Before applying for her current position as VP of claims with Progressive, Tricia Griffith, a mother of six, called a family meeting at her home in Cleveland to discuss the possibility of pursuing her current position-one that would require more traveling and nights away from home. In that moment, she asked her family to trust in the lessons she had learned through her career: Stay focused on the moment, and embrace opportunities to push yourself beyond your comfort zone.

Griffith got her start as a claims rep trainee with Progressive, and in the insurance industry, by responding to a classified ad in 1998. "I just got in by happenstance. My plan was to work for a couple years and then get my MBA or do something different," she admits.

It wasn't long before those plans changed: "I was working in claims for eight or nine months before I knew that, one, claims was for me, and two, Progressive was the company I wanted to have a career with. I haven't looked back."

In 2002, 14 years later, an HR spot reporting directly to Progressive's CEO opened up that she was not initially interested in, given that she did not have prior HR experience. However her co-workers-particularly women-spurred her toward it, she says.

"Had I not had advocates who thought of me during different times in my career, I don't think I would've pushed myself to do things out of my comfort zone."

Griffith was subsequently named chief human resource officer, where she spent the next six years. When the VP of claims position opened up, she was more confident in her experience and her ideas. But she knew she still needed a certain group of six advocates to support her move. "My older kids were in high school, and they didn't care as long as they got their gas money. With the younger kids it was harder, but technology has helped."

With her family's approval, indeed, she has not looked back, becoming the company's first female claims VP. In 2007, Progressive was processing claims effectively, but not at a competitive cost structure. Griffith worked to segment out a portion of non-complex claims that could be processed by the General Claims Unit in addition to looking at how many people were processing claims. Making the process more efficient while maintaining customer service standards, Griffith has significantly reduced claims expenses over the past several years, just one reason the WIL judges selected her.

Beyond adding efficiency to operations, she also travels two to three days a week to speak with company employees and conduct town hall meetings-yet she remains dedicated to a work/family balance. Griffith is not afraid to let her personal life assist and intertwine with her work life.

"I've got some spontaneity about me because I'm the mother of six. That part of my personal life goes into my life here," she says, while explaining that she doesn't formally prepare for her town halls. "I think that spontaneity makes me more real to people."

This personal connection with her employees is what Griffith stresses most about being a leader. She shares stories about her family and, upon becoming VP, created a blog for communicating updates and receiving concerns from any of the insurer's 12,000 claims employees, so everyone remains on the same page.

Clearly a people-person, Griffith opens herself up to women outside of her department as well through an internal employee resource group called NEW, the Network of Empowered Women. She speaks with women about their career goals, how best to approach them as well as lending them general work/life advice.

"I form relationships because I think it makes work more fun when you know something about someone, and two, once you have that relationship and people trust you, they're going to go the extra mile for you."

Griffith also applies this same approach to customers by pushing for a simpler, more responsive claims process; customers can file claims anytime online and she has invested in expanding the locations and capabilities of service centers.

Reluctant to take credit for the advances her department has made under her watch, she always keeps her employees in mind: "We, as a team, work together to make sure we're all going down the same path to be successful."

Number of years in the industry: 24

Number of direct reports: 9

Progressive's gross written premium: $15.1 billion

Nominated by: The Progressive Group of Insurance Cos.

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