When Jeanne Jankowski first arrived in Houston from small-town Indiana, after graduating college with a degree in Spanish and marketing, she thought she’d eventually go to law school. But when she got a job as a casualty underwriter trainee, it fit right in with what she had always enjoyed — and three decades later, “here I am,” she says.
Now EVP, head of energy and marine at Zurich, Jankowski found the insurance industry to be the “perfect blend, where you use your analytical skills with legal concepts and contracts, but you’re also market-facing, engaging with brokers and customers,” she says. “Once I started, I said, ‘Why would I want to do anything else?’ I knew it was a great career path if I wanted it.”
The energy industry and its technologies are constantly changing, she says, which means the business is never stagnant and remains interesting. “When I got my first job in energy, they hired me for my marketing and casualty background, as well as my management experience,” she recalls. “I said, ‘I don’t know energy,’ but they said they would teach me — I knew I had to take advantage of that great opportunity.” She learned the business by speaking to clients; traveling with risk engineers to oil rigs and power plants; and by doing plenty of reading: “I’m a bit of a geek sometimes and an info junkie,” she says. “I’m always reading about the industry in The Wall Street Journal and getting my fuel fix whenever I can.”
Being a female in a male-dominated industry wasn’t a huge issue, Jankowski says, adding that it was logical to enter the energy sector in Houston, one of the key energy capitals of the world. “There’s a tremendous amount of diversity generally, since it’s a global industry,” she says, “and I always think if you’re willing to learn and stay inquisitive and passionate about what you like to do, you’ll be accepted as part of a team.” That said, she says she’s seen a “huge shift” over the past few years on the risk management side of the energy sector, with more female risk managers getting promoted.
Her own leadership style puts a strong emphasis on communication, she says, so that teams understand goals and have a clear structure. “You really need to be a coach to your team and model the right behaviors, but then let them do their thing,” she says. “When you give your team ownership of something, they generally do the best.”
After 11 years in energy, Jankowski says her current role at Zurich is her favorite, especially now that the P&C units have recently been re-integrated and the marine team was recently pulled in as well. “We’re able to offer comprehensive solutions to customers, not just pure products,” she says. “I’m really proud of my team and the work we’ve done, while my goal right now is to continue to raise the bar and meet and exceed customer expectations.”
The future of the company is bright, she adds, particularly since Zurich is so specialized and dedicated to the energy sector. “Some of our competitors have a model where one day they’re working on a large rig operation and the next day a retail store,” she says. “But all our people do is drilling.”
One of her favorite career memories, in fact, was on a rig. “We went to a land rig 50 miles outside of Denver,” she remembers. “We had a terrific experience going up there with one of our key customers, driving up into the middle of nowhere and taking a tour. I’ll never forget how cold it was, but it was great.”
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