Three of the insurance industry’s top executives provided tips on mentoring, work-life balance, networking, professional development and other issues at Insurance Networking News’ Women in Insurance Leadership (WIL) conference, which was held earlier this week in Chicago.

Guy Carpenter & Co. vice chairman of international operations Victoria Carter, Zurich North America executive vice president and chief operation officer Nancy Mueller and Aflac U.S. president Teresa White – all recipients of this year’s INN Women in Insurance Leadership awards – spoke on a panel, moderated by Deborah Smallwood, founder of consulting firm Strategy Meets Action, that took place immediately after this year’s WIL Award ceremony.

More on the WIL Awards and 2014’s WIL Award winners:

Below are the panel’s edited comments to questions and topics put forth by Smallwood and attendees during the panel Q&A.


White:  I enjoy seeing people succeed, especially people who don’t think they have what it takes. Mentoring is about relationships; helping someone understand and discover who they are.  I take a broad focus on mentoring. It’s about me understanding the business and the person, and then providing guidance; talking about where they want to go and how they can get there.

Mueller: It’s about people and connecting with people. I mentor several people, but it’s not a formal program. For me, mentoring is more informal; it’s about sharing myself to help other find themselves.


Mueller: I was working at another insurer. At the time, in my personal life, I was a wife, a mother, a daughter and a friend, and I thought I needed to be the best at everything. I was planning a birthday party for my son, and it absolutely had to be the best birthday party. I was trying to do everything.

An executive I worked with came to me and said I was going to burn myself out. He then told me that I didn’t have to be the best at everything. He was right.

And that give me freedom; it gave me freedom to make choices.

When I think back on it, my son really didn’t care if he had the best birthday party I could plan. He just wanted me to be there.

The message I got was be yourself; be in the moment. It was a pivotal moment for me.

Carter: The real influences in my life were my parents. My father was the one who always told me to go for it. My mother was the one who always told me to be myself.

White: When I started out, I was ready to take the industry by storm. I had the right degrees. I moved around a bit. I had gotten some experience. At that point in my career, people would come to me and tell me what they wanted done and how they wanted me to do it. And I responded that, no, that’s not the way I was going to do it; I was going to do it my way.

A women mentor came up to me and said she wanted to offer a word of advice: that maybe I should listen. That let me hold up a mirror to myself.

There’s also Aflac CEO Dan Amos. He loves to bring talent in and throw them into projects. He gave me opportunities. And I can talk to him about what’s not working. His advice: if it’s failing, fail it fast.


White:  I love face to face. I don’t enjoy going out on LinkedIn and Facebook. I see people all the time with smartphone. There is a place for social, but we have to keep conversations, relationships, alive.
I fear we lose something with social media. We lose our social skills.

And you can read typed messages in different ways. You often don’t get the context of what people are saying.

Mueller: We can’t replace face to face. We need to try and get younger people to realize face to face is important.

Carter: Our jobs are to work with clients, to make them successful. You can’t do that over a device.
People want to talk to you, to talk about the problems they’re having. I’m where I am because of my clients – the relationships I’ve built.  And clients will follow you.

As I get out, as I travel, I connect with people I may not have seen in a while, and that creates business opportunities.


White: I read a lot. That helps me to say abreast of newer things. I go to conferences, where you can network and get various perspectives. I try to get close to people in the industry.

Mueller: Achievement isn’t about the academic initials after your name; your degrees. It’s thinking about accomplishment and figuring out the best method to get it done. A lot of it is practical.

Carter: Sometimes there’s too much of a focus on academic achievement. That’s important, but there’s also relationship building. It’s about wanting to achieve something, wanting to get some place.

And there’s no shortcut around working hard – and that means making sacrifices.

Carter: What you learn is every country has its own culture, its own belief systems. And when you operate globally, having that education is a huge advantage.

Mueller: I made moves and also found that it’s not the same everywhere.  When you visit someplace, you may realize it’s different, but you really don’t get an appreciation for the difference unless you live there. It often turns out that a place isn’t what you thought it would be.

White: What I see is that women don’t move as often as men – because they don’t feel they’re able to or just because they don’t prefer to. I see men uproot their families, but I don’t often see women do the same. I followed my husband for six or seven years of our marriage. And then he started to follow me.
Moving around depends on a lot of things – especially where you are in your personal life. But if you want an opportunity, and that opportunity is somewhere else, you have to make a choice.


Mueller: It’s about priorities. Over time, priorities change, but you have to know what your priorities are. For me, it’s all about choice. It’s really important that you’re making the choice, and that other people aren’t making the choice for you. Do you have a balance? It doesn’t matter what others think. What do you think? Do you spend your time where you feel it needs to be spent?

But when you make a choice, be there. If you go to a game with your kids, being on your handheld device the whole time you’re there doesn’t count as spending time with them. If you’re not really there, that’s not balance.

You need to be able to transition for work to home. Then you have freedom to feel good about what you’re doing at any point in time.

White:  When I go home, my smartphone goes into a glass bowl. At first I used to pick it up all the time. But now I’m selective. For my family, when I don’t pick it up, that’s a huge deal.

Also, I travel a lot. My husband didn’t know that sometimes I moved or didn’t take a trip to be with the family. Now I put all my trips on the family calendar. And I scratch out the ones I don’t go on. Until I did that, he never realized when I altered my schedule.

Carter: It all does come down to choice. On the weekends, I catch up with family, but during the week there are long days. If I didn’t put in the time, I wouldn’t be where I am. So we all have to make choices.


Mueller: The insurance industry is a great career. Don’t be afraid; look for opportunities. And take the opportunities that are out there. Granted, you don’t know which opportunities will eventually work out. But when presented with a choice, think about what’s the worst that could happen. As long as the downside isn’t too bad – go for it. And, remember, sometimes staying where you’re at can also turn out badly.

Carter:  Embrace change. Dare to be different. Different gets you into all types of fun places. Push yourself beyond the boundaries.

White:  Don’t be fearful of trying new things. If you don’t embrace change, you will never move forward.  Understand what your journey is – where you’re going. And if you have family, a husband and children, be sure to include them in on the journey. I always talked to my kids about why I was doing something, that I was pursuing my dreams. And now my kids are pursuing their dreams.

And be who you are. But make sure you understand who you want to be.

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