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Sammy Rubin: “Take a break”

Encourage teams to connect and promote values. We talk a lot about how we as a team are bound by certain core values. If a company can connect to a bigger mission than simply making money, but instead feel compassion and connect to a bigger purpose, they will succeed and make a positive mark on […]

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Encourage teams to connect and promote values. We talk a lot about how we as a team are bound by certain core values. If a company can connect to a bigger mission than simply making money, but instead feel compassion and connect to a bigger purpose, they will succeed and make a positive mark on the world. It’s about realizing we are on a journey to make a difference together.


As a part of my series about leaders who integrate mindfulness and spiritual practices into their work culture, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sammy Rubin.

Sammy Rubin is the founder and CEO of YuLife, the world’s first lifestyle insurance company that provides life insurance, wellbeing, and rewards in one simple app. He originally built Policy Portfolio plc, the first market maker in traded endowments and led the flotation of the company on the full London Stock Exchange. He then went on to become the founding CEO of PruProtect (now VitalityLife), which was the first life insurance company in the UK to reward healthy living. Sammy holds a degree in computer science from Imperial College London. He is married with three children and is a wannabe yogi.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you please share your “backstory” with us?

I grew up in London, and I’ve been working in the life insurance industry since I started my professional journey. I started my first company, Policy Portfolio, when I was 21 — my father and I built up the company together from the dining room table of my childhood home. Just four and a half years later, we floated Policy Portfolio on the London Stock Exchange.

That made me, in my mid-twenties, the youngest director of a publicly-listed financial services company in the UK at the time. Yet despite having experienced what a lot of people would perceive as a meteoric rise, I didn’t feel content. I realized that the more I invested in the professional rat race instead of focusing on my own wellbeing, the worse things would become. So I took a bit of time out, went traveling around the world, from Arizona to Israel, learning yoga and meditation, and I ultimately came to the conclusion that I had to do something more meaningful with my career.

I’d been working in life insurance, which isn’t traditionally the most optimistic industry. In fact, it’s solely focused on death — life insurers are only relevant to policy-holders when they pass away. I wanted to use the focus on wellbeing I derived from my experiences while travel ling to fundamentally change the nature of the insurance industry, transforming the emphasis of life insurance from death to life and fundamentally changing the entire insurance model from an adversarial make-up to a win-win relationship. I’m proud to say that at my current company, YuLife, we’re implementing these fundamental changes by creating a new type of insurance which rewards policy-holders for living healthier and more holistic lifestyles, thus incentivizing exercise, meditation and other wellbeing activities.

What role did mindfulness or spiritual practice play in your life growing up? Do you have a funny or touching story about that?

This is actually something that I’ve integrated into my lifestyle more and more as I got older. Growing up in the 1980s, you’d have been laughed at if you tried to talk about mindfulness or spiritually, especially in the hard-nosed world of finance and the City. People tried to hide their emotions, with terrible consequences for their mental and physical health. I look at my kids’ generation and how much more comfortable young people today are sharing their feelings and taking time to safeguard their mental health, and I think it’s a tremendous step that society has taken over the past few decades. That’s a principle I try to apply in YuLife’s insurance provision as well: focusing on the changing needs of a new generation of employees who genuinely do strive to obtain a healthy work-life balance.

How do your mindfulness or spiritual practices affect your business and personal life today?

At YuLife, it’s the heart of what we’re about. One of YuLife’s core goals is giving businesses and employers the tools to look after their employees’ health and wellbeing, because ultimately healthy employees are happier at work and more productive in their jobs. I believe that workplaces can be key players in encouraging individuals to adopt healthier lifestyles. YuLife aims to incentivize activities such as meditation and mindfulness by offering rewards such as discounts or vouchers from leading brands for each minute of meditation users complete. At YuLife we provide businesses with the opportunity to safeguard their employees’ long-term physical, financial and emotional wellbeing.

I begin our weekly team meetings on Monday mornings with a ‘Monday Motivation’ talk, in which I share a story or experience with a core message to guide the team through the week ahead. I recently talked about Ajahn Brahm’s concept of ‘kindfulness’: how helping others can help people to help themselves. The Mental Health Foundation in the UK found that 63% of adults feel that being kind to others has a positive impact on their mental health and thinking kind thoughts can reduce stress and release serotonin. Everyday gestures of kindfulness have grown especially important since the switch to remote working, where people crave that sense of camaraderie that characterizes office life.

Do you find that you are more successful or less successful because of your integration of spiritual and mindful practices? Can you share an example or story about that with us?

