What do you think people in the industry could learn from your background?
Ann Stephenson: From my experience it's learning from humility, learning that no matter how good you are there's always somebody better. Learning to listen more than you speak, which I'm still trying to master, is important. Identifying people that you have respect for--you don't have to find one whole person, but you can find individual skill sets that you can emulate.
EG: With your experiences behind you, how do you feel now about the role of formal education in career success?
AS: It's much more important now than it was, a lot of companies won't consider you without that college degree. When I was starting out, a high-school degree was considered necessary for entry level. I did have a couple years of college, I was going to school and working full time, and the paychecks just kind of took over.
There are still some opportunities out there, but it would be much more difficult now than it was in the past. If someone was looking for a job they would really have to find an employer that believes in internal promotion and internal education, but it's difficult because even with that sometimes they're looking for that college degree. So, I wouldn't encourage anybody to take the path that I did. For me, I think the timing was right, I worked hard, I was surrounded by the right people that allowed me the opportunities, and having clients that you have their confidence. That trust factor with clients was huge.
EG: Describe the reactions of people who find out about your background.
It's probably one of surprise, because the background's not typical of other stories I hear of how people got into the insurance industry. I love what I do, and I think that's something that really helps me. I'm willing to dig into any aspect of my position and explore it to the very end. Even if it doesn't turn out to be something that's very useful in the long run, I always feel that I'm better off for having known it.
How has your insurance industry education helped you?
The ARM gave me a broader understanding of risk management, that it occurs not just in the risk management department but all over the organization--human resources, legal. Probably where I spend most of my time when it's not with risk managers, it's with general counsel. I've always been of the opinion that insurance policies are a legal contract first and a risk financing vehicle second. So being able to understand what a company is most likely to get sued for and translate that into E&O insurance coverage, I find that to be remarkably helpful and especially in paying claims.
What role did family play in your professional ambitions?
ML: I love and respect my father. He always made a very good living in insurance so I kind of wanted to follow in his footsteps. That's why I reached out to him. I always looked up to him and still do. He always took care of our family, three kids and a wife, a house in New York. It seemed like something that's an excellent career.
I remember hearing somewhere that insurance is the world's largest industry, and if you can find a special niche for yourself, you can usually put together a nice career for yourself. My father retired after Sept. 11; he was in the World Trade Center and got out of the industry after that. One of my sisters is a securities lawyer, and the other remained up in Victoria doing research for geological and mining companies. We're all sort of research-oriented children.
EG: How did you become a strong advocate for insurance designations and continuing education?
Back in 1970, women didn't go to college at the rate they go now. I got hired by Bland & Company, a local St. Louis brokerage firm, to be a policy typist. I worked my way through this brokerage firm, and after I had been there for 18 years, I realized I had done everything there. In '88, I said, "OK, now I have to do something different."
I just fell into insurance, but I really liked it and I wanted to go back to school to get the knowledge I needed. My saving grace was that I did go get an insurance degree--a CPCU is considered a master's degree in insurance. I did get a good education, I just went about it differently. I'm actually an instructor for some CPCU and INS classes and an adjunct professor for a community college. Adult teaching is a thing that I enjoy. Any individual who wants to make a career out of insurance needs to believe in continuing education. I think it's an absolute must. Things are changing every day.
ERIN GAZICA is associate editor of Risk & Insurance®.
April 1, 2008
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