AIG's Kym McCleerey embraces collaboration and team empowerment
When Kym McCleerey came to AIG in mid-2019, she brought with her a can-do, collaborative attitude and an array of diverse roles and companies within the insurance industry. Her previous experience gave her a rich knowledge of the insurance domain, and a unique ability to understand and work with cross-functional teams. Throughout her insurance industry career, she’s taken on new and challenging roles, beginning on the business side at One Beacon Insurance, leaving the carrier side for a software startup, and finally winding up in her current position as COO of AIG North America General Insurance.
“The experiences gave me the opportunity to pick my journey and where I wanted to be in the industry,” she explains. “I realized I had to get back to the company side and the more operational aspect because that’s what I really love.”
Today, McCleerey manages a team of about 200 and is always involved in an assortment of projects. In her role, she is responsible for overseeing end-to-end business processes and building alignment with the group’s Core Commercial, Delegated Underwriting Authority and Loss Sensitive operational framework. She works closely with North America General Insurance business leadership to design digital workflow strategies, implement target operating models, develop standard operating procedures and establish consistent performance metrics.
McCleerey is most excited by figuring out the best strategies and watching them come to fruition. “I like to lay out the strategy and the vision, not by myself but in collaborative efforts where we can work together to come up with the best way to solve a problem,” she says.
As a leader, McCleerey is collaborative and supportive, the opposite of a micro manager. She prefers to foster confidence in her staff’s abilities and support their decisions and initiatives. “I give my folks the tools and vision they need to do their job and let them do it, letting them know I’ll be behind them and supporting the decisions they make. We learn from any mistakes, rectify errors and then move forward,” she says. “I want everyone internally to want my people for job openings, projects and information. If my folks are moving into different units, it’s because I’m doing my job and helping them build skills that everybody wants.”
And with her empowered team, McCleerey is having a tremendous impact within her company. She leads the formation of AIG’s data and digital workflow strategies in North America, accelerating the company’s progress towards achieving sustainable operational objectives. This includes laying the foundations and building the framework for an operating infrastructure to improve efficiencies in the underwriting process.
In addition, McCleerey has streamlined processes that allow AIG North America to introduce modern, standardized technology solutions, improve decision making, and enhance user experiences for AIG’s employees, clients, and distribution partners.
Although her current role is demanding, McCleerey believes that every challenge is the biggest challenge when you first come up against it. “The challenges are what I love about my job,” she says. “Every day is another challenge, to make something successful and to solve problems that are causing consternation or making something uncomfortable. Building out a transformational program that we’re doing right now that affects all our underwriting and end-to-end processes is a massive undertaking and a massive challenge. You want to be successful and know that you’ve added value at the end because the company’s putting its financials behind you.”
In addition to her father, whose work ethic she adopted, McCleerey’s biggest influences have been her previous colleagues, in particular, her first branch manager and boss, a leader who believed in collaboration and supporting his team. “He used to say that you don’t have to be a heart surgeon to lead heart surgeons. You have to know how to be a leader and build a strong team of people underneath you and make sure they have the tools they need,” she explains. “That advice stuck with me and gave me the sense that I can achieve anything.”
When she’s not at work, McCleerey spends the majority of her free time on her farm in Florida with horses and supporting her daughter, who competes in horse shows. While mostly at home because of the pandemic, she sometimes commutes to the company home office in New York so she can have the best of both her business and personal world. Her advice for others – especially women – who want to grow their leadership abilities is to not be afraid of taking a risk.
“You need to put yourself out there and go for those bold asks. Don’t be discouraged by disappointment, be resilient and make sure you get everything out of each opportunity you’re given,” she says. “Don’t close your mind to opportunities, and you’ll end up exactly where you want to be, even though it may not be what you originally thought you wanted. And don’t be afraid to show weakness or pretend to know everything. Ask for help when you need it.”