Women in Insurance Leadership 2019--Melanie Kolp, Nationwide
In her role as SVP and CIO of enterprise applications at Columbus, Ohio-based Nationwide Mutual Insurance, Melanie Kolp leads the company’s technology efforts in a broad variety of core business areas, including HR, legal, investments and finance. Even as a child, however, there was never a doubt that technology would be a part of her future, she recalls.
“I had a Commodore 64 computer hooked up to my TV and Hello, World programs by the time I was 11 or 12,” she recalls. “I was just enamored by technology.” After gaining a dual degree in management information systems and management at Ohio University, Kolp went on to gain nearly a decade of experience across multiple industries, including insurance, utilities and financial services. But when she joined Nationwide in 2005, she felt it was the perfect fit both in terms of industry and culture.
“Once I got to Nationwide I loved it, because with such a big company, of over 30,000, there are so many opportunities to move around,” she says. “I don’t feel like I’ve been at the same company.” Before taking on her latest role, she most recently led technology for the company’s retirement plans business. In less than a year, she improved productivity and reducing costs for a program that was not delivering as expected.
Previously, Kolp held several other leadership roles across Nationwide, including overseeing technology for Property and Casualty homeowners insurance and agency systems; as an executive in an Agile/Lean development environment, and serving as the technology leader for the company’s finance department.
For Kolp, the insurance industry has always been fascinating because it is so ripe for technological opportunity, she says. “Even when I started 15 years ago the insurance industry wasn’t thinking about the latest technology that would improve the customer experience,” she explains. These days, however, there are endless possibilities. “There are partnerships with other technology companies that has been really fascinating, while advancements such as Amazon’s Alexa have totally changed the way we think about everything from a digital consumer mindset.”
In her new role, she says, “I’m appropriately terrified, if you believe your dreams should scare you.” However, what she is most excited about is taking her vast experience and broadening her influence across the business. “Early on in my career I called one of my mentors and asked her advice on accepting my previous position, and she asked me what I knew about this opportunity,” she says. “I said I don’t know anything about retirement plans. She slammed her hand down and said, ‘Stop telling me what you don’t know and tell me what you do know.” That changed her whole way of thinking about taking on something new, she explains: “Now I go in with more confidence.”
Kolp, in turn, enjoys mentoring other women in technology, serving in her own community as the president of Columbus Women in Tech. She is also one of the founders of the Women in IT organization within Nationwide IT and has represented Nationwide as part of the Anita Borg Foundation.
“I get a huge thrill when I can help women understand how to manage difficult times,” she says, adding that the challenge for women in tech is not only about encouraging them to go into STEM programs and into the technology field, but to keep them from leaving the industry. “We have to figure out how to stop women from hitting the point in life when they are ready to have children and struggle with the demands of being in a highly-demanding field,” she emphasizes. “We have to help them not give up and be able to push through it.”
In her own career, she has a “flurry of women, a tribe who have been my biggest supporters and sponsors throughout my whole career,” she says. “We support each other, celebrate each other’s successes and help us get through the good times and bad.”