While female professional leaders perform as well or better than men in many areas, they are not perceived to be as strong as men when it comes to articulating a vision of the future and translating that vision into a strategic direction for the organization. This is what research from INSEAD, an international graduate business school and research institution based in Fontainebleau, France and Singapore, concludes. INSEAD professor Herminia Ibarra, who headed the leadership assessment research, says that this (or this perception) may be what is keeping some women from the executive level in some companies. If this truly is the case, the women profiled by INN's editors on the next eight pages must be exceptions to the research. These six women in insurance leadership and four notable achievers are blazing the trails for other female executives. We can tip our hats to many insurance companies' efforts in promoting growth for women. But, Insurance Networking News wants to recognize individual unique accomplishments of the industry's prominent female leaders.

The winners were chosen by four of the 2008 award program winners:

* Judy Anderson (now retired), Rural Community Insurance Services, Anoka, Minn.

* Julie Davis, Aon Risk Services of the West Inc., San Jose, Calif.

* Madelyn Lankton, Travelers Insurance, Hartford, Conn.

* Sharon Ritchey, The Hartford Financial Services Group Inc., Hartford, Conn.

Judging for the program included a rating methodology based on the candidate's contribution to the institution's top and bottom lines, job complexity, corporate governance and ethics, and leadership and management skills. Read on to find out more. -Carrie Burns



SVP, senior area IT manager

The Chubb Corp.

Warren, N.J.

Few people likely appreciate the nexus between insurance and technology more acutely than Julia Boland. "I actually started on the business side, so I had an opportunity to build relationships with business partners," she says. "I realized that understanding the business and having those relationships was going to enable me as an IT professional to do more for the organization."

This broad perspective began paying dividends as far back as 1983, when, after spending six months observing operations at a field location, Boland was instrumental in making the business case to bring PCs to the desks of Chubb. "It gave me a much broader insight into how tightly the technology needed to be tied to the business, and how important it was for IT professionals to continue to understand the business."

Indeed, this insight is critical in her present posting as senior area IT manager and SVP at Chubb. "My current role is less of an IT technical role, and more of a services and solutions role for both IT and the business."

Boland still makes time to get to field offices to watch the staff use the technology her team creates back at corporate. "Each new technology adds complexity to our environment," she says. "You have to manage the concept of enterprise solutions even more today than we used to because there are so many different choices."

With Chubb employing a federated IT model, the enterprise services and solutions (ESS) department she oversees is tasked with providing intra- and cross-business unit solutions. "The challenge with our federated IT model is having all the individual areas continue to think about enterprise considerations or impacts."

In addition to her challenges leading ESS, Boland also heads up two other large initiatives within the company: IT risk management and business continuity/disaster recovery.

The former requires Boland, and the chief information security officer reporting to her, to address myriad compliance issues (SOX, HIPAA) and data security issues from both a business and technology vantage point. "I would argue that from a risk management perspective, you do need to know the insurance business just to know where the risks are," she says.

Boland acknowledges that leading the business continuity effort is a consuming task. "We are in the middle of revamping our disaster recovery solution, and I am managing the oversight of that initiative," she says. "That's a huge challenge for our organization, and a major challenge for me."

Yet, for all the impressive technological achievements in which she has played a major part, Boland is equally proud of her efforts to help others achieve.

"You get to a certain point in your career and think about what you are going to give back," she says. "Completing that circle of success to me is helping others advance, both men and women."

As proof, Boland was instrumental in creating the business analyst and business consultant career path at Chubb. She also was a co-founder of the IT women's council in 1995. In addition to spotlighting the efforts of women with IT, the council also served to create visibility for IT professionals, who historically have struggled to receive the same level of recognition as other business partners.

"My biggest theme for the men and women I mentor is for them to look for opportunities and take risks," she says. "Not everything is going to be sexy or new. I've taken some pretty ugly jobs just to learn something new, or to step up to the challenge. I've also turned down jobs that sounded interesting to others, but didn't fit my work/life balance."

