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1997 RISK MANAGER OF THE YEAR : FROM FURNITURE STORE OWNER TO HIGH-PROFILE RISK MANAGER

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A little old-fashioned horse trading with a boss who wanted her to accept some unfamiliar responsibilities spurred Judy Lindenmayer's risk management career.

Hard work, additional studies, the lure of new challenges and an ability to network effectively has kept that career moving along at full gallop.

Today, Ms. Lindenmayer heads the eight-member risk management department FMR Corp., the privately owned Boston-based company best known for the scores of mutual funds it manages.

But, the billions of dollars in revenues that FMR, better known as Fidelity Investments, generates annually also is attributable to a catalog of businesses that range from an art gallery to high-technology development concerns.

To a person, colleagues and business associates note the challenge of keeping up with the dynamic Ms. Lindenmayer, who is as confident white-water rafting as she is content reading a book during her free time.

That's quite a change from the self-described "almost shy" 27-year-old who in 1969 accepted a position as personnel manager for Chicago-based Sealy Inc.-a position that led to her risk management career.

Ms. Lindenmayer has been exposed to the business world since early childhood. In Dearborn, Mich., where she spent her grammar- and high school years with her parents and older brother, her father was a regional vp with Standard Register Co.

She charged headlong into the business world after she married. Ms. Lindenmayer and her then-husband owned three furniture stores in Hillsdale, Mich., where she also took some business courses at Hillsdale College.

After moving to Chicago during the early 1960s, Ms. Lindenmayer worked for Standard Register-though not for her father-and a real estate firm's appraisal department while also attending some business classes.

She landed the Sealy position in 1969.

Sealy at that time was a licenser of bedding manufacturing companies, which entailed purchasing bedding material for its licensees and providing national advertising.

As personnel manager, Ms. Lindenmayer was responsible for, among other things, office management; payroll and associated taxes; and defined benefit plan, pension plan and profit-sharing plan administration.

Less than a year after she arrived at Sealy, her boss asked her to take over the unfamiliar responsibility of purchasing corporate property/casualty insurance, because he soon would be too busy to handle it.

Ms. Lindenmayer balked because of her lack of experience in that area.

But her boss disagreed with that assessment. He said her employee benefits background was a good primer for the new assignment.

Ms. Lindenmayer agreed to accept the appointment, but only if Sealy agreed to send her to school so she could get more than on-the-job training.

She enrolled in the Associate in Risk Management program, which at that time was a seven-course program; today it is a three-course program.

Ms. Lindenmayer stood out immediately in the class. She was the only woman.

And, "the (classmate) with the least experience next to me had been in the industry for 14 years," she recalled.

Rather than feeling overmatched in the class, Ms. Lindenmayer drew upon her classmates' experience to check her own progress as a risk manager, which Sealy was putting to the test. Sealy was heading in a new direction-the reason her boss had to give up some of his responsibilities.

Sealy officials had decided to quickly switch from licensing bedding manufacturing franchisees to manufacturing the bedding itself. The company began acquiring Sealy-licensed companies, and at one point it purchased 10 companies in an 18-month period.

Ms. Lindenmayer's task was to develop a corporate property/casualty insurance and risk management program and fold each acquired company into it.

"So, I guess you can say I've come full circle," she observed, referring to the fact that she took over a fledgling nine-month-old risk management department when she arrived at Fidelity nine years ago.

"Fortunately for me, the people in my class had all of that experience," Ms. Lindenmayer said. "I thought through the problems and then called them, and they helped me."

Ms. Lindenmayer earned the ARM designation in 1974, the year the course load was cut to three classes.

She next enrolled in the Chartered Property & Casualty Underwriter program, just after the course load for the CPCU designation was increased to 10 from five classes.

She completed half of them. "I'm a CP," she quipped.

Ms. Lindenmayer was personnel and risk manager for a few years at Sealy. But, handling both responsibilities became overwhelming. She asked her boss if she could concentrate on risk management. He agreed.

In 1978, 10 years after arriving at Sealy, friends began encouraging Ms. Lindenmayer to look into the risk management position that had opened up at Chicago-based Zenith Radio Corp.

But, she resisted. She was happy at Sealy. As the company grew, she felt more empowered. "They trusted me to do things. I liked that."

