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2017 Women to Watch: Christy Kaufman

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Christy Kaufman
Director of enterprise and operational risk management
American Family Insurance Group
Madison, Wisconsin
Age: 42

Christy Kaufman gave up a potential career as a flute player to follow her mother into the insurance industry.

Her mother, Susan Johns, an avid Business Insurance reader who enjoyed her work for Boston-based Liberty Mutual Insurance Co., supported her family as the primary breadwinner and was well-respected.

“It just seemed like a field where anything was possible,” Ms. Kaufman said.

Ms. Kaufman, who earned a Master of Science in risk management and insurance in 2001 and a Bachelor of Business Administration in finance, investment and banking and risk management and insurance from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1997, had a keen interest in working in enterprise risk management and was an ERM consultant for multiple companies before taking a full-time position with Mercer L.L.C. in 2011 and eventually with Marsh & McLennan Cos. Inc.

The key to ERM “is aligning the risk management agenda with the agenda of whomever you’re talking to in the organization,” she said. “If you’re trying to bring finance into the fold, it’s being able to speak their language and talk about the (return on investment) of risk management.”

Ms. Kaufman recently left the company to become director of enterprise and operational risk management at Madison, Wisconsin-based American Family Insurance Group. But Mathew Allen, senior director of VMWare Inc. in Palo Alto, California, and a former colleague, said he would “hate to see her stuck in the risk management function only. Her real talent is leadership.” 

Ms. Kaufman spends much of her free time at her alma mater mentoring young students. “One of the things I see young women do a lot of is apologizing, starting an email with ‘I’m sorry to bother you, but’ or coming to a call with ‘I’m sorry I’m late’ if they’re eight seconds late,” she said.

“Women tend to lead with some sort of self-deprecation — not always, but I see that happen. I just tell them being confident, even from an early stage in their career, can be very helpful.” 

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