Maintaining this balance has not held Boland back professionally. To the contrary, she was the first woman in IT to achieve the VP and SVP level at Chubb. "I have to say it came with a certain degree of responsibility," she relates. "I had to continue to be successful." -Bill Kenealy




VP, Claim Operations

Electric Insurance Co.

Beverly, Mass.

It's been quite a journey for Maureen Hegarty - one she didn't necessarily plan on taking. Now the VP, Claim Operations for Beverly, Mass.-based Electric Insurance Co., Hegarty started as a grunt, working the phone lines as her first job out of school at Century Insurance. Proud of the achievement of being the first member of her family to graduate college, she was comfortable with her role and career trajectory. Eventually, she worked her way up to the underwriting department at American Mutual Insurance, and was happy because it afforded her a positive balance between work and family. But one day, she saw an opportunity - a chance to test herself, which she took - and hasn't looked back.

"I had an unremarkable start to my career, and it wasn't until I joined Electric Insurance in 1989 that things got interesting for me," Hegarty says, noting the company was undergoing major changes at the time, consolidating five branch offices into one home office and experiencing significant personnel changes. "Thinking back, it was an excellent opportunity to see what I was made of - we needed people to step up and lead significant projects and there weren't a lot of us willing to take that risk. Because I did, I was able to progress in the underwriting department, which started a chain of events that led me to where I am today."

While the seismic shifts associated with the company's reorganization opened doors, Hegarty first had to ponder a common predicament facing most female professionals: to go back to work immediately after having a child, or to take an extended period of time off.

Fortunately for Hegarty, she had a good childcare situation, so she made the decision with her husband to go back to work full-time shortly after her son was born - a decision she strongly feels kept her in the game in terms of career progression.

"If I had taken an extended period of time off, I might not have been viewed as seriously as other folks," she says. "I think that's a challenge all women face, and it's certainly a personal decision that can adversely affect all women. The choice was a difficult one, and I felt some guilt along the way, wondering if I should have stayed home longer, and what would have happened if I did."

The decision to get back to work was one that paid off for Hegarty, and as a result, her star continued to rise. She accepted promotions to oversee the operations, litigation support and regulatory compliance departments and, ultimately, became a VP for the customer call center before moving into claims. Yet in spite of all the success, Hegarty remains humble about the path taken.

"Getting to this level was a significant achievement for me because, quite honestly, I never thought I would accomplish this," she confesses. "I doubted myself at first, and thought that if I had a decent career and had a family, I'd have it all. But getting to this point, challenging myself, realizing that I could do more and actually feeling confident at this level - that's been incredible for me."

While the work and willingness to accept greater challenges and risks all came of her own volition, Hegarty says she benefited greatly from the support of her superiors.

"I was fortunate to have a great mentor here when I started out," she says. "He did a lot in terms of advocating for me, and I know that helped me a lot with my career going forward."

Recognizing and internalizing the impact and influence of her mentor, Hegarty firmly believes in working with others. With about 95 employees in her division, she takes every opportunity to guide them so that they, too, may grow as she has, and perhaps ascend to whatever point they choose.

"I love working with people and seeing them develop because I feel as though I was blessed in terms of what I've achieved in my career so far," she says. "I love helping people to see into themselves and recognize that they can advance as long as they're willing to put in the effort."

In the end, Hegarty distills the risks taken, lessons learned and confidence gained along her journey from customer service rep to vice president into a simple mantra for success: "You need to work hard and not underestimate your abilities," she says. "Success will get you noticed." -Alex Vorro



SVP & director, Retirement Plans Group

Hartford Life Inc.

Hartford, Conn.

2007 was a monumental year in Jamie Ohl's career. Just months after being recruited by The Hartford, Ohl oversaw three acquisitions for the insurer's Retirement Plans Group (RPG). But to fully understand how Ohl successfully completed these acquisitions, you have to rewind the story a bit.

Ohl began her career with an actuarial consulting firm in Texas, but it was the next move to Variable Annuity Life Insurance Co. (VALIC) that began her journey in the insurance industry-more specifically the retirement industry. During her five years at VALIC, Ohl worked in a number of different areas. "I started at the ground level," she says. "I began in administration, worked in marketing, sales and then products. So I had the benefit of seeing the entire retirement industry."

