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2017 Women to Watch: Julie Stephenson

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Julie Stephenson
Commercial insurance chief underwriting officer
CNA Financial Corp.
Chicago
Age: 50

Whether it’s at home or in the office, Julie Stephenson wants to give her best. “I want to be contributing,” she said, “I want to give the very best of myself to my children and my family, and also give the very best of myself to CNA and my work colleagues.”

Ms. Stephenson, who studied mechanical engineering at Texas A&M University, is responsible for the profit and loss and overall strategic direction of a $3 billion portfolio, and leads a staff of 184 product line managers, industry segment leaders and underwriting services team members.

As chief underwriting officer for commercial insurance with CNA Financial Corp., which she joined in 2015, Ms. Stephenson said she has been the beneficiary of some important mentors and supporters in her lifetime, starting with her parents.

“My dad is one of those people who has an insatiable curiosity for learning, a logical thinker, a real problem-solver,” she said. “My mom has this larger-than-life personality; she did a beautiful job blending her personal and professional lives. They’re still a big influence on my life and my career.” 

Another big influence was Kevin Leidwinger, currently CNA’s president and chief operating officer, commercial, with whom Ms. Stephenson has been working since the mid-1990s when they were both at Chubb Corp.

Mr. Leidwinger was instrumental in helping her leverage her engineering skill set to underwriting, she said. He also convinced her to hold on to her job when she became a parent.

“I really wanted to be at home, but I loved the career,” Ms. Stephenson said. “I actually walked into his office one day when my daughter was not even a year old yet and handed him my resignation letter. He handed the letter back to me and said, ‘I’m not accepting that from you, we’re going to solve this problem.’”

He came up with an alternative work arrangement for her, and she remains passionate about creating successful alternative work arrangements for others, including parents, people with aging parents and those with physical impairments, creating optimal work environments and more.

“Throughout her career,” Mr. Leidwinger said in an email, “she takes on new assignments with confidence regardless of her experience, position or title. ” 

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