Right around the time you read this, the voters in United States of America will have made up their minds as to whether the nation will experience its first female vice president. Women have had a significant presence in this historic campaign year, with Hillary Clinton a contender for the Democratic nomination and Republican Sarah Palin in the vice presidential race. Whether or not you voted for one of them, this is likely a seminal moment in the quest for gender parity.

Many industries are experiencing the same phenomenon, and it may be a result of there being more women on corporate boards. According to "Advancing Women Leaders: The Connection Between Women Board Directors and Women Corporate Officers," from Catalyst Inc., the number of women on a company's board is directly connected to the future number of women in its senior management ranks. "Women leaders are role models to early- and mid-career women and, simply by being there at the top, encourage pipeline women to aspire to senior positions. They see that their skills will be valued and rewarded," says Ilene Lang, president of Catalyst.

This predictor shows a way to increase the number of women in leadership, and further supports the findings of Catalyst's research on the financial implications of gender diversity at the top. That analysis revealed that Fortune 500 companies with the largest representation of women board directors and corporate officers achieve, on average, higher financial performance.

For years, hundreds of women across the carrier, broker and agent communities have held executive leadership positions in the industry, moving to greater and more diverse positions of influence and authority. We are pleased to continue to recognize the unique accomplishments of our industry's prominent female leaders.

Judging for this year's program included a ranking methodology that included examination of the quantitative and qualitative aspects of the nominee's performance, as well as her overall influence on the institution, the industry and the community in which she lives and works. The judges of this year's program also ranked the candidate's performance based on one or more of the following criteria: job complexity, contribution to the institution's top and bottom lines, ability to innovate and execute new products in new markets, shareholder value creation, corporate governance and ethics, management style, education and on her level of community involvement.

(c) 2008 Insurance Networking News and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


 

A BUMPER CROP OF TALENT

JUDY ANDERSON

Insurance Product Services Manager

RCIS

Anoka, Minn.

Back in the 1960s, women holding insurance management positions were rare. And women who managed specialty lines-namely crop insurance-were unheard of...until Judy Anderson came on the scene.

From taking and passing the civil services exam during business college to her role today as a valued crop insurance industry expert, Anderson has, for more than 40 years, contributed her leadership to an unusually complex, sometimes volatile and always highly regulated industry.

Anderson began her career in the early 1960s as a federal employee with the Federal Crop Insurance Corp. (FCIC) in North Dakota. One of the few women leaders in a male dominated field, she has since become a recognized and respected industry expert, from serving as a resource when the crop insurance industry was privatized in 1980 to her participation with National Crop Insurance Services Association (NCIS), an international organization representing the interests of more than 60 crop insurance companies.

Throughout her career Anderson has seized upon opportunities to help the business of crop insurance grow: Back in 1981, Anderson took advantage of the privatization of the industry to establish-with several founders-Rural Community Insurance Agency Inc. d/b/a Rural Community Insurance Services, (RCIS) Anoka, Minn. Over the years, her leadership has contributed to RCIS' growth. The company is now considered a leader in the crop insurance industry, with $2.5 billion in premium sales in 2008.

Today, Anderson oversees many of the organization's day-to-day operations as well as a department that supports agents' procedures, training and marketing.

She also helps agents stay abreast of the depth and breadth of multi-peril products covering commodities from corn, clams, citrus and nuts, to nursery products, swine and livestock and more, which the company offers through a network of more than 5,000 independent agents nationwide. RCIS, along with the other crop insurance companies, in partnership with the government and its federally subsidized risk management program, form the safety net that equitably provides risk management to the American farmer.

Anderson established an online training program that includes self-paced e-learning courses and online testing and training delivered by webinars. "Training has always been a part of my life," Anderson says, "and I've been able to share my expertise with NCIS, hopefully, helping them in the process."

Within RCIS, Anderson's tenure and devotion to the industry is well known, but she's nevertheless humble about her success.

"The key is to surround yourself with great employees," she says. "I want the people around me to be those who are striving to have my job. These are the type of employees who will do their level best not just for me, but for the company."

Anderson credits her "open door policy" and communication skills as one of the hallmarks of her management style.

"I like to work with individuals when they are involved in a project," she says. "Some managers tend to assign a project and step out of it, but my involvement has been one of the things that factors into my reputation in the company as being a hands-on leader."

