Profiles in Leadership
RSA's Irene Bianchi; BFL's Penny Dyte; Marsh's Sarah Robson; SIMAC's Gloria Rajkumar; ACE's Beth Bull; HUB's women leaders.
RSA senior vice-president Irene Bianchi credits her genuine interest in employees with helping her succeed in business.
By Stefan Dubowski
Women who want to get ahead in insurance need to keep three words in mind, according to Irene Bianchi: “Know your team.”
Bianchi is the senior vice-president, claims, corporate services and strategic sourcing at RSA. Currently the only woman on the insurer’s executive, this lawyer oversees claims management, corporate services such as real estate, and contracts for services provided by external partners, such as legal support.
An RSA employee since 1993, Bianchi says she has had numerous roles over the years, including developing the in-house claims litigation department and managing the major-case unit. Each advancement brought new responsibilities and new team members.
Sometimes, it’s a challenge. Bianchi recalls her early days managing major cases, working with older, more experienced staff members.
One of them seemed reluctant to work with her; he would regularly cancel meetings. But Bianchi wouldn’t give up easily.
“I found out that every morning he would go to Tim Horton for breakfast, and he would have the same thing, every morning,” she says. “So I went one morning to his office with his breakfast. I sat down with him and said, ‘This is my favourite breakfast too. I thought we could enjoy it together.’”
Her quarry seemed skeptical at first, but she explained that she wanted to get to know him – not to boss him around, but to learn how she could help him work more effectively.
“He really looked at me differently from that point on,” she says, adding that the employee would go on to become one of her strongest supporters as her career advanced.
Genuine interest in the people you work with makes all the difference. “I found that if you’re not yourself, people won’t know how to respond to you.”
Bianchi says she encourages women new to the insurance industry to make clear to their employers precisely what they want for their careers – especially if leadership is the employee’s goal.
“The thing that frustrates me about some individuals is that they sit and wait for things to come to them. It doesn’t happen that way. You have to let people know what you want so they will consider you.”
HUB’s executive leaders say the company’s entrepreneurial culture propels its success
By Suzanne Sharma
Providing leaders the opportunity to lead. That’s one of the keys to HUB’s success, according to several women on its executive team.
“We’ve maintained a very entrepreneurial culture so we allow the executive teams in each region to make the decisions that make sense for their business,” says Tina Osen, president and CEO of HUB International’s Vancouver-based operations.
“If you see something that needs changing, you have the full authority and autonomy to do it,” adds Sharlene Locke, president of personal insurance at HUB International Ontario. “The company has a large amount of resources and works together to allow us to achieve our goals.”
“It’s a very open company from the standpoint of sharing best practices and being able to call another HUB location,” agrees Barbara MacPhail, COO of HUB International Insurance Brokers’ Vancouver office. “We’re free to take something that’s working really well at another office and develop it within our office.”
Locke also says HUB’s entrepreneurial culture allows people to quickly progress in their career paths.
“In speaking with colleagues in similar roles across various industries, they would be afraid to proceed on certain issues,” she says. “I would tell them just to do it, but they’d be concerned about the consequences of bureaucracy. That doesn’t exist at HUB because the politics are minimal.”
Additionally, HUB provides its corporate leaders with the ability to be forward thinking, strategic and communicate a clear vision to their teams, according to Heather Masterson, executive vice president and partner at HKMB HUB.
“HUB is strategically focused on the future: its financial strength, its clients, its technology, its relationships with strategic partner markets and most importantly, its people,” says Masterson.
The company also supports women in corporate roles. Locke and Masterson are part of HUB Ontario region’s executive team, while Osen and MacPhail handle business in BC.
Each of the executive team members agrees that working hard, getting educated and learning from mentors are what helped propel them to their executive positions at HUB International.
“It’s about having a strong work ethic and not being afraid to roll up your sleeves and just do it, as well as treating people around you with respect and recognizing the strengths of your team members,” says Osen.
“A real desire to get involved at work, in the industry and within the community has served me well,” says Masterson. “I have a busy career, yet I make sure I spend time networking and volunteering within the industry and my community.”
MacPhail advises young leaders in the industry to be professional, operate with integrity, and listen to employees with an open mind.
Locke adds, “Take on as much challenge as you can handle. Take risks and let people know that’s what you want … We want people to be proactive. If you want to be a leader then start doing the job and take things off your boss’s plate.”
ACE’s VP of claims Beth Bull says don’t be afraid to ask for 360-degree feedback
By Brynna Leslie
When Beth Bull first started in the insurance industry in 1990 as a telephone adjuster, she had a clear idea of her career trajectory.
“I have been developing my leadership capabilities for some time, both at school and in sports,” says Bull, now the vice-president of a 30-person claims department at ACE Canada, and a former all-Canadian volleyball player. “I made a commitment to myself, while at my first job, that I wanted to be in a leadership role in the industry, and if the opportunities were not there within five years, I would move onto another company.”
Bull demonstrated the conviction and courage to make the tough decision to switch employers in 1995. Over the next 15 years, she worked hard to learn all that she could in various supervisory and management roles, continually taking on stretch assignments to broaden her depth of knowledge.
“A few years ago, I undertook a systems conversion project in the claims department I was overseeing, and it was really outside of my comfort zone,” admits Bull. “But I learned so much from a project management, business process, and from an IT perspective, and it’s really the totality of the project that helped increase my overall business acumen.”
Bull says making mistakes is always part of the learning process. As a mentor to her staff and others in the industry, Bull advises colleagues to be introspective and learn from their mistakes.
“As human beings it’s difficult not to beat yourself up over your mistakes,” says Bull. “But this is the wrong approach. You have to trust instinctually that you are growing from your mistakes, and you have to be introspective enough to find the positive in those moments.”
Bull says those looking to grow into leadership roles must have the courage to ask for 360-degree feedback on a regular basis, from direct reports, supervisors, clients, and others in their network.
“It helps you calibrate, to know whether you’re on the right track,” says Bull. “With experience comes confidence, and you must be able to speak to all stakeholder groups to understand that as you grow and mature, your core capacity increases and also changes. The 360 provides you with that other set of eyes and allows you to see how others perceive you.”
Bull takes pride in the honesty, integrity and passion she brings to her work. She believes in having regular face time with her staff, regardless of the size of the team.
“You can make a much greater difference when you are visible,” says Bull, who at one time managed 200 people from coast-to-coast. “I pride myself in knowing people, irrespective of their roles and positions. And I continually find coachable moments—when something goes really right or really sideways—to help my staff nurture and develop their careers.”
Copyright 2011 Rogers Publishing Ltd. This article first appeared in the November 2011 edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine.