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2017 Women to Watch: Penni L. Nelson

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Penni L. Nelson
Director of risk management
Hillwood Co. L.L.C.
Dallas
Age: 41

Penni L. Nelson often carries a rugby ball while in the office at Dallas-based real estate developer Hillwood Co. L.L.C., where she was hired as risk manager in January 2015, and then promoted to director of risk management within a year.

Playing on a recreational women’s rugby team for the past six years has taught her how to be a strong leader and a team player both on and off the field, Ms. Nelson said.

“Rugby is analogous to life,” she said. “It takes a team, it’s a long game, we take tackles, and we make tackles. When you’re tackled, you have to use your own body weight to pick yourself up. In life, that’s what you have to do, too.”

Ms. Nelson graduated from Texas A&M University with a bachelor’s degree in biomedical science and had planned to go into police forensics. A job as an assistant at a Dallas insurance agency convinced her that her analytical skills were valuable there, too.

Later, she worked as an account executive at Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. in Dallas, then was drawn to the broader role of risk management.

“I love risk management,” Ms. Nelson said. “It allows me to touch every part of an organization — from legal to the business side.” She served as director of risk management at Dallas-based Behringer Harvard Holdings L.L.C. before joining Hillwood.

During her first year at Hillwood, the company’s overall premiums dropped by $1.5 million due to her market relationships as well as portfolio and policy consolidation. “We really didn’t have a professional as our risk manager until we hired Penni,” said Tom Mason, Hillwood’s chief financial officer. “She understands the technicalities of insurance and has a very deep network.” She also consistently takes a leadership role, he added.

Jennifer Kikta, risk manager for Kubota Tractor Corp.’s North American headquarters in Grapevine, Texas, worked with Ms. Nelson at Behringer Harvard. “She’s always right and she’s a total people person who can get buy-in from anybody. She’s like the flame that moths fly to,” Ms. Kikta said.

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