Ohl moved on to Hewitt Associates, an HR consulting and outsourcing company, where she worked with Fortune 100 companies on their retirement and welfare benefits. After staying at Hewitt for three years, Ohl was recruited back to VALIC, where she had the opportunity to lead the institutional sales and service group until 2006. Enter 2007, the year that brought Ohl even more experience - and expectations to meet. "I came to the Hartford in 2006 as part of the new retirement plans group that combined the 401K division and the 457 division," she recalls. "Jim Davey (EVP and director of The Harford's Employer Markets Group) asked me to join The Hartford because of my experience in all three markets - 401K, 457 and 403B."

The goal was to continue the 401K growth, maintain a strong position in 457 and grow 403B as a new market at The Hartford, Ohl says. "So far, we've had success in all three markets."

That success relates back to Ohl's participation and leadership in the three acquisitions - TopNoggin, Princeton Retirement Group and Sun Life Retirement Services.

"It was a great privilege for me to be able to drive those acquisitions through the initial due diligence phases as well as the signing and closing," she says. "And the TopNoggin acquisition was one that I brought to the organization."

Ohl recognized that the patent-pending technology TopNoggin had in defined benefits would be an opportunity to link with The Hartford's small 401K business, and that they could drive a new product in a market for small professional firms. The product, Aviator Cash Balance, launched in June 2009. "It's garnered tremendous press and market appeal right off the bat," Ohl says, "and provided huge opportunities for us to grow organically and continue on our organic growth path post-acquisition."

RPG is one of The Hartford's fastest-growing businesses. In 2008, RPG's assets under management increased by 30%, and sales rose 51%. Ohl attributes the growth to two factors: the acquisitions, and continued growth in sales and assets under management as RPG added plans and participants organically throughout 2008.

Communication was paramount in the success of all three acquisitions - both in the initial due diligence phase and after closing.

"Upfront communication with our team as we built the plan for the acquisitions was key." Also critical was getting feedback from individuals in all areas - marketing, product, pricing, finance and sales - to determine how they all fit together, she says.

Ohl continues that communication with In Touch Meetings, which existed before she arrived at The Hartford. But, she put her stamp on them by using multi-media for all locations to access the meeting regardless of where the meeting is being held. "It's made a huge impact in drawing everyone in the group into the organization."

Professional development also is important in Ohl's role at The Hartford. She serves on the advisory board for the company's Professional Women's Network, and mentors several young women. "We created this to provide professional women within the organization networking, educational and informational opportunities to continue to be successful in their careers here or even beyond The Hartford," she says. "It's exciting for me to share my 20 years of experience and watch somebody else grow and help them get to where they want to be from a career perspective." -Carrie Burns



Director of underwriting services and administration

Markel Corp.

Glen Allen, Va.

If Heidi Peterson ever needs a reminder of how far technology in the insurance industry has progressed during her career, she doesn't need to look far. "I still have an old Victor calculator sitting on my desk because that's how it was when I started," she says.

However, given the undertakings she currently oversees, it's unlikely that Peterson budgets herself much time for reminiscing. As director of Underwriting Services and Administration (USA), at Glen Allen, Va.-based Markel Corp., Peterson is playing a vital role in overhauling the technology the company uses to the run the business.

Peterson started working in the actuarial department at Shand Morahan & Co. a mere two days after she graduated college in 1978. She says in addition to gaining expertise in activities such pricing models and loss reserving, her years in actuarial also afforded her a macro view of insurance.

When Markel acquired Shand Morahan in 1990, Peterson followed, eventually transferring into underwriting in 1994. "It was an interesting transition," she says. "Even though I had been working in insurance a long time, there's really not a lot in common between actuarial and underwriting."

One commonality, she says, it that both jobs favor the inquisitive and the analytical. These traits would pay off for Peterson in subsequent postings. In 2000, she was tapped to create a new department called underwriting technical administration. She started the role by walking the underwriting floor and asking for input. "I started to put myself in the middle of processing and workflow problems, such as delays in resolving billing discrepancies or the unavailability of forms required to issue a policy," she recalls.

