Sabrina Hart, EVP and chief underwriting officer, global corporate in North America, Zurich NA, didn't plan to have a career in insurance. But the choices she's made have been good ones for her and Zurich. Hart's initiatives have been credited with generating new business, boosting revenue and establishing Zurich's Women's Innovative Network, a program dedicated mentoring and career development for women managers and professionals.

Hart's career, which runs deep in health care, was not predictable in college at the University of North Carolina, where she earned her Bachelor's in math in 1985. Her plan was to major in accounting and work at a Big Six firm. "I thought wanted I to be a partner by the time I was 30, so I started that route. Then I got some good counseling and thought I should major in something I just love and find a career where that would be needed. So I changed my major to math." Throughout college, Hart worked at a hospital, which began her insurance journey. "After graduating, my experience in health care and my major in math struck the HR department's interest at Virginia Insurance Reciprocal," a provider of professional liability, workers' compensation and other lines of business to the health care industry.

Hart started as a risk management assistant working on a quality assurance program for customers, but just months later, based on her math major, the insurer presented Hart with opportunities as an underwriter, actuarial analyst or financial assistant to the CEO. "I said, well, absolutely, and then I spoke with the CEO about the financial assistant role and he said, 'love to have you, but I just don't think this would be the right move for your career. I'd like for you to consider underwriting or actuarial.' I opted for underwriting because it gave me an opportunity to use my technical skills and my degree but also would allow me some interaction with customers and brokers."

Off she went, rising through the underwriting ranks. By the end of her seven-year run there, she was underwriting manager for the commercial line before being recruited to AIG in 1992 as a regional manager of its health care office, which she says was a defining moment of her career. "The health care office was just beginning to regionalize some of its underwriting. I remember thinking, 'Holy cow, I feel pretty empowered; I actually have the capability of putting this company at pretty significant risk (about $50 million in capacity). This company has a great deal of trust in me.' With that came a heightened level of responsibility."

Hart says she never really applied for a job or looked for the next. Such was the case in 1994, when she was recruited to Marsh as regional healthcare practice leader and then to Zurich two years later, where she's held a variety of positions over these 17 years. Now, as CUO for global corporate in North America, which serves Zurich's corporate, multi-national customers, Hart is responsible for the team that delivers underwriting solutions in North America with annual revenues of $750 million or more.

In her first year she drove revenue by 19 percent and new business 58 percent, much of which can be attributed to Hart instituting a portfolio management tool that helped improve the profitability of GCiNA's line-of-business portfolio, drive discipline and executional consistency.

But it was Hart's co-founding the Women's Innovative Network (WIN) - a program offering mentoring and career development for women managers and professionals - that really caught the WIL judges' eyes. "We needed to be able to attract women in the future because they were going to be the majority of the workforce," she says. In 2008, she and Lucille Sgaglione, then SVP specialty claims at Zurich and the other co-founder of WIN, gathered their research, prepared to present the idea to John Amore, then head of general insurance globally, not really as a woman's issue, but as a strategic issue. He immediately supported the initiative and provided a small budget. Hart and Sgaglione got to work attracting speakers and holding receptions with them, customers and also with brokers.

Now, five years later, the group regularly brings together members, management mentors and internal/external speakers to share ideas and insights about leadership opportunities for women within Zurich. The WIN initiative continues to offer mentoring and career development for women managers and professionals, Zurich says. "I still try to participate as a sponsor and advisor," Hart says. "They've really done some good things. What keeps it going now is the next level of managers and up and comers. They're just delighted to have that forum and to be able to get together with people. It's still pretty much a grassroots organization. We're still evolving, and we've had decent sponsorship by men."

Number of years in the industry: 28

Number of direct reports: 7

Company size: $13.1 billion gross written premiums

Nominated by: Zurich NA

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

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