When Marianne Petillo, CEO of Rom Reinsurance, was a child, she dreamed of being the first female shortstop for the New York Mets. That team spirit and desire to perform at the highest level are traits that enable her to thrive today.
Rom Re acts a third-party administrator of $130 million in runoff claims liabilities - handling accounting functions, asbestos and environmental claims for 18 pool members. She's been at the helm for 12 years, and has reduced the company's liabilities by $200 million during that span and, within the past two years, has cut operating costs by 25 percent.
She's also automated much of the company's operations, which were mostly manual when she stepped into the corner office. In 2001, for instance, the company didn't have a claims system; it used Excel spreadsheets.
"Fortunately there were three or four good people who had been here for a while, and so the processes were done correctly," she says. The company immediately began implementing claims, financial and accounting systems.
"We've done a 180 from 12 years ago." Now, she says, whatever can be done by machine is done by machine, which liberates her very senior staff to focus on more high-value work, she says.
As in any runoff business, or those implementing automation, over the years jobs are scaled back. "Getting people to stay in a company that may not have a future can be difficult. You have to keep morale up," Petillo says.
To keep accomplish that, Petillo remade the culture to include 100 percent paid benefits, flex time, and bonuses where appropriate. When scaling down, Rom Re offers six-month notice and generous severance packages. "It speaks volumes that we haven't lost any staff other than by intentional downsizing or attrition," she says.
And the improvements the company has seen from its IT efforts have been significant. For example, integration between the company's financial system and Hyland software's OnBase document management system have led to a reduction in processing time to 15 minutes from three days for quota-share accounts. The quota share volume is up to 1,000 pages of claims and treaties, she says, which then are matched to individual claims files.
The company's technical prowess continues to grow, and recently was tested when the office, which is in lower Manhattan, was closed for more than a month after Hurricane Sandy. The company was up and running remotely in a week and didn't lose any data. Now all systems are backed up to the cloud and the company's e-mail system runs there.
Before landing her first insurance job, Petillo hadn't considered a career in the industry. She earned her bachelors of science in health planning and administration from Penn State University and then her MBA from the university's Smeal College of Business Administration. Her first job was in a hospital doing health care provider administration for Medicare and Medicaid; experience she later transferred to her first insurance industry job at Travelers.
Entering the industry as a young woman, she says many people resented her as a manager or superior. To counter that, she says she decided to convince them she had the ability to do the job.
"I'm not one of those people who delegates. I'm a doer," she says. "I would sit down with them and go through things and explain why it should be done this way. I'd give them an opportunity to express their opinions, but I'd also let them know, if it was wrong, why it was wrong and give them concrete suggestions as to how it could be done better. Over time, I won people over," she says, by making their jobs easier, introducing technology and improving results. "My mentor, another woman, said to me: you know what you're doing. Don't let it get to you. Be honest and be yourself. Do what's right. And I remember that to this day."
Petillo says being a woman doesn't consciously inform her management style. Rather, she treats people the way they would want to be treated. "I'm not a micro manager," she says. "I'm tough in the sense that I'm a perfectionist and I expect things to be done right. I'm not going to accept second best. But I'm also fair. If you do your job right, I'm going to treat you very well."
While she does acknowledge a glass ceiling, Petillo says things have improved very significantly and getting to senior executive levels isn't nearly as difficult as it was 20 years ago. "Women can do whatever they want to do," Petillo says. "There are many people willing to help. If you are qualified and do the work, you'll get there."
Number of years in the industry: 20
Number of direct reports: 11
Company size: $130 million in claims liabilities
Nominated by: Hyland Software
For photos from the Women in Insurance Leadership Award ceremony, click here.
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