Anderson also is known for her ability to help agents and staff members achieve organizational objectives.

"It's easy to get lost in the details, so it's key for us to stick with projects, prioritize the workload and stay focused," Anderson admits. She maintains a "year in the life" booklet that functions as what she calls her "Bible." "I take it to staff meetings, and use it to track schedules, project management specifics, status updates and for reporting purposes," she says.

Anderson's "year in the life" idea has paid off, as the number of company objectives to track grows. She recently established a new team of crop insurance procedure specialists who analyze, interpret, clarify and communicate crop insurance program information from the government, and identify policy and program changes that impact software and business procedures for the entire company.

In an industry dominated by males, Anderson appreciates her journey, and her ability to lead by example. "I've had to work hard to get where I am," she admits. "We've hired other women executives in our company and I'm proud of the fact that when we go to larger industry meetings, we see more and more women there. I feel that over the years, I had a part in helping make that happen."

(c) 2008 Insurance Networking News and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

 

WIRED FOR SUCCESS

JULIE DAVIS

EVP, Managing Director, Technology Industry Practice

Aon Risk Services West Inc.

San Jose, Calif.

Working in an industry fraught with conservative thinking, Julie Davis is a risk-taker. During her 15-year tenure with Chicago-based global insurance broker Aon, Davis has had a hard time taking "no" for an answer, particularly to growth initiatives that are important to the technology industry practice and Aon's West Coast operations.

In early 2000, Davis began working on a framework to change the way early stage technology, Internet and life science firms managed their risks. And in 2001 when Aon decided to invest in industry practice groups, Davis had an idea that would ultimately prove to be a big "YES" for the firm.

"I wanted to create a focus that would serve the insurance and risk management needs for emerging technology, Internet and life science firms," Davis says. "Our team literally crafted the initial Wired for Growth (WFG) business plan on cocktail napkins, and we did not limit ourselves to off-the-shelf models," Davis recalls. "We went back to the drawing board more than once to reframe the project before initial acceptance, and the program has been refined many times since its launch."

Undaunted by tight budget approvals, and driven by the opportunity to work with clients that would stretch Aon's organizational capabilities, Davis pursued Aon's senior executives to launch a product that would increase the organization's technology client marketshare.

Davis's start-up concept may have started on a cocktail napkin, but after getting the help she needed, her list of achievements could fill a book. In her leadership role, she lead the WFG program relaunch, developed new insurance products, created risk diagnostic audits, sharpened their value proposition and realized the value of deeper market segmentation. She also established a team of a dozen professionals who helped build marketshare. At the three-year mark, WFG had grown its operations with professionals on the East and West Coasts, secured hundreds of technology firms and worked with dozens of venture capital investors. Under Davis, WFG quickly built organic and new revenue to $5 million.

WFG became a chapter in the larger industry practice group strategy and, as Davis reflects, "It is sometimes said in the business world that one project can change your career. If approached with passion, it can teach you great lessons. You should choose projects because they add to your learning experiences and if you are successful, you will become more passionate about your work and the great canvas we paint on everyday."

Davis attributes her success in large part to what she describes as her strongest skills: persistence and passion. "People are reluctant to try something new. I am a big believer in having lots of ideas and throwing the less solid ones away, and I am a big believer in taking smart risks. Organizations often punish business failures, but if you are with a company that has a philosophy of rewarding people who take smart and calculated risks, and encourage innovation, that's a good company to work for."

Her involvement with the California Women's Network, Sacramento, and a host of other speaking engagements keeps her leadership messages fresh.

"I happen to be biased, but I think women have great skill sets that men don't," says Davis. "Women are great collaborators, and women in insurance have been great change agents. There are more talented women in the industry than people realize."

Davis preaches what she has practiced. "Too much talk and too little "do" is something to watch for," Davis says. "Innovation, execution and implementation are the biggest parts of the puzzle, and what makes a company and an individual successful."

Davis believes her 15-year career experience at Aon has been an "awesome journey" (in which WFG has been of one chapter). As Aon evolves the WFG business model further, Davis is busy as ever, functioning as EVP and managing director of the tech industry practice for Aon Risk Services West Inc., and has the new responsibility for increasing their middle market technology business on the West Coast.

