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Golfing your way to career success and other advice from industry execs

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SAN DIEGO — Learn to play golf.

That was one piece of career advice given to young members of the Wholesale & Specialty Insurance Association on Tuesday at the organization’s 2017 Annual Marketplace in San Diego.

Executives spoke about their experiences during the panel discussion sponsored by WSIA’s U40 group of under-40 members.

Brenda Ballard Austenfeld, president of the national property practice at R-T Specialty L.L.C. in Kansas City, Missouri, said that while she had been athletic when she was young, she did not learn to play golf until she was 22.

“It literally changed my career,” she said. “I’ve played golf with almost every CEO that we do business with. I’m a 10 handicap. I have played with Jordan Spieth — 18 holes just a couple of years ago” in a professional-amateur game, she said, referring to the champion golfer.

“It changes your career because you get to spend quality time with executives, that you get to spend five hours a day with them,” said Ms. Ballard Austenfeld. “So just a little tip for both men and women — all of you should learn to play golf. It will help your career.”

Executives on the panel were asked what they would do differently today as far as managing their careers. J. Michael Abraham, Glen Allen, Virginia-based managing director for Markel Corp.’s Southeast region, said, “I wish I had taken time earlier in my career” to read policy forms and thus lay a foundation of knowledge

“Some of the folks I worked with were Insurance nerds who got excited talking about additional insureds,“ he said. “It took a long time” for him to appreciate getting the necessary information to reach a good decision. “I wish when I started my career I would have committed an hour a week” to laying this foundation, he said.

Kristen A. Skender, director of corporate development at Jimcor Agencies in Pittsburgh, said that as a young career woman she was “super serious and super driven” and did not let her guard down until she was in her 30s. “It’s kind of liberating to find a balance,” she recommended.

During the session, Richard J. Schmitzer, president and CEO of Richmond, Virginia-based James River Insurance Co., discussed how in his 20s he left the industry for seven years, but then returned. “I was kind of missing the intellectual stimulation,” he said.

However, the period away from the industry included two years as a car salesman, and “that taught me how to talk to anybody,” he said.

The session was moderated by Josh Ammons, Charlotte, North Carolina-based senior vice president of property at AmWINS Brokerage of the Carolinas L.L.C.