Yet, her accomplishments in the role went far beyond simple problem-solving. In the seven years she headed the department, it made some major transitions, including augmenting automated workflows and moving forms online. But the most significant development was transitioning underwriting to a paperless environment. "We were the first Markel business unit to make that change," she says. "The business units that did it after us had the benefits of learning from our mistakes."

Peterson flourished in that role until in 2007, when Markel began the Markel 2015 program, which sought to develop a strategy for upgrading all systems within the company. "All of us were driving pretty old cars," she recalls. "I was asked to lead the effort in the underwriting and support area." This meant Peterson had to gauge whether any of the existing systems were up to the task, and assess the modern systems currently on the marketplace.

Markel ultimately chose to go with a modern solution. Peterson says she is impressed how technical advancements have improved data gathering and integration of information, but notes that much remains the same. "Underwriting comes down to a decision about whether or not to commit company capital to cover a risk - somebody still has to assess it. You will never know everything about a risk, but it is interesting how technology allows you to dedicate your human resources to only the most complex of accounts."

As the Markel 2015 project finished, it evolved into another program, ATLAS, aimed at streamlining internal processes and leaving behind legacy systems. In April of 2008, Peterson became the project champion for the policy administration piece of that project. Subsequently, the company's executive council decided to reorganize the wholesale divisions. While Markel's underwriting divisions have been realigned into five regional sales and marketing offices in order to be closer to their customers, other core functions have been consolidated in centrally managed shared services divisions. Peterson was picked to head the Underwriting Services and Administration division (USA). Accordingly, one of her primary tasks at USA is establishing common service standards. "The legacy systems have different abilities to meet those standards, so it's really challenging," she acknowledges.

Thus, Peterson now oversees major initiatives on both the business and IT sides of the house. She also lives in two worlds when it comes to systems. "We've got a future state being designed and constructed, but we also have the current state, which includes four legacy systems and five locations," she says.

Among the benefits she foresees from a centralized services division is increasingly standardized job roles, which will enable those working in the USA division to build nice career paths. This is important to Peterson.

"Everyone should be focused on doing work that brings them joy," she says. "Since I've moved into administration, my job is to help other people be successful." -Bill Kenealy




Aon Risk Services Inc.


What sets Peggy Stewart apart as a leader is not so much about getting the best out of people as it is drawing them out and putting them in a place where they can thrive. Imbued with an innate sense of understanding, Stewart feels this quality has been instrumental in allowing her to successfully work with individuals and manage sundry groups. It also has helped her to develop teams where the members both complement and challenge one another.

"One of my greatest achievements - not any one particular project, but in every project I've been given - is how I've been able to get a large number of diverse individuals to work together toward a common goal," she says. "Regardless of where I was or what I was doing, my team was able to meet our goals in the specified timeframe to the benefit of our clients and colleagues."

As EVP and COO for Chicago-based Aon Risk Services, Stewart heads a global team responsible for the development and implementation of the Aon Global Risk Insight Platform (GRIP), a proprietary system that provides real-time trade information broken down by line, industry and geography. Because of the vast and varied task of working with colleagues and clients across many countries, it was imperative she communicated effectively with her team.

"I had to work with a firm that was thinking about becoming global on an accelerated timeframe; you had to understand the various cultures, understand what motivated colleagues and understand and listen to what colleagues needed to best do their jobs for the benefit of their clients," she says of her experiences implementing the Aon GRIP project, which was officially launched worldwide in late-May. "There was no margin for error."

To be able to deftly deal with different people and cultures during the development and implementation phases of the project speaks volumes about Stewart's management style. For her, fostering a collegial environment where people know they always can speak and be heard is the key, but in the end, she always makes certain that all dialogue leads to proper execution and results.

"People know my door is always open," Stewart says. "They know they can speak their mind, and that their opinion will always be taken into consideration. They know there will always be a level of honesty, and if they don't agree, they can tell me. But in the end, regardless of what's said, we always come to a meaningful decision and move forward."

Forging ahead and taking risks are other significant components of her management philosophy. While it's definitely advice that Stewart would extend to women looking to advance in their careers with insurers, she feels that quelling apprehension and taking the bull by the horns is something that every person needs to do in order to be successful.