On top of that, Sealy's managers became increasingly responsible for running the business when the company became embroiled in defending itself in antitrust litigation and corporate officers were prohibited from participating in the company's day-to-day operations.

She recalled how managers had a good time running the company and generating good profits. "We felt like we were making a wonderful contribution."

But, her friends persisted. "My pals were encouraging me to move on to bigger and better things." The Zenith position would offer her the challenge of managing different risks-and on an international scale.

After carrying around the newspaper advertisement for the Zenith position for weeks, she applied and was hired.

One of her proudest accomplishments there was establishing a corporate safety program and safety oversight committee to help focus the efforts of individual profit centers.

Besides risk management, she also had financial input in Zenith's employee benefits. For example, her group analyzed the funding and payouts of the company's Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Assn. trust, a tax-advantageous vehicle for funding employee benefits.

She also became involved with the Risk & Insurance Management Society Inc. at the local chapter level. Ms. Lindenmayer, who was one of the "very, very, very few women in the business" at that time, was elected the first woman president of the Chicago RIMS Chapter in 1978.

The Zenith position was one of her shortest tenures as a risk manager. In 1981, while handling the executive referral service for the Chicago RIMS Chapter, a headhunter asked her for several recommendations to fill a risk management opening. The company was Atlanta-based Rollins Inc., a diversified company involved in pest extermination, residential and commercial security systems, media advertising, and oil and gas servicing.

The headhunter did not find a suitable candidate in the four or five risk managers he interviewed at Ms. Lindenmayer's suggestion. But, he thought she would be ideal.

The prospect of uprooting from Chicago after 22 years concerned her.

But, the career opportunity at Rollins "was a huge challenge," she said.

At Rollins, she had the largest department-23 staffers-that she has ever had. She also handled the company's self-insured and self-administered benefits program.

Her department eventually developed a computer system that enabled the company to take over adjudicating and paying employee benefit claims. Claims-payment turnaround time was slashed to three days from 45, she said.

Four years later, in 1985, she received a surprising phone call from the chief financial officer of Data General Corp., a Boston-based high-technology company. The CFO, a former controller at Zenith, and Ms. Lindenmayer did not have a totally gratifying professional relationship when they worked together. But, he wanted her to take over corporate risk management at Data General.

The position would be directly under the treasurer's authority, not the CFO's.

It would be another challenge that again would involve some financing responsibilities in the employee benefits area. After considering the increasingly sweetened offers over the next few months, she agreed to move to Boston.

Within three years, though, her immediate supervisor had left the company, and Data General had undergone some other changes she did not like.

Ms. Lindenmayer, though, did not feel up to another move. Looking for some advice, she called her former boss from Data General, who had joined Fidelity. Then-Fidelity Treasurer George McClelland, who has since left the company, informed her of the risk management opening at Fidelity and encouraged her to apply.

She questioned, she recalls now with some incredulity, whether what she thought was strictly a mutual fund company would challenge her enough.

She laughs now at that thought. Nine years later, she still faces challenges on how to best guide Fidelity through the maze of risks its multitude of business interests face.

Fidelity has been so pleased with Ms. Lindenmayer's risk management stewardship that it promoted her to vp last year.

From furniture-company owner to risk manager at several high-profile companies spanning different industries, Ms. Lindenmayer "has a lot of diverse business experience in her career that helps her be effective" in managing risk at Fidelity and Fidelity International Ltd., an independent affiliate, said her supervisor, John D. Crumrine, vp and corporate treasurer of Fidelity.

While Ms. Lindenmayer sees no slowdown in risk management challenges at Fidelity, she plans to cut back on her involvement in RIMS, for which she has served on the executive council for the past three years.

Her goal, which she has attained, was to serve in the international, education and research, and conference areas of the organization.

The weekend travel required to meet those duties, though, did not leave any time for her to devote to the vestry-or temporal management-of her church, St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Southborough, Mass. She gave up that role in the church for the last few years because she believed she would not be able to "do justice" to either it or the RIMS executive council if she tried to juggle both.

But, Ms. Lindenmayer did keep active in the church by running its youth group.

Even after she moves on from the youth group, youngsters will continue to be an important part of her life.

There are the frequent visits with her granddaughter and three grandsons. Ms. Lindenmayer makes a point of seeing her son, who runs a house-painting business in Atlanta, every six weeks.