In the latest instalment of our Inspiring Leaders series, we caught up with Chantelle Gibson, our Billing and Installation Coordinator at Chubb Ireland.  

Read on to learn more about Chantelle and discover how her “I’ll give it a bash” attitude has helped her become an inspiring leader.  

Growing up between cultures 

I was born in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. My parents weren’t married at the time, which was quite taboo, so I featured in all of their wedding photos at about 11 months old. After my dad secured work in Francistown, Botswana, we relocated soon after they got married. I attended nursery school and later primary school there. However, my parents divorced when I was around 10 years old, so my mother decided to move us back to Bulawayo. There, I completed my primary education and went to the secondary school until I was about 15 or 16. 

Coming from a divorced family, life was not without its challenges. Struggling to adjust to my new stepdad, I made the decision to move back to Botswana to live with my father and his new wife. I completed my secondary education and achieved O Levels (as the school followed the Cambridge syllabus). By the time I finished, family dynamics and politics led me to the realisation that I needed to start working and gain independence. Eager to get into work, I seized the first opportunity that came my way and started working at a hotel as a receptionist. It was great, and I really enjoyed it, but it wasn’t long before I took up an administrative position at an engineering company, igniting my curiosity and passion for learning.  

Despite only being 19 or so, I absorbed knowledge and skills quickly. It was about this time many of my friends were moving to the UK. I was young, so I wanted to give that a bash, too. But after three months, I decided it wasn’t the right fit for me. Returning to Botswana, I soon met the man who would become my husband. 

My husband ran his own business, so in true African entrepreneurial spirit, we worked on various business ventures together. From running a butchery supplying game meat to hotels to venturing into car washes, our journey was marked by diversity and adaptability. While my husband thrived in customer-facing roles, I found my niche behind the scenes, managing administrative tasks and ensuring the smooth operation of our endeavours. Despite lacking formal education in office administration or accounting, I embraced self-teaching, acquiring skills and expertise through hands-on experience and determination. 

Transitioning to Ireland 

The transition to Ireland happened because of my son. He was in his second last year of primary school, and we realised there were limited options for good secondary schools in Botswana. Both my husband and I had experienced boarding school in our youth and didn’t want the same for our children. So, we sought alternatives. By chance, I found a Facebook page about South Africans moving to Ireland. Intrigued, I asked about the process, and to my surprise, it seemed straightforward due to my British passport and EU treaties. Over the Easter weekend in 2017, we made the bold decision as a family to make the move. By August, we were starting a new chapter in Ireland. It was a significant move for all of us, especially considering our children’s ages – my son was 12, and my other children were nine, eight, and three at the time. 

Adapting to life in Ireland 

While my children and I adjusted remarkably well, integrating seamlessly into their new environment, my husband had a different experience. For my son, we opted to enrol him back into primary school for a year to make friends and make the transition to secondary school easier. Personally, I felt a sense of belonging almost immediately upon arriving in Ireland. Within just a month, it felt like home, a place where I belonged. However, for my husband, the adjustment was more challenging. Having been accustomed to running his own businesses, transitioning to an employed role was difficult. It took him about three years to truly feel at home. We’ve now settled in Ireland, been granted 10-year permanent residency, and we’re in the process of applying for citizenship. Ireland has become our home, where we are building our future together as a family. 

A short-term thing 

I applied to work at Chubb on what was initially only supposed to be cover on a 12-month maternity contract. However, fate had other plans. Around six months into my role, Alan O’Connor approached me and said he wanted me to stay on when the returning employee resumed their role. As it happened, that employee opted not to return, and nearly seven years later, I’m fully immersed in my role. 

The inclusive environment at Chubb, particularly since the launch of our new values, encourages every individual to explore new ways of working and have the confidence to present them to their line managers. 

I also believe you can’t do anything professionally or personally without being honest. It’s one of my core values. Being transparent not only with others but also with yourself, acknowledging your strengths and limitations while maintaining a positive outlook and readiness to tackle challenges head-on is so important.  

