Leadership / 04.07.21
Booking Protect’s Cat Spencer is Laughing, Loving and Living Her Very Best Life
It has been said that if you have a sense of humor, you can survive anything life throws at you. That pretty much sums up Cat Spencer’s approach to life: a big smile and a few laughs go a long way.
Cat’s interview for this article was peppered with funny moments. For example, when asked about one’s greatest love in life, most people readily identify another person or, perhaps, a hobby. Not Cat, who started off by saying there is no way she could pick just one person, then continued, “I absolutely love pizza, so that’s pretty high on my list of great loves.” And not just any old pizza but, controversially, ham and pineapple. “I know the pineapple quite often separates people.”
It is one of many light moments that revealed Cat’s vibrant personality as she reflected on her role as Business Development Director for Booking Protect, a global refund protection company based in the United Kingdom. Her success in that role, she says, is her greatest achievement in life to date.
“I have been there since pretty much the beginning in 2014, and I have been responsible for taking it from its grassroots right through to being an award-winning company. We have 4,000 reviews on customer review sites with an excellent rating,” Cat shares proudly. “It has been such a huge opportunity and such a great experience to learn, and I am just so proud of what we have built. As a manager, I love my team contributing their own thoughts, because you are a team at the end of the day. If one person could do the job in isolation, then one person would do it. It takes a team and a whole group of different ideas to make things work well.”
Winning awards with Booking Protect.
And what about her own approach as a leader? What does she feel is important?
“The best leaders I have worked for have been supportive but have given me the freedom to do my job the way I think it needs to be done, so someone who will trust you and give you the room to fail and try out your own ideas. If they don’t work, that is OK, and we will change them quickly together. [I also value] someone who will trust you and allow you to get on, not someone who micromanages and kind of holds you back.”
With a quick wit, industry knowledge and a go-getter attitude, it is no surprise that Cat reached a pinnacle of success quite early in life. When she was still in her twenties working for a big insurance company, Cat was nominated to participate in an innovative program that identified future industry leaders. After becoming one herself, she turned her attention to helping others.
“You asked me earlier about qualities in leadership. As a leader, our job is to produce future leaders because the world goes on. After we stop being leaders, there have to be strong people who can step into those roles,” she says. “As a good leader, I think you have a responsibility to bring people up, help them to grow and reach their own potential. I love having the opportunity to develop people. We have a team member who has been with us coming on six years now. He was 17 and an apprentice when he started, and he has just gone from strength to strength to strength. He has become one of the most invaluable members of the team. I enjoy watching someone develop in that way and seeing them growing in confidence. It is one of my favorite things about my job.”
When asked if there is anyone who particularly inspires her, Cat points to other successful women, especially those who have managed to find a balance between careers and family responsibilities.
“I think people who have managed to successfully hold down careers while having families are really inspiring,” Cat says. “In my early career, I was given the message that it was career or family, and there was a sort of expectation that you would choose. As I have grown up and watched other women in higher positions, I have learned that is not the case at all. Women will always have to have the babies … and, therefore, it is about accepting that and helping women to have families and a successful career. It should not be a choice because it is not a choice for others. I think women who are in fantastic positions — people like Whitney Wolfe Herd, the CEO of Bumble and others who are becoming real figureheads, plus ladies that are young and coming into their industries — are fantastically inspiring.”
When Cat becomes reflective and looks back on all the hard work she put into getting to where she is today, she says she has no regrets. But if she could do it all over again, is there anything she would do differently?
“In my twenties, I was really career focused,” she says. “I moved 12 times to 12 cities in 12 years because I wanted to get on. That served me really well and helped me get to where I am today, so I am not grumbling, but I have come to recognize that life is short and, perhaps, I could have taken some time to enjoy the journey a bit more. You know, relax, have fun. Chill out and do silly things.”
It is perhaps no surprise then that, at this stage in her life, Cat has learned to do just that. What does she value most in her friends? She laughs. “Humor, of course! Life can be really tough, and friends are a great source of support, but ultimately for me, it is all about getting together and having a giggle — laughing off the bad stuff and laughing about the good stuff.”
For Cat, the good stuff includes being surrounded by friends and family in Worcester in the West Midlands region of England — best known for Worcestershire Sauce, a popular savory-sweet liquid condiment. Like so many people these days, she has been spending an inordinate amount of time at home because of the pandemic. When asked where in the world she would most love to live, she laughed and said, “Anywhere other than my own house right now! I am tired of the sight of it. Don’t get me wrong, I have a lovely house, but I would literally take a tent in a field anywhere over being behind these four walls at the moment.”
From left: Dad, Dexter, Cat and Rob.
Somewhere behind those walls, one can find what Cat considers to be her most treasured possession. “I have some Lladró China porcelain statues that belonged to my mom, and I do not have my mom anymore. The statues have been broken and glued together more times than I care to remember, including before I was born, when I was a child and since my mom passed away. They are so knackered. I am not a hugely sentimental person, so I did not keep a lot of my mom’s stuff, but I kept these because they meant a lot to her. They mean a lot to me, too, and it is really nice to have them have them around. Of all the possessions in our house, if we had a fire, they would be the things I would be grabbing on the way out the door.”
Perhaps even more importantly for Cat, those four walls are filled with love. She clearly appreciates spending time at home with her husband and 6-year-old stepson, doing the simple things in life such as watching television and reading.
Cat and Dexter.
