Starting as a systems programmer more than 25 years ago at the company, Mary Springberg, now VP and CIO of Allstate Financial, has had unusually broad exposure to the business, first on the P&C side, and then in life and annuity.

"Back in the 1990s, they operated as very different companies, but it was the best thing I ever did. I stepped out of my comfort zone," she says. "It gave me a chance to, in a sense, work for a new company without the risk of culture shock or the real risk of changing companies." Now she encourages job rotations, especially for people early in their career, as that range of experiences helps the organization build more flexible teams.

"I'm very conscious of team compositions," Springberg says. She consciously builds diverse teams and focuses on what each person contributes to a project. "There are people making a contribution that maybe are not as comfortable with self-promotion. I make decisions about who's on the team, and how we work based on the diversity of the group."

As an undergraduate Springberg initially studied architecture, combining her interests in math and art. But after taking a programming class as an elective, she changed her major to computer science and graduated into a strong job market in the mid-1980s. After a stint at Marathon Oil Co. in Ohio, Springberg felt drawn to Chicago and landed a job at Allstate. From her first days there, she had the opportunity to lead projects. She settled in and on weekends she earned an MBA in management at DePaul while advancing through Allstate's ranks.

While both insurance and technology were male dominated, Springberg says that is less the case at Allstate. "I've been on male-dominated teams," she says, "but in those situations you fall back on the basics: Be strong but not overbearing. You have to lean on your talents and expertise, be a people person and focus on the work and not the male/female aspects of the group.

"Women should follow the same general principles as men: Seek out those opportunities; broaden your skills and embrace change; build networks internally and externally and don't be afraid to challenge yourself," she says. "That's how you really grow. Step out of your comfort zone."

Springberg has seen a lot of change. In the late 1990s, Allstate was the largest consumer of the IBM AS/400 platform. As part of a team, she managed the agent transition to PCs. "It was a huge change-management thing. Actually getting into the agencies and understanding how they were using the technology and transitioning to this new platform, it was great," she says.

One of Allstate's strategies in the early 2000s was back-office simplification and consolidation. It was a big, expensive project with a long-term payback. However, it facilitated the agent portal launch in 2002 and has been a strategic differentiator for the company since. More recently, she led the development of Allstate Financial's project governance structure, improving IT capacity planning, transparency and collaboration; and the delivery of electronic signature functionality, making it quicker and easier for agents to do business with Allstate and advancing the company toward direct sales.

Springberg is described as a visionary, with deep insights into the business and an understanding of technology, and a role model for both men and women in leadership. Standing out to WIL judges, she directed the development of the company's three-year technology strategy, which is tightly linked to business objectives, demonstrating her ability to operate at a strategic level, and dive into the details as necessary. In recognizing the value of her relationships up and down the hierarchy, she empowers and mentors her staff while connecting with them, and customers, personally.

As a result, Allstate is better able to deliver on commitments to investors and employees, while ensuring the best possible technology experience for employees, agents and customers.

As much as she's seen and done, Springberg says she has few regrets. "I wish I would have had even broader exposure to our organization. I've definitely seen a lot in the technology world, but haven't stepped out into a business role. And even within technology, there were parts that I haven't had experience in."

Number of years in the industry: 25

Number of direct reports: 6

Allstate Financial Operating Income: $529 million

Nominated by: CSC

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