"Embrace whatever opportunity comes across your path, and don't become complacent," she says. "Take a risk, because only by taking that risk will you challenge yourself and be able to see the limits you can achieve. I know it sounds hokey, but it's easier to convince yourself not to do something than it is to try it and see if it works out. If it doesn't work, at least you have tried it and learned from the experience. More often than not, though, it will probably take you to the next level."

But while Stewart encourages people to take risks, and strives to identify and cultivate abilities in people that they perhaps have not yet recognized, she also is cognizant that not everyone shares her drive.

"It's important to understand that there are people who feel that wherever they currently are is where they want to be, and that's ok," she says. "Not everyone continually wants to ascend to a higher level, and that's good."

Stewart is vigilant about recognizing this in people, and endeavors to tailor her behavior and responses to match their personality and needs. "It's also important to let people know that wherever they are, there's value to what they bring to the table." -Alex Vorro



EVP and chief claims officer, Zurich in North America

Schaumburg, Ill.

At a young age, Jane Tutoki learned what it meant to be self-sufficient. After her parents passed away, she and her now-husband started their own business in order to pay for college and law school. During law school, Tutoki decided that she wanted a career as a trial attorney, and insurance defense fulfilled that goal."

After some years of trial work, however, Tutoki was ready for something different - a move that she says was career-defining. "Being a litigator was very exciting, but as time went on, it began to feel less glamorous to me," she says. "I remember thinking during my last jury trial that I wasn't getting the same jolt of adrenaline from it and that maybe it was time to think about doing something else."

Tutoki moved on to running a law office for an insurance company, followed by running The Hartford's commercial claims operations. Six years ago, she moved on to Zurich. Her tenure at Zurich has included two years with its Farmers subsidiary; two years at the home office in Switzerland running the company's global claims operations; and two years in her current role as EVP and chief claims officer in North America.

Tutoki's unique background likely contributes to Zurich's successful resolution rate during hurricane seasons. The insurer created an alternative dispute resolution program (ADR) in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to ensure claims that are at an impasse can be resolved through the catastrophe adjusting process. "It was a real differentiator for us in some of the big hurricane losses that happened between 2005 and 2007," she says. "The ADR program bypasses the litigation process, which is not a winning proposition for either side in these situations. Our success rate has been nearly 100% in putting these through that resolution process and, overall, Zurich's percentage of resolved claims (more than 99%) is the highest for a single insurer after Hurricane Katrina."

Tutoki believes technology plays an important role in the insurance business and impacts business decisions. "It's important to stay ahead of the curve," she says. "We're always planning three to five years out to see where technology will be and how it will affect our customers' expectations."

Not surprisingly, Tutoki describes herself as an inclusive manager. "I really like to give people room to grow and learn with a safety net beneath them," she says. She has 12 direct reports, which she says is a large number, but she'd rather have a group that brings different knowledge and diversity to the table.

An emphasis on personal growth is plainly evident in her mentoring efforts. "The thing that charges me up and makes me proud is developing people and seeing them move on in our company and industry," she says. "Being able to point to various leaders and successful people in the industry and say 'I hired that person when they were much younger and less experienced,' is very fulfilling."

Tutoki experiences that fulfillment through the Zurich Associate Program, a program that enables select college graduates to spend a year learning all facets of the insurance industry. Tutoki has been a mentor to several associates, who "have had very successful openings to their careers," she says. "This program makes it possible for them to be well-grounded in the industry from the beginning of their careers," she says.

Similar to her own career, Tutoki credits her mentors with helping her succeed, "Without them, I wouldn't be where I am today. Mentoring is an extremely important component to career growth." -Carrie Burns

Click here to view photos from the 2009 Women in Insurance Leadership Program.

(c) 2009 Insurance Networking News and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Register or login for access to this item and much more

All Digital Insurance content is archived after seven days.

Community members receive:
  • All recent and archived articles
  • Conference offers and updates
  • A full menu of enewsletter options
  • Web seminars, white papers, ebooks

Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access