"When you are the leader of a startup, you learn about people, management, marketing and more," Davis says. "Even if the outcome is sometimes a little different than you anticipated, you always learn from the journey."

(c) 2008 Insurance Networking News and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

 

BRINGING LAW TO INSURANCE

JEAN FLEISCHNER

VP, Product

Development and General Counsel

CNA Global Specialty Lines

CNA Financial Corp.

Cranbury, N.J.

Not many professionals would take a pass on an important business trip, project or promotion, but for Jean Fleischner, doing so may have been what made her so successful. "When my kids were young I really tried to keep a nine-to-five job, and tried not to let myself become so overwhelmed that I was doing work on weekends. I didn't work at night. I really resisted travel. It probably held me back in my early career, but what made me happy was spending time with my kids." Then, as Fleischner's children grew up, she was able to accept more assignments and travel where she wanted. "It's important to stay in the workforce if you can afford it because your kids grow up quickly."

Fleischner contends women will always face the difficult choice of staying home with their children, but it is such a different age from when she started in the insurance industry 30 years ago. "The ability to telecommute for a day because a woman wants to be present at her child's school play is there, and it wasn't when I was raising my babies," she says. The world of IT has really changed things for women. We'll never get a good answer to whether you should work or shouldn't work, and in the end it's probably a personal decision."

Now Fleischner's children are grown, and she can take on larger projects and spend more time working. "My job is definitely not a nine-to-five job now, but that's okay because there's no one home waiting for me."

Fleischner is responsible for driving corporate and operational business strategies related to developing new products and product management, as well as IT leadership for CNA's portfolio of specialty business. In her role as VP, product development, she has been instrumental in streamlining processes, reducing costs and increasing capacity for product development.

Though Fleischner went to law school, her love of product development started at her first position out of college. "I worked in Continental Insurance Co.'s (now CNA) legal department and got more and more involved with working with the business areas and the legalities of product development, and I discovered that's really what I prefer doing-product work," she says. "But at the same time, I had already learned the regulatory aspects of insurance. I kind of wear two hats: product work-developing the product, working with the underwriters-and regulatory work-where I put the product, how I get it implemented." 

In 2005, Fleischner knew she needed a product development solution. With more than 300 product changes per month that were rife with manual paper processes, there was an immediate need to automate the product development process to eliminate high-touch, error-prone manual processes in order to reduce overhead and create product innovation. "We've been working on management of our product processes for many years, and that's become a big focus for me," she says. "Every year we've come up with a different way-an improvement, around that-but always looking for the perfect solution. I think that automating this is the best way to go."

Fleischner recognized that product innovation and implementation of a service-oriented architecture could create substantial value for the organization by accelerating its product development process and allowing the company to become more innovative with its product offerings. Fleischner communicated and submitted her plan to IT for the construction of the system. At the same time, she came across a commercial system that was customer ready. She spearheaded efforts to be an early adopter of the insurance product development solution, and the technology has enabled CNA Specialty Lines to aggressively compete in the market by launching several new Directors & Officers and Emissions & Officers products this year.

(c) 2008 Insurance Networking News and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

 

AN INTERNATIONAL LEADER

SHERRY GONZALEZ

Managing Director and Region Head

Marsh Affinity for Latin America and Caribbean

San Paulo, Brazil

Although it varies among countries and industries, the business culture in Latin America is not renowned for gender equity. Yet, Sherry Gonzalez, an American who has spent the last 15 years working in and for Latin America, has thrived in this environment. "There's often a stereotype that Latin America is very pro-male," she says. "In my case, this hasn't been apparent to me. I think it may be because I'm a foreign female. It might've been different if I was a Brazilian woman in Brazil, or a Colombian woman in Colombia."

Gonzalez's journey began as she was finishing up a masters program at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in northern California, and was recruited by Johnson Higgins, which was subsequently acquired by Marsh. "The company wanted people with an international background - who lived and studied abroad, studying international business-because the company had a strong department in Los Angeles with multinational clients," Gonzalez recalls. She spent five years in Los Angeles working with large international clients before being transferred overseas.

