One evening at a parent dinner for a gymnastics school she was running, Theresa Thompson Schugel sat next to a broker from E.W. Blanch. Impressed with Schugel's sales ability, he suggested she apply to Blanch for a job as a reinsurance broker. "Reinsurance?" Schugel remembers thinking, "whatever that is?"
But she applied and was hired in 1984. She went through the broker training program and simultaneously earned her CPCU designation in just two-and-a-half years.
In 1988, Schugel made the unusual move of jumping to the primary insurance side and joined The St. Paul Cos., where she served in several senior management positions.
She gained a range of operational expertise through her positions as a vice president of sales and marketing, a vice president of medical services operations, and as a ceded reinsurance officer.
In 2001, she rejoined Blanch, which had merged with Benfield Greig Group Plc., as president of its subsidiary Paragon Strategic Solutions Inc. In January 2002 she became CEO.
"She is very willing to do whatever it takes and is a great advocate for her team," says Corrina Conley, president of Paragon. "She has a gift for developing relationships and is well respected in the industry. The relationships that Theresa has built over the years have opened many doors for Paragon." Conley, who has known Schugel since the mid-'80s, calls her a highly structured, talented professional, yet one at the same time brimming with energy.
Schugel is the middle child of seven children. She has two older sisters and a brother, two younger sisters and a brother, Tom, president of Reinsurance Results Inc., a one-man firm that helps insurance companies recover claims lain dormant in forgotten insurance policies.
Schugel was the National Junior Olympics gymnastics champion in 1976 and the Minnesota high school all-around gymnastics champion in 1977 and 1978.
"I had several scholarship opportunities to go on to colleges in gymnastics, but there is part of me that is practical," she says. "Gymnastics is not a sport I could do professionally and thus, thought it best to move on and focus on academics." She did run her first Twin Cities Marathon in 2004. Her time was good enough to qualify her to participate in the Boston Marathon in April.
She was graduated from the College of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minn., in 1982, and in 2000 earned a degree in business administration from the University of St. Thomas, where her brother also went to school.
In April 1983 she married Tim Schugel, the CFO for Department 56, a designer, importer and distributor of collectibles, giftware and holiday merchandise.
They have three children Jessica, Melissa, and Rebecca.
In 2001, she took a few months off between leaving The St. Paul Cos. and rejoining Blanch to spend time with her girls. After a few weeks, her oldest daughter asked when she was going back to work.
"I think she was worried that I may start cooking," says Schugel. "Everyone knows my cooking skills are very limited. And my middle daughter suggested I could get a part-time job at the local Dairy Queen, hoping she'd get a discount."
A DISCIPLINED SOUL
"Even though I travel roughly 50 percent of the time, I work hard to stay connected with my children," she says. "And I couldn't do what I do in my job and raise three children without Tim's understanding and support."
They spend 10 days in Maui, Hawaii, each year on a family vacation in the spring.
She credits her success to a tremendous amount of discipline, a desire to achieve, and having many supportive friends and family. "I would also say to those who are starting out, believe in yourself and know that the opportunities are endless," she says. "My success is a combination of good, old-fashioned hard work and a willingness to ask questions."
She is also very involved in the mentoring process. "I feel very privileged to have been able to have a career and absolutely love what I do," she says. Nor does she think there is a glass ceiling for women. "I think we impose some of those ceilings on ourselves," says this CEO. "I have been fortunate in working with companies that are very supportive of women."
Though she and her brother, Tom, work in similar lines of business, Schugel says they have never had any problems competing with each other.
"It is no different from working with any other competitor," she says. Paragon and Reinsurance Results Inc. have not yet worked together on any project. "Such a consulting arrangement might make sense," she says, "but Tom has a little bit different approach from Paragon's. Nevertheless, I would love it if Tom would come to work for Paragon."
Given her brother's propensity for independence and running a one-man shop, however, that's not looking likely anytime soon.
Be that as it may, their business relationships do not seem to have affected their sibling relationship.
"My sisters and brothers live close by," says Schugel, "and we and their families still gather on special occasions. On Christmas Eve, I entertain the whole clan at our house."
She has added a stocking each year another child or person comes into the family. Now there are more than 30 and she hangs the stockings on the staircase of her house. She laughs, remembering the time a repairman visited the house around Christmas, and saw all the stockings.
"Wow, you have that many kids?" he asked.
RONALD GIFT MULLINS,
a former insurance editor for the Journal of Commerce, contributes regularly to Risk & Insurance®.
February 1, 2005
Copyright 2005© LRP Publications