By DAN REYNOLDS, senior editor of Risk & Insurance®
You walk into a room. Maybe it's the comforting atmosphere of a well-heeled insurance industry reception replete with cases of French wine and plates stacked high with intriguing cheeses and just the right sort of crackers.
You walk in and you notice someone moving from one conversational cluster of blue and black suits to another. They have their head up and they're walking easily, not hurrying toward someone, not hurrying away from anyone.
They're taking in the room, looking straight ahead of them, seeing who is there and what they will really end up saying. If you are an avid and sensitive observer of people, a little bell might go off inside of you when you see that sort of person.
"Wait just a second," you might just say to yourself. "This person's not afraid of anybody."
Such a person is Tangy Morgan.
Tangy said she was once counseled by her mother that "everyone has a story," and so too indeed, does she.
And much of how and why she travelled from her life as a Catholic high school girl in Augusta, Ga., to become the deputy head of underwriting performance, Performance Management Directorate, for Lloyd's of London has to do with the fabric of courage and self confidence that was woven inside her by her mother and grandmother.
Tangy's maternal grandmother was Cathleen Sizer Fisher. Tangy describes her as a "maverick" who in her day was one of only two African-American registered nurses in Greeneville, S.C.
Her mother was Margaret Ann Fisher Morgan, who also possessed a strong-willed spirit and a desire to achieve. Margaret Ann Fisher Morgan earned a master's degree from New York University in 1963 and was an educator in Augusta for more than 30 years.
Tangy remembers that her mother told her something very important when she was little. It sounds like something that every mother should tell every child.
"She always said, 'You are just as good as anybody else. Whatever you choose to do, be the best you can and appreciate that everyone has a story'," Morgan recalled during a phone interview with Risk & Insurance® in June.
We have heard it said more than once that the insurance industry is a magnet for talent. And like many who have wound up in this industry, Tangy sure wasn't thinking about insurance or something as lofty as Lloyd's when she graduated from Aquinas High School in Augusta and took aim at Tennessee State University in Nashville.
What she thought she wanted was a nursing degree. But her grandmother wasn't having any of that. Her grandmother told her that if she wasn't going to be a doctor, then she should change her major, which Tangy dutifully did--to business.
Fast-forward four years and Tangy found herself as a freshly minted business graduate in the Gulf of Mexico in a training program for Conoco oil and gas financial analysts. And it was on oil rigs 60 miles out in the gulf that Tangy got a chance to put her home-nurtured courage to the test.
Imagine being one of the only women on an oil drilling platform 60 miles from the nearest land with nothing for company but a bunch of roughnecks. The laughter of the rig workers on her first day of work as she dragged her duffle bag over the platform grating, with her high heels getting stuck at every step, hasn't left her memory.
Bill Baker, who trained with Morgan back in those days and who today is the finance lead for the ConocoPhillips Alliance Refinery in Belle Chasse, La., remembers that Tangy didn't let the rig workers, or anything else for that matter, get to her.
"She didn't let those things intimidate her," Baker said. Baker remembers Tangy as "very sharp" and "confident."
"I would have never guessed that she would have gone into insurance but you never know where opportunity will lead you," he said.
After being downsized at Conoco, Tangy found herself at a job fair in Atlanta and standing in front of a recruiter for Chubb. Chubb wanted Tangy for its energy division because of her gulf experience, so she went to work in its excess umbrella department as an underwriter trainee.
She was beginning anew, but she had found something that would gain traction with her. She was also planting a seed, working in excess lines, that would later grow into a skill that would serve her well at Lloyd's. "Underwriting really clicked with me because you are always learning something new--especially as I wrote product liability for industries ranging from huge property owners/developers, integrated oil companies, pharmaceuticals and chemical manufacturers," she said.
She rose through the underwriting ranks, working first as a regional underwriter with TIG Insurance and then a senior underwriter with American Home in Philadelphia. With her experiences in underwriting, Tangy said she considered reinsurance the next logical step. And so it was that she took a position as a facultative reinsurance broker with Sedgwick Re in New York, following that up with a position at Guy Carpenter. That was where another seed was planted that would eventually lead to the Lloyd's experience.
"That's where I first got the bug for working internationally as I did some business with a few intermediaries in London and some German markets," she recalls.
That taste for the international is what led her to her next job, as a senior vice president with AIG Cat Excess in London and New York. It was in that phase of her career when William Milaschewski, the corporate risk manager for the Boston-based Cabot Corporation, first met Tangy and got to know her work.
FACE TO FACE WITH RISK
Milaschewski, who said he considers Tangy "CEO material," said he too is struck by Tangy's type of gift; a gift that combines gravity and sincerity with a sharp business mind.
"As soon as you meet Tangy you get struck right away that she is very different from any underwriter in that market," Milaschewski said.
"You really do feel like this is a person you want to do business with," he said. "Yes, she is very engaging and very energizing but she is also a very hard worker that she knows all the important parts about the issues in advance."
Milaschewski said he values Tangy's directness. That's because so many people can be so very, how can we put this kindly, indirect?
It's funny but it's not funny how some underwriters will shy away from asking the really tough questions face to face but then send a hard copy or electronic letter later on that tells the client what they really think of their toughest risks.
"Some people in her role would kind of dance around the issues and would be afraid to address them but would then send you a letter afterwards," is how Milaschewski put it.
In her current role, Morgan is responsible for the underwriting performance and profitability of approximately half of the syndicates doing business in the Lloyd's market. She's been there for two years and as someone who had worked on the company side for so many years, she acknowledges having moved well out of her comfort zone to take the Lloyd's position. But she has that "different view," called directness by another name, and therein may lie a larger piece of her value to this market.
"In the job that I have we are monitoring the business plans and actually challenging the assumptions that the syndicates would have when they are developing their business plans." Morgan said.
Well before the Lloyd's job, Morgan traveled the world as a facultative reinsurance broker and an excess global underwriter, and as she traveled she absorbed the knowledge to give even this most venerable insurance market some perspective.
"I have to have a broader working knowledge of how the outside company market would look at things," she said of her work which involves reviewing the business brought by managing agents to Lloyd's syndicates.
Jeffrey Hafter, a Greenwich, Conn.-based senior vice president with the W.R. Berkley Corp., said from his observations that take on the perspective she brings makes sense. It was Hafter who trained in excess underwriting with Morgan when they both started at Chubb back in June of 1987, he being in the New York office and her being in the Atlanta office. And it was he who brought her over to AIG when he was looking for a good underwriter. He described Morgan as "focused" "dedicated" and "passionate."
"Her ability to grasp and see the world and the developing insurance markets throughout the world really makes her and made her a very strong candidate for Lloyd's, which generally has a much broader perspective of the world insurance market than what people generally have domestically," Hafter said.
The Cabot Corp's Milaschewski thinks Tangy is destined for a C-suite sometime, somewhere, but for now Morgan said she is enjoying the challenge of being at Lloyd's and the liberating feeling of living in England, which although surely not free of racial tensions, has a different brand of them than in the United States.
"My African-American friends that are here and that have experienced working abroad, I think the first thing that we all say is that people denote you by your nationality first."
And when she's back in the United States? "When I step off of the plane I still feel that old racial black-white divide," she said.
But as with almost everything, she seems to be able to shake that off. "I'm accustomed to being in integrated environments and I have no fear," she said. "I am Tangy and either you like me because I'm Tangy or you don't."
October 15, 2010
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