There have been plenty of times in my career where I’ve been asked to do certain tasks and I’ve always said yeah, knowing full well I had no idea how I was going to do it. I’ve always believed I should never be afraid to say, “Yeah, I’ll give it a bash!”. 

A defining moment in my career 

Looking back on my career, my journey before Chubb was more about survival than anything else. Africa presents its own unique set of challenges when it comes to earning a living or running a business. However, there have been a couple of moments that have shaped where I am now. 

About four years ago, I handed in my resignation at Chubb. Alan was gutted and asked what he could do to keep hold of me. I simply told him that I had so much more to give the organisation than number crunching all day.  

Alan not only listened but set me on my way with my current role and newfound freedom to initiate change and reshape our processes. Alan’s trust and faith in my abilities was empowering, and that’s a testament to Alan’s leadership. 

Knowledge is power, and sharing it empowers people to a level where we can collectively elevate each other to reach our fullest potential. 

Nurturing a supportive environment 

In my role, I oversee a team of three direct reports. Encouraging them to voice their opinions and ideas has been a journey in itself. Many initially felt restricted or hesitant to share their thoughts openly. The challenge was creating an environment where they felt comfortable and confident to speak up about their concerns and ideas. What I discovered was that my team members possessed valuable insights and problem-solving abilities; they simply lacked the platform to say, “Hey, I know how we can fix that”. 

I’ve made a point to listen to their suggestions, and we’ve implemented many of their ideas, which have become standard practice within our team. 

Effective strategies for leadership development 

When it comes to leadership and developing others, the person that you’re trying to encourage needs to have a drive and passion to lead. Leadership isn’t just about a job title; it’s a mindset fuelled by ambition and a desire for growth. Encouraging and nurturing that ‘spark’ is key to unlocking leadership potential. 

I’ve witnessed firsthand the power of mentorship and guidance in developing leadership capabilities. 

What is your favourite colour? 

It would have to be black. I’m not a very bold person, so when I think, would I wear red? No, I’d probably wear black before I wore red. And it’s nice, classy, and slimming. 

What is your favourite food? 

Hands down, sushi. But the funny thing about sushi, I didn’t try it until I was about 30. I was at a dinner party and tried a piece, and I was hooked. It’s just one of those things that I tried and absolutely fell in love with. 

What do you like to do in your spare time? 

I am one hundred per cent a plant fanatic. I must have over 80 indoor house plants. I love doing puzzles. Even at night. It’s something my gran got me into when I was about 10 or 11. I completely switch off and it’s the only thing I’m thinking about. We also love getting out and exploring Ireland. There’s just so much to offer here. And for us, everything is new. 

Who would be your dream dinner guest? 

There are so many people that run through my mind, but I think it would probably be somebody like Meryl Streep. Any strong woman who’s paved the way for other people. Her experiences are so different from what mine have been. She’s had to fight so much harder.  

The late Queen would have been another one. She did phenomenal things for the country, and she was such a beacon of hope for every female.  

What is your favourite song? 

I have a few, but I would say “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” by Starship. It’s because of my husband. There is quite an age gap between us, and a lot of people had concerns when we first got together.  So that song means a lot to us because it doesn’t matter what life throws at us; we’ve got it, nothing’s going to stop us, and we’re going to keep going. 

What word would your colleagues use to describe you? 

Workaholic. But I’d also like to think they’d say I’m easy to talk to and that I listen. I give them space to do their own job, I don’t hover over them or question them.  I let them do their thing, and hopefully, they know I’m just a phone call, email, or Teams message away if they need.  

How would your family describe you? 

They’d probably say I’m very strong, independent, and outspoken about the things I believe in. They’d say I’m caring and loving – I hope those are the words that they use, anyway! 

What is your favourite spot in the world? 

My favourite spot in the world would have to be the Chobe River in Botswana. There’s something magical about that place. Coming from Africa, there’s just some things that I don’t think you can experience anywhere else. There’s something about the tranquillity of being in the bush with just nature around you that is unbeatable.