Gonzalez, now at Marsh (Johnson Higgins) for 20 years, is responsible for running Marsh's Affinity operation in Sao Paulo, Brazil. She sets and oversees the segment's growth strategy, operations, IT and infrastructure, human resources, customer service and financial results. All segment areas report to Gonzalez, including business development, brokerage and consulting services, operations, policy issuance and billing, customer service, marketing, and placement and product development.

She assumed responsibility for the affinity/consumer areas of Marsh for Latin America and the Caribbean in 2004. Between 2004 and 2007, margins improved from 2.3% to 21%, and revenue nearly doubled (from $21 million to a projected $38 million in 2008, or CAGR 20.7%.)

Prior to her current role, Gonzalez played a leading role in creating the prototype of an insurance placement tool for mid-sized firms. The tool permits brokers to spend more time with clients and less time on administrative work, and enables underwriters to more efficiently quote and place policies for a larger number of insureds. The platform, which is currently undergoing an upgrade, has been in use for more than eight years in four countries, and is changing how property/casualty packages for small- to mid-size companies are transacted.

In 2000, Marsh acquired a firm in Brazil that wasn't integrated well within the rest of the traditional brokerage company. In December 2000, Gonzalez successfully relocated the entire operation (450 employees, including a call center) to be closer to the parent company, and made significant strides to align the staff and company strategies between the two. "We specialize in outsourced insurance business processes on behalf of carriers and large companies with solid brand names, including a customer service support center," she says. "The relocation had to be timed and coordinated in such a way that it didn't interrupt any critical systems or customer service support centers."

Gonzalez enjoys working with all the different clients in eight different Latin American countries, and finds each to be unique. "Despite having common languages, they're all very different in their development of the insurance industry," she says. "Being able to get in and understand who the clients are, and how we need to structure our services to be more effective for the different clients in each segment and each country is exciting."

Gonzalez credits some of her success to other female leaders, who took her under their wings, and helped her through the company. While Marsh Affinity for Latin America and Caribbean doesn't have a formal mentorship program, Gonzalez now tries to give back, and looks out for and supports young women as much as possible. "I try my best to work with them, to make sure they get recognition for their hard work and receive promotions and are invited to special events." But Gonzalez knows that just holding a senior management position isn't enough. "I try to lead by example. I don't expect anybody to work or do anything they don't see me doing by example. I try to work as hard as anyone who works for me."

(c) 2008 Insurance Networking News and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

 

WORKING ACROSS THE ENTERPRISE

MADELYN LANKTON

SVP, Claim Shared Services

Travelers Insurance

Hartford Conn.

Madelyn Lankton understands the importance of bridging divides. Be it the familiar cultural chasm separating information technology from the business, or the geographical one separating a company from its offshore workforce in India, Lankton stresses the key to bridging these divides is the establishment a common language.

"If I look back at things that influenced my career," she says, "one would probably be the recognition that technology is an enabler."

Lankton is putting this philosophy into practice in her current posting as SVP, claims shared services for Hartford, Conn.-based Travelers, where she uses her extensive background in IT to help transform the way the company's claims business operates.

Lankton's claims shared services organization is aptly named, acting as one-stop shop for claims services, such as subrogation, that cut across all lines of business but are not a stand-alone necessity for each unit. Accordingly, such disparate functions as claims IT, business intelligence, call centers and claim global sourcing (both ITO and BPO), all come under the shared services umbrella, which Lankton oversees with an annual budget of $230 million. Lankton also oversees the new, 108,000 square-foot Claims University, which offers experiential learning to ensure that Traveler's 13,000 claims professionals are properly trained.

Lankton's facility for running such a complex, multifaceted enterprise makes sense when one surveys the road she took to get there. She spent the majority of her career on the life and annuity side, where her experiences included helping create a broker/dealer system. She also gained a good deal of experience fusing separate entities while integrating systems that needed consolation as a result of mergers and acquisitions. As a result, Lankton learned to keenly evaluate enterprises and to integrate or separate as appropriate.

This ability to grasp the big picture would serve Lankton well as she started working with offshore vendors and began to introduce offshore vendor models into the company. These models allow insurers to take advantage of a variable workforce and get access to some unique skills that are more readily available offshore than onshore. "Whether it's offshoring or the consolidation of companies, it's about transcending the situation you are in and recognizing you need to get different cultures to talk to each other," she says.

