Superstorm Sandy and the events of 9/11 may have caused some insurers to pull back on exposure to the East Coast, but not the 113-year-old Greater New York Mutual Insurance Company. Instead, Liz Heck, president and COO, has doubled down, continued to write business in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut and expanded into 12 additional states.

Among the company's more recent accomplishments are a revamped claims-intake process and enhanced self-service options for brokers and insureds, which now offer online billing information, loss runs and production reports and soon it will add claims status. All of which were tested by the storm.

Months prior, the company, which offers business insurance to the commercial real estate, habitational and hospitality industries, had created a disaster plan. The plan included a dedicated CAT team, which enabled regular adjusters to handle regular claims inflow; dedicated inhouse claims examiners to service insureds and work with the CAT team, move files, contact insureds and explain coverage; training for inhouse liability examiners to handle first-party claims and assist inhouse claims examiners with overflow so as to not impact regular claims flow and a website for claims intake.

"We had a very good disaster plan in place, but it didn't work as intended because the storm was so wide that power was disrupted at both our home office and our data center in New Jersey, where we maintain full redundant backups," Heck says. "Because of our planning, though, our claims staff was able to service claims. Our policyholders were extremely happy with the service, which we could not have done had we not prepared."

As the storm gathered, GNY's Connecticut, Massachusetts and Maryland offices were mobilized to service producers and insureds and process claims. Staff in those locations also watched the weather and reviewed policies to assess potential exposure, including coverage details and which policyholders may be affected. Adjusters were out during the storm, assessing damage and offering services.

Since the storm, efforts to eliminate pain in everyday activities have increased, Heck says. "It's a lot of up front work, but it's worth it in the long run. The goal is to continue to do that as we take this 100-year-old company and move it forward," Heck says. "We are a very small company with very flat management, and people multitask in ways you don't see at a larger company," Heck says.

While Heck's family is deeply involved in the insurance industry - her uncles and cousins are brokers and her father is GNY's CEO - she started her career as a certified public accountant with Ernst & Young. She later was presented with two job opportunities that would take her back to New York, she says.

"One was with a very strong investment bank. The other was with an insurance company that wasn't doing that well financially," she says. "On paper, anybody looking at the two would have chosen the investment bank, but I took the job at the insurance company." Several years later, that company ended up in runoff. But the experience proved invaluable, she says. "There were a lot of smart people. When a company isn't doing well, it can be an excellent training ground. I ended up with a very good network of people."

Since joining the insurance industry, Heck has seen a flood of cultural changes. Those changes have resulted in a workplace that's not only more accessible to women, she says, but more family friendly and better off because it draws from a larger talent pool.

"Insurance companies have these great histories and continuity. But in the upper ranks, there is some old-world thinking," she says.

For example, it used to be that to advance, male or female, you had to be in the office and be seen. "If you were a woman with a family, you weren't considered to be a serious contender," she says. "Now people have remote access; you don't have to be in the office to be productive, so there are more flexible schedules. That has made a big difference," Heck says.

The advancement of technology also has helped women advance by enabling a more metrics-driven business, she says, and making everyone's achievements more visible and less subjective. "It's harder to hide," she says, "and those people who make the biggest contributions end up being the leaders. It's the biggest challenge when leading a company: getting the right people in the right jobs," Heck says. "Recognizing that there are excellent people who need flexible work schedules and being a little more open minded is good for everyone. The bottom line: Any organization values people who produce."

Number of years in the industry: 23

Number of direct reports: 8

Company size: $277 million gross written premium

Nominated by: Insurity Inc.

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

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