‘Success’ is a difficult concept to define because you’re always going to have differing conceptions as to what success actually means. I strive to use an OKR (Objectives and Key Results) framework for defining outcomes, so that we set ourselves tangible goals and a realistic framework to achieve them. But employees won’t feel that they have any stake in those outcomes if they don’t feel any connection to the goals that the company is trying to pursue. And they’re more likely to feel that connection when they’re looking after themselves at the same time. We did some research this year with the polling company YouGov and found that 87% of employees in the UK say that they are more likely to stay with an employer who demonstrates a commitment to their wellbeing. In other words, these wellbeing practices like spirituality and mindfulness enhance employees’ loyalty to their workplaces — which is a clear metric of success as far as I am concerned.

What would you say is the foundational principle for one to “lead a good life”? Can you share a story that illustrates that?

Leading a good, healthy and balanced life is all about small, routine, everyday, even mundane activities. Not everybody needs to spend three hours a day in the gym or go to meditation retreats at weekends in order to improve their physical and mental wellbeing. Of course, if that’s what they want to do and it’s part of a balanced lifestyle, that’s great, but the reality is that intensity of that sort is never going to be appropriate for everyone. So it’s all about those regular, repeated activities, such as going for a brisk walk at lunchtime, or meditating for ten minutes before going to sleep. These are accessible activities which can easily be integrated into everyone’s routine and can be done everywhere — and they add up to make a huge difference to our quality of life.

Can you share a story about one of the most impactful moments in your spiritual/mindful life?

When I was taking some time out during my late twenties, after having reached a crossroads in my life generally, I spent a particularly impactful period at a wellness retreat center in Upstate New York. When we travel to the metropolis we’re used to the hustle and bustle we all associated with New York, but few of us — at least in the UK — know that the most idyllic countryside can be found little over an hour away. Amidst the peace and quiet, I felt an overwhelming sense of peace and connectedness to everything around me — in stark contrast to having felt overwhelmed and anxious for so many years. It was as if I felt at one with nature. The memory of that scenery has become an underlying anchor in my daily life ever since.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I was fortunate enough to build up a close relationship lasting close to thirty years with a special man, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz. He was a genius — a man of great learning with widespread knowledge of a range of disciplines — but acted with the most remarkable humility and down to earth nature. He also had a wonderful sense of humour which he used to put things in perspective. He passed away aged 83 in August, and his insights and personal wisdom helped me greatly as I navigated my way through crucial moments in my life.

Can you share 3 or 4 pieces of advice about how leaders can create a very “healthy and uplifting” work culture?

  1. Take a break. This is one of my favourite pieces of advice because it’s so simple, and in the past few months we’ve been able to prove just how important regular breaks are. The YuLife app records anonymous insights as to when users take walking challenges throughout the day, and since the switch to remote working we’ve seen an uptick in the amount of people going for walks in the middle of the day. We’ve also seen a 29% rise in the number of people meditating regularly since the UK went into lockdown in March. That shows how natural and beneficial it is to get away from our desks and go for refreshing walks or meditate — and also demonstrates that people felt unable to do so while they were in the office. We have to remove that stigma from workplaces.
  2. Encourage teams to connect and promote values. We talk a lot about how we as a team are bound by certain core values. If a company can connect to a bigger mission than simply making money, but instead feel compassion and connect to a bigger purpose, they will succeed and make a positive mark on the world. It’s about realizing we are on a journey to make a difference together.
  3. Look after financial wellbeing. I like to add financial wellbeing to mental and physical wellbeing to form a triangle of wellbeing priorities. Financial wellbeing may not be as tangible because you can’t connect it to activities like exercise or meditation, but it’s no less important for people’s overall health and crucially a lack of financial wellbeing is a major cause of stress. That ties in to what we’re doing with life insurance: here’s a product that clearly benefits people’s ability to care for their loved ones, but simply isn’t sufficiently engaging on a day-to-day basis to seem worthwhile, which is why we combined life insurance with bonuses for wellbeing activities. A new generation of FinTech products is making a big difference and helping financial wellbeing seem more relevant.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would encourage everyone to believe in themselves. Each of us has enormous untapped potential inside ourselves that with the right attention and awareness can bring infinite benefits to ourselves and those around us.

How can people follow you and find out more about you?

You can find me on LinkedIn — ‘Sammy Rubin’ — where I frequently share insights and blog posts. YuLife is very active on Twitter (@YuLife) and you can also visit the YuLife website (yulife.com) for more about the company).

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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