. I was a competitive sort and missed out on getting onto the team. He pulled me aside and said something akin to the famous Roosevelt passage about “some people ignore opportunities and never get the chance to succeed. You’ve got to put yourself in the arena and then even if you fail, you’ve at least tried.” I’ve lived by this ever since and have always given it a go even if it’s led to a bad experience!

4. What would you tell your younger self?

I feel like I’ve led an incredibly fortunate life and have enjoyed almost all of it. I’ve got no regrets as every decision I’ve made has taken me to where I stand today and I couldn’t be happier. I’ve probably learnt to trust more as I’ve gotten older and, therefore, I’d probably say to my younger self to believe more and if I could, to not worry about things out of my control. 

5. What has been your most important or profound lesson as a leader?

My most important lesson as a leader has been that mistakes are just a part of life and pretending to be infallible is a road to ruin. I’ve watched leaders pretend they are perfect or have all the answers and lose credibility when people start to see through the facade. Especially true in today’s organisations, you’ve got to be yourself and accept we are all human and have parts of our character people may not like. Coming to terms with that as a leader and building this into your day-to-day life is not only a lot less exhausting, can build many more deep and trusted connections but can also make life so much more enjoyable. Oh, and it’s our only push back against the rise of the machines!