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Senior Executive, Commercial Lines
Westfield Insurance Co.
Westfield Center, Ohio
Starting at Westfield right out of college, Martha Oakes has held numerous positions with the company. She is responsible for setting the strategy for the 150 people who sell and underwrite nearly $555 million in middle market commercial business in 17 states. Before she moved into management roles, Ms. Oakes held field underwriting and senior underwriting positions in commercial lines. In 2003, she created and was responsible for a separate department at Westfield to handle all its small commercial business. Ms. Oakes also is actively involved in Westfield's Emerging Leader Council, a cross-functional group of senior executives charged with identifying and developing the company's emerging leaders. She is on the executive committee of the Ohio Insurance Institute, a nonprofit organization representing the property and casualty insurance industry. In 2007, Ms. Oakes received the YWCA Women of Professional Excellence Award for her commitment to helping other women achieve.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO THE INDUSTRY: "I came to Westfield right out of college. I majored in marketing, and Westfield recruited (at my college). I took a job with Westfield in its marketing training program. I fell in love with the company because of the people and the culture. I figured it was going to be a great place to work, but I wouldn't be here forever. Now, I've been with Westfield 22 years, and I never expected that."
THE BEST ADVICE YOU'VE EVER RECEIVED: "My dad always said if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. It's important to spend time on business planning, thinking about the big picture and figuring out where you need to go and how to get there."
ADVICE FOR THOSE STARTING IN THE INDUSTRY: "Never turn down an opportunity to help someone else because you will always get more out of it than you end up giving. It's critically important that all of us nurture talent in the industry and develop people. In order to do that, you have to help people. I've come to view my job as preparing people for the next opportunity that comes their way. That's what we all owe the people we work with."
WHAT YOU WANTED TO BE PROFESSIONALLY WHILE GROWING UP: "For the longest period of time I wanted to be a dentist. At the time I had a grandfather who was a dentist and who I very much admired. He cared so much about people and took good care of people. I viewed being a dentist as being someone who could help and take care of people."
Business Insurance’s Women to Watch feature is our attempt to identify some of the women who do outstanding work in commercial insurance, risk management,employee benefits and related fields.