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2016 Women to Watch: Dawn D'Onofrio

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Dawn D’Onofrio
Chief underwriting officer and executive vice president
WKFC Underwriting Managers Inc., a unit of Ryan Specialty Group L.L.C.
New York and San Francisco
Age: 49

Dawn D’Onofrio thought she was destined for a career in social work. Instead, she discovered a new path in the insurance industry.

After earning her Bachelor of Arts degree in law and society from the University of California, Santa Barbara, but finding no local jobs in her intended field, a friend suggested she interview with insurance firm G.J. Sullivan & Associates in Southern California. She found the industry in many ways to be “a perfect fit” with her analytical skills and focus on results.

Ms. D’Onofrio joined WKFC in 2007 as a branch manager, but when her predecessor died in 2010, the company was confident it had a competent, in-house replacement, said Michael Sillat, WKFC president and CEO in New York.

“What we’d seen in the first three years from Dawn was that she was just a real consummate professional,” he said. “She not only conducts herself very professionally, she’s very, very well-informed with respect to the insurance industry.”

She has gained the respect of her underwriters, which was important because she implemented changes to the company’s portfolio after Superstorm Sandy that initially were met with criticism but ultimately led to “stellar” underwriting results. That would not have happened “had she not displayed the fortitude and the discipline that you need to push change through,” Mr. Sillat said.

The historical business model of Lexington Insurance Co., which partners with WKFC, did not include delegating the commercial property underwriting authority in its surplus lines division to an outside organization, but that changed when Ms. D’Onofrio, who “reeked of competence,” came into the picture, said Nadine Silva, Boston-based executive vice president of Lexington’s property division.

“She’s not afraid to take a position and lead rather than simply go along with what the consensus might be,” she said.

Ms. D’Onofrio said she has seen a positive evolution in the insurance industry in her 25 years, from the days when women were expected to be seen but not heard to having an equal voice.

“It’s so important to have that visibility because you can be the best underwriter in your field, but if you have no visibility you’re not going to go that far,” she said.

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