Denise Lynch, P&C group executive at Kemper Corp., has loved insurance from the moment she took an insurance course in the late '80s at University of Connecticut, where she earned a Bachelor of Science and a Masters of Business Administration degree.

"I thoroughly loved insurance, thought it was great. It was very challenging." It was no surprise to many that she focused on it, established a successful career and wants that love to rub off on others. And, Kemper has benefited, with new business sales increasing 2 percent over the 2010-2012 timeframe. The insurer says Lynch and her team's efforts in redefining the strategy for Kemper Preferred, the company's flagship, contributed heavily to the increase.

In 2002, after stints at Chubb, Aetna, Allstate and The St. Paul Companies, which since has merged with Travelers, Lynch left the insurance industry. "I wanted the personal challenge of changing companies and I went to an industry I didn't know. It was in the legal segment at The Thompson Corp., where she served as VP Solo and Small Law Firm Segment and managed P&L for the $600 million information and software business. She drove product, sales, marketing and pricing strategy to achieve four times the average market growth rate. But after six years, it was time to come back to insurance. "I loved the experience at Thompson, but insurance very much is about relationships and I appreciated that about the insurance industry and wanted to resume. What first drew me into insurance is diversity of experience. I wanted to bring a new perspective about innovation and application of technology and managing for possible growth in nontraditional ways."

She took a VP sales and marketing position with The Hartford, where she managed marketing, distribution and sales functions for the P&C insurer for just under a year. Next was Kemper, where the WIL judges say she's made some of her most impressive moves.

Since starting at Kemper in 2009, Lynch led the team that redefined the strategy for the Kemper Preferred business. The new business strategy blends the strengths of Kemper's century-old legacy with many new capabilities to succeed in today's market.

Lynch focuses on improving operational efficiency and performance improvement, which helped offset catastrophe loss pressures resulting from weather events Kemper experienced in 2011 and 2012, including Superstorm Sandy. She improved productivity more than 10 percent through redesigned workflow and reorganization efforts. Lynch and her leadership team built core capabilities, including new marketing, distribution strategy, sales operations and sales training functions to support the business strategy.

"We are and have been multiple property specialty companies - three separate companies - with separate infrastructures, including separate policy, rating, billing, agency and claims systems, and all that goes with having independent companies working side by side. And the systems, while they're effective, they're aging and don't enable the company to scale," Lynch says.

Kemper has been moving to common platforms to improve efficiency and use leading-edge technology to gain an edge, be faster and more nimble in the marketplace and share best practices across the businesses. "My role is bringing the organizations, which operate as separate businesses, together to work collaboratively for a stronger future, united by the platforms. It's very satisfying to know you're making your company stronger for the future."

Another way she's contributing to the future of Kemper is through her efforts with emerging talent. Lynch sponsored the creation of the company's first internship program two years ago, an action admired by many of the WIL judges. "I tapped a high-potential manager within the sales organization to help build programs that would benefit the whole organization. We worked together and developed a great internship program that was about identifying the right candidates. Interns are given a specific project that would be beneficial to Kemper, but would also be a meaningful experience for that intern, so that they could go back to their school or start their career with something really meaningful on their resume and in their experiences," Lynch says.

At the end of the internship, the students are required to present their project - how they did it, what their objectives were, what they thought - to executives. "So it also gave them that chance to learn about how you present and interact with executives," Lynch says. "One of the interns even is returning for a second internship, so it really is beneficial for both parties." So much so, that the program is being extended across the property/casualty businesses in 2014.

Number of years in the industry: 19

Number of direct reports: 9

Size of business: $2 billion gross written premium

Nominated by: Kemper Corp.

For photos from the Women in Insurance Leadership Award ceremony, click here.

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