This ability to leverage different models to accomplish organizational goals is crucial, she says. Moreover, in an effort that presaged her work with the claim shared services organization, Lankton set up a unified sourcing office that spans the enterprise. "We came up with a consolidated approach to it (ITO)," she says.

Indeed, this wide range of experience is being put to practice now as she leverages her technical skills across a business application. "It's been a great opportunity for me to participate in both the business and technology from a different point of view," she says.

Getting people to work together and find a common goal is the basis Lankton's leadership style. "What I realized along the way is that how you do what you do is more than important that what you do," she says.

Lankton acknowledges there are unique challenges facing women in business. Foremost is maintaining the proper balance between work and home life. "There is a difference, as men and women look around," she says. "I'm not saying that men don't have those challenges, but there is difference."

Fortunately, Lankton is now in a position to lead by example and help mentor women following in her footsteps. "As I was coming up through the ranks, I didn't have a lot of role models who were married with children and senior positions of responsibility," she says. "Woman now have more role models."

(c) 2008 Insurance Networking News and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

 

CONCENTRATING ON THE CUSTOMER

SHARON RITCHEY

EVP & Director, Global Operations & Technology, Hartford Life Inc.

The Hartford Financial Services Group Inc., Hartford Conn.

Whether you're an athlete on the field of play, or developing a first-class call center, being an effective leader is all about knowing how to work with-and get the best out of-people. And Sharon Ritchey, EVP and director, global operations and technology for Hartford Life Inc., has been doing just that for the past 25 years. The highest-ranking female executive at the Simsbury, Conn.-based insurer, Ritchey oversees the global operations and technology for the company, which spans 5,000 employees in 21 global locations, and 12 call centers handling about 4.5 millions calls each year. Under her direction, the firm's customer retention rate doubled from 2006 to 2007.

Ritchey's path to where she is today has been circumlocutious. Immediately following the completion of her M.B.A., Citibank, New York, recruited her. It was with Citibank that she fully developed her passion for operations, process excellence and customer experience, receiving semi-informal, on-the-job training in each area while working in 10 to 11 different roles over the course of 12 years. From there, she moved on to GE Capital, Fairfield, Conn., where she worked in consumer finance and received formal Six Sigma training. After a number of years with GE Capital, The Hartford took notice of her operational and customer expertise and lured her to the insurance world, where she's spent the past nine years in a variety of roles centered on improving the company's operational focus on efficiency and customer experience.

While this concentration on the customer and operations helped propel Ritchey to the upper echelon of management, she's also demonstrated a strong commitment to employee engagement, education and training, citing that the company's "No. 1 asset is its employees." As a result, she's received numerous awards and accolades, including six DALBAR awards in 2007 alone for her customer service prowess.

Ritchey's skills at effectively dealing with people have translated into her being thought of as a natural leader. "It's something I've come to learn," she says of her leadership philosophy, "and how I lead really depends upon the person. Situational leadership may be a buzzword, but it really does feel as though that's my style."

Over time, Ritchey has learned that it's not just the openness and the trust that comes from developing relationships with her employees, but it's also recognizing that everyone's needs are different. "People are motivated differently," she says, "and identifying what motivates them is the key."

Another tenet of her leadership philosophy is to create a fun, open work environment. By bringing levity to the job, and fostering an open atmosphere where everyone is welcomed to challenge her, Ritchey finds that people don't take their jobs too seriously. "By having fun at what they do all day, I feel that I get more out of people," she says.

Ritchey doesn't feel as though being a woman has affected her career trajectory much, aside from a dealing with a few general stereotypes. Instead, she believes that it was her hard work and positive results that have gotten her where she is today.

"Growing up in a family of nine kids (six of which are brothers), I never felt that being a women was different for me. What has been most important was to find a mentor, male or female."

For women looking to get ahead, Ritchey recommends finding a mentor who's been in the business and has a great deal of experience. In addition, she stresses learning how to be adaptable, and really getting to know the culture of the people in the workplace, as what it takes to be successful in one company doesn't necessarily translate to the next.

"When I got [to the Hartford], I quickly learned that it's all about listening, asking questions and understanding before acting," she explains. "By doing that, you not only earn credibility, but also become more adaptable to the culture of the organization. This is something I wish I'd learned earlier."

(c) 2008 Insurance Networking News and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

 

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