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2017 Women to Watch: Kathleen Zortman

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Kathleen Zortman
President of property/casualty
QBE North America, a unit of QBE Insurance Group Ltd.
New York
Age: 52

For someone who didn’t map her way to success, Kathleen Zortman has certainly come a long way.

“I wish I could say I had a calculated path to land exactly right where I am today,” said Ms. Zortman, president of property/ casualty for QBE North America, a unit of Sydney-based QBE Insurance Group Ltd. “But that is not the case. The fact is that my career was shaped by a number of pivotal moments, people and decisions.” 

Ms. Zortman began her insurance career at Chubb Corp. as an underwriter, fresh out of Boston College. “There weren’t a lot of women when I started,” she said, “but Chubb was committed to diversity and inclusion. That’s where I learned how important a company’s culture is, as well as the power of mentoring — a lesson we are applying today at QBE.”

In her current role at QBE, Ms. Zortman has led the turnaround of a $2.2 billion business portfolio spanning small to large commercial insurance, personal insurance and programs.

While business accomplishments are important, Ms. Zortman said that “what matters most are the relationships you build and the people you affect.” She mentors women at Boston College and in her organization, and she also guides by example.

“As a leader,” she said, “you actually mentor people every day through everything you do. I really believe that behavior defines culture, and culture trumps strategy.” 

She describes her parents as her greatest influences, as they instilled “deep values and a sense of honesty, respect and hard work.” 

“Since joining QBE in 2015, Kathleen has developed new strategies and procedures to drive underwriting and customer service excellence, and she has engaged our key brokers and instilled trust and enthusiasm,” Russ Johnston, CEO of QBE North America, said in an email.

By her own admission, Ms. Zortman doesn’t balance her work and personal time very well, but she’s OK with that.

“I have my own definition of work-life balance, and it works for me,” she said.

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