Selective's Brenda Hall credits love of learning for success
Life is about constantly learning, says Brenda Hall, EVP and COO of commercial lines at Branchville, N.J.-based Selective Insurance Company of America.
This constant opportunity for learning is what Hall says has contributed to her growth as an executive over her 28-year career in the insurance industry. “Every experience or opportunity I’ve had has influenced and shaped who I am as an employee, a leader and a colleague, and has helped me to be better prepared for future opportunities or challenges,” she says. “I relish in the moments when I realize examples of professional and personal growth as a direct correlation to past shortcomings or challenges. If we aren’t being challenged, then we aren’t growing.”
Over the past 19 years at Selective, Hall has held positions that have included seven years leading best practices at the company’s regional operations; serving as vice president for field operations and underwriting functions, and as Selective’s first-ever chief strategic operations officer.
In 2017 and 2018, Hall led Selective’s advanced analytics and predictive modeling strategy, until she was promoted in 2019 to her current position as EVP and COO of commercial lines. In this role, she is responsible for the growth, profit and direction of six regional offices. Hall also leads the company’s geographic expansion into new states and advises underwriting guidelines, in addition to ensuring that business strategies align with and support the company’s independent agency partners. She does this working out of Selective's Charlotte, N.C. office.
Hall says COVID-19 has provided some unprecedented additional opportunities for growth, as well. Less than a year into her current position, Hall met the pandemic head on by making changes to underwriting guidelines, temporarily closing field operations to virtually support Selective agents, employees and customers. She and her team developed a “Best Practices for Driving Profitable Growth in a Virtual Environment” manual which provided guidance on how to transition all in-person field operations to a virtual format.
Second quarter data revealed the success of Hall’s efforts. Her division grew at a rate 8.5%, increasing the new business hit ratio to 34%, while strengthening new business pricing from .84 to .87. Retention rate jumped from 83% to 86%.
“It was a heavy lift, but we prevailed without missing a beat,” she says. “We were able to produce excellent underwriting results, and now we are even more prepared for what the future holds. I’m better equipped now than I was 10 months ago to lead a team in a virtual environment and I’m still growing and learning every day.”
It’s not a surprise to her colleagues that Hall could negotiate this year’s tough environment. They say she is known for her high degree of business acumen, an ability she wields broadly and deeply across the organization—understanding not just the business, but the specifics of each role and department.
Selective’s President and CEO John Marchioni says there isn’t anything Hall can’t do at the company, and she has the respect and admiration of its more than 2,400 employees. “During her tenure at Selective, she has dazzled her colleagues and industry peers alike as her skills, expertise and potential truly have no limit,” he says.
Hall attracts and cultivates employees with strong leadership skills, ensuring her team can bring out the best in others, according to Marchioni.
That capacity also lends itself well to helping other women climb, a passion of Hall’s, in a traditionally male-dominated industry. Working with Selective’s Women’s Agency Leadership and Women at Work initiatives, Hall says she creates ways for women insurance professionals to receive needed networking, educational and leadership opportunities.
What’s Hall’s best advice to women who would follow in her footsteps? “Be your authentic self,” she says. “As I look back at my career, there are two things I believe had an influence on my success; finding my voice and taking risks. Speaking up isn’t always easy, but when you do, you might find yourself successfully imprinting on tactics and strategies that make a difference.”
Hall says she was fortunate early in her career to find her voice and to be surrounded by leaders who were willing to listen. This, along with her willingness to take on a fair amount of risk, whether that was in the positions she applied for, or the projects she supported, is key, she says.
According to Hall, she often stretched beyond her comfort level. “Not every project or every decision proved to be ideal but there is no doubt I learned a great deal from the experiences and recovered from the failures to move on to the next challenge,” she says. “My advice is don’t be afraid to stretch yourself and put yourself out there as you never know what you’re capable of learning or accomplishing until you try.”