As part of the coverage of our August "Top Women in Insurance" issue, American Agent & Broker interviewed some of the most successful women in the insurance field today. In a male-dominated industry, these women have found their paths to success.
For many of these women, accomplishment in the insurance industry did not come without support and encouragement from mentors and sponsors in the early stages of their careers.
Click through the slideshow to read the stories of eight industry women and the influence mentors and sponsors on their careers.
Read our previous installments:
“My husband was my first mentor and continues to be my closest advisor. He had a lot of experience in the corporate insurance world when I first entered and he understood a lot more about insurance than I did. He was the person who encouraged me to pursue my vision of establishing a brokerage to focus on the affluent and high net-worth individual.
“Also the personal lines professionals at Chubb and AIG were very supportive of me when I did not have much more than a business plan. Kurt Morgan at Chubb was particularly helpful and made sure I had all the underwriting support I needed.”
Laura Deeley Bren, president, Atlantic/Smith, Cropper & Deeley
“I am fortunate to have four people that I would consider to be my mentors in this business. It is interesting how each of them taught me a unique skill that is so important to my role today.
“Pat Davis was a senior producer for our agency. Each morning, before I went to my telemarketing responsibilities, we read ISO policies cover to cover. He was my first technical insurance trainer.
“Ron Pasquariello was the executive VP who mentored me over a 24-month period to prepare me for leading the agency. He developed an established sales management at our firm and introduced me to virtually every component of agency management.
“Sandy Deeley, my father, is an incredible entrepreneur and continues to have great insights into how we can extend our business beyond the traditional insurance business. While he has been away from the day-to-day operations since the late ‘90s, he is a valuable resource to me, especially when facing visionary challenges and looking at the big picture.
“Liz White, president of Peachtree Special Risk Brokers, is my dear friend whom I admire both professionally and personally. Back in 2003, we wrote a large property new business account to be effective the same week I got married and she delivered her first baby. In that moment, we forever bonded over the thrill of the ‘we can have it all’ illusion. I am in awe of her as she navigates life’s journeys both professionally and personally. I can always count on Liz to give me candid feedback and advice.”
Linda Rey, principal and owner, Rey Insurance Agency
“My first mentor was my dad, but not in a technical or educational sense. First, I wanted to make him proud so that I could help him while working at the agency. My dad taught me how to get out there and get stuff done. You don’t wait around for someone to take care of things. You figure it out by being resourceful. You pick up the phone and ask questions. I learned basically everything I know by not knowing anything.”
Michelle Rupp, owner/president, NRG Insurance
“My first mentor was Jerry Perry. He was the manager of license and permit bonds for Safeco. He wrote everything in a purple Flair (pen). I worked as legal secretary and Jerry’s writing prepared me for anything! Big deal bonds were manually typed and they could not have typos. I remember an executive from Boeing sitting in Jerry’s office waiting for a bond, and Jerry yelling, ‘Where is that MEEEEchelle and that bond?’
“I have amazing keyboard skills, but Jerry told my dad I had ‘the instinct.’ We always used that phrase. Do people ‘get it'? Do they see the logic and the art in insurance? Thank goodness I do and did, since I was pretty much thrust into owning this agency young, after Dad died suddenly at a time when lots of seasoned agency owners would have buckled. However, we still talk about how Dad taught us to present a risk to an underwriter, how to analyze a risk, how important education was to your craft. He was a consummate professional.”
Sharon Emek, director of operations, CBS Coverage Group Inc.
“I had two amazing sponsors—Chubb and Aetna. After helping the agency in N.J., I began specializing in helping insurance agencies develop procedures and better organizational structures. Jack Hicks, the regional VP at Chubb at the time, and the regional VP for Aetna were impressed with the results of the agencies I was working with, and proposed to me that I open my own agency. Mind you, this was in Manhattan, a very tough town. They said they would love to see some women-owned agencies. I had never sold insurance before and expressed my concern that I might not reach their premium requirements. They said they would not require any and would help me grow a book of business. Within one year, I had sold $1 million in premium. By year three, I had a $5 million book of business. Both Aetna and Chubb were ahead of their time in recognizing the need for diversity.”
Karen Gilmer-Pauciello, CFO, Philadelphia Insurance Cos.
“Throughout my career, I’ve been very fortunate to have many informal mentors, both male and female. Mentors early in my career stressed the importance of hard work, a positive attitude and developing technical competence in accounting and finance. As I became more immersed in the insurance industry, mentors placed an emphasis on really understanding the underlying business of insurance and not just crunching the numbers. Later, my mentors emphasized the importance of developing, fostering and nurturing relationships with clients, producers, shareholders, regulators, staff, my peers, rating agencies and management or other stakeholders. I tried to learn from successful people by astutely observing them and asking for advice when I needed it.”
Karen Bailo, general manager of agency sales and distribution, Progressive
"My first mentor specific to Progressive was a senior female motorcycle product manager. She gave me a lot of formal and informal coaching to develop my analytic skills and I learned to read my audience.
"Later in my career, I would point to my dad as a strong influence and mentor. As my roles became less about the technical parts of the job and more about leading others, I sought him out for coaching and guidance. He has a lot of experience and I'm fortunate to have the opportunity to learn from him. I also regularly use informal coaches to provide input and feedback on situations. I am constantly looking for ways to improve. My informal coaches are great sources of input and feedback to help me improve as I encounter new challenges."
Lisa Tepper, regional president, Travelers
"I've been fortunate enough to have a number of mentors throughout my career--men and women of all ages, in and outside of the industry.
"I've found that the most effective mentors are those who are willing to provide honest advice. Receiving real, unfiltered feedback is the only way a mentee can learn and grow. Helping individuals succeed in new roles or get to the next level in their organization is a critical part of a leader's job. I've always tried to set aside time to help my direct reports and those around me set up a path to opportunity. Senior leaders in the insurance industry and elsewhere in business have a short- and long-term responsibility to give back by developing a pipeline of talent that will ultimately impact who sits on management committees and makes key business decisions on a day-to-day basis. This work is not only rewarding, but it is also good business."