“I am so fortunate that my house is filled with people who I love and want to spend time with,” she says. “I know not everybody has been in such a fortunate position [during the pandemic]. There are members of my family who are not local to us, and that has made me realize just how important they are, how much I have missed them and how much happiness they bring to my life. This includes my younger sister, who I have not seen for more than 12 months. It may sound strange, but I really look up to her. She is someone who has been very genuine throughout her life. She now has a beautiful family that she is doing a fantastic job of raising; she is in a job that she loves; she is very balanced; and she is someone that I can always turn to for level advice. We all have those moments where we are not sure if we are being out of order or if somebody else is. During those times, you need someone who can really look at something objectively and not just take your point of view, but help you to see both sides of an argument. My sister has always been very good at that. I admire her a lot, and I am very proud of her. We have been very close our whole lives, and she is my best friend.”
Cat and her sister.
Outside of her own family, Cat admires people who “are brave enough to step outside of the norm to do something that would have been a challenge, like setting up a new business or volunteering to help those in need in foreign countries when there is a disaster.” Any kind of activity, she says, where the easier option is to sit comfortably at home in your security blanket. “There are people who are prepared to step outside of their comfort zone and really push themselves. I think it is such an amazing quality to feel the fear and do it anyway. There are not a lot of people who actually live their life doing that, so when I meet people who do take risks and are prepared to take on a challenge, I think that is an excellent quality.”
Cat clearly has some excellent qualities and talents of her own, but the one skill she dreams about is the ability to sing. “I think people who can sing, especially in front of other people, are amazing. It is really putting yourself out there, and I would love to be able to sing. Well, I do sing — in the shower and in the car,” she says, laughing once again.
For now, Cat remains content to put her efforts into more physical activities. “I do a lot of indoor climbing,” she says. “I also like to box, which I have obviously not been able to do for a while because of the pandemic. It is a strange choice for me because I went from hating the sport to watching and loving it and then taking it on myself, all within a space of three years.”
Cat after completing the Great North Run.
Cat’s favorite sport is football (or soccer if you are in the U.S.). For a girl who hails originally from Manchester, her favorite team is, of course, Manchester United. “We are a huge football household. We are quite a football-oriented company as well. There are a lot of big football fans [at Booking Protect], so there is a lot of banter that goes on at work. We all individually have our own fantasy football league, so we compete in those, which is good fun. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who used to play with Manchester United for a while, is probably my favorite player of all time. He has incredible confidence. Every time he speaks, he’s like, ‘Yeah, I’m not a player. I’m a lion.’ I think his confidence and self-assured attitude is really remarkable. He is the best because he believes he is the best.”
When she turns her attention to favorite venues, Cat unexpectantly does not choose Old Trafford, the stadium where Manchester United has played for over a century. Instead, she goes in an entirely different direction and names two theaters, the Octagon in Bolton, England, and the Swan Theatre not far from her home in Worcester, both for sentimental reasons. “I picked the Bolton Octagon because that is where I had my first real theatre experiences as a child. Going there was really what sparked my interest in this whole industry. I chose the Swan Theatre because I volunteer there and have a lot of fun.”
And Cat’s favorite live performance of all time? Well, that was further afield or “across the pond,” as the saying goes. “I have seen some really good live events, but I saw ‘Hamilton’ in its fairly early days from the front row of the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco. It was phenomenal, especially being English in an American audience, to really feel it. I have seen it again in the U.K., but it is a different atmosphere because you really have to know what the story is about to understand what I mean by that. It was just a fantastic experience. I am actually getting goosebumps now as I’m talking to you about it because I am remembering just how amazing it was.”
For someone who has moved so many times in her life, one wonders if Cat is now settled or might one day want to live “across the pond” or somewhere else. “I love the water and, more specifically, the sea. We talk a lot about moving to Devon, which is on the south coast of England,” she says. “In a dream world, we would be talking more like the Maldives or Miami but, in reality, I think I would miss my family too much. So, somewhere like Devon. A nice little place with a nice view of the water to wake up to every day would be fantastic.”
She continues, “My favorite place that I have been to was the Maldives. It was the most amazing holiday and just the most serene place to stand in the world, not see anything and just be you. That said, still on my list of things I am dying to do, I want to go swimming with great white sharks in a cage. That has been on my bucket list for quite a long time. I would like to go to the Neptune Islands or somewhere in South Africa to be able to tick that off the list. With everything we have been through this past year with the lockdown, we talked a lot about bumping that up now and making it a priority.”
Cat in the Maldives.
In the meantime, Cat seems content to travel occasionally, including to the annual INTIX conferences. “I have made some really good friends through INTIX, mostly as a result of attending the conference specifically. I love being able to go, have a laugh with people and have some fun together. Those people have been incredibly supportive and, hopefully, I feel like I have supported them too, especially during the pandemic, by having video calls and so on. I think it is important to be connected to people in your industry for a whole host of reasons, to keep up to date with the current market issues, changes that are coming and so on. But also, it is just really nice to be able to have a network of people you enjoy spending time with. Obviously with Booking Protect being a U.K.-based company, INTIX gives us the opportunity to keep that network up even across the pond. Indeed, I think the thing that INTIX gives me more than anything else is the international element. The opportunity to work with people from lots of different countries and stay connected in that way is huge.”
Cat and her Booking Protect colleagues at the INTIX Live! 2021 Digital Conference.
Cat has taken her involvement in INTIX well beyond day-to-day networking. She recently finished serving a term on the Board of Directors, helping to govern the organization and plan its future. “I think one of my most memorable moments was when Derek Palmer rang me to ask me whether or not I would like to join the board. I was so proud and so pleased to have been asked, and so excited to be involved. That was a good day. It has been interesting to see things from the point of view of everybody on the board. You have your own perspective when you look at certain issues, but then you hear 10 other people’s perspectives and you think, oh, OK, I see that differently now, or that makes me think something in a different way. I think a diversity of opinions is better than just hearing from one person, and I get that from INTIX.”
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