Women to Watch: 2007Posted On: Apr. 7, 2009 10:23 AM CST
Buck Consultants L.L.C.
Tamara Shelton joined Buck Consultants 25 years ago immediately after graduating from the University of Texas at Austin. From the beginning, Ms. Shelton has worked with some of the nation's largest corporations in helping them design their pension programs. She has quickly moved up the ranks at Buck. At the age of 29, she was named a principal, the youngest person at Buck to be promoted to that level. She also has been Buck's Dallas office manager and currently is managing director of Buck's retirement practice, its biggest revenue-producing division. She also serves as only one of two women representatives on Buck's Leadership Council. Ms. Shelton is a fellow of the Society of Actuaries, a member of the American Academy of Actuaries and an enrolled actuary.
Advice to young women: "You have to know a lot of detail. You need to learn the law. You need to always put your clients first. Finally, you need to maintain a lot of self-discipline to balance what you need to do at work and still have some kind of home life."
Professional role model: "My role model was Ron Haneberg, my supervisor during my first six or seven years at Buck. He was brilliant as a consultant. He had great attention to detail. His attitude was that the client always comes first and that you do whatever you had to do to meet the client's needs."
Best professional advice: "Early in my career, while taking the actuarial exams, someone told me that 10 years from now, no one will remember how much overtime you worked. But they will remember whether or not you are an FSA."
Chubb Custom Insurance
Gail Soja began her career in insurance as a file clerk at Fireman's Fund Insurance Co. in Tennessee. She joined Chubb in 1984 as an excess umbrella underwriter and has been a career-
long advocate for mentoring in the workplace. As a member of Chubb's Women's Development Council, she helped develop the organization's mentoring program, which has helped about 175 women advance their careers.
Advice to young women: "You have to be a self advocate. I learned that the hard way. If you are making a contribution to the organization, don't be afraid to let people know that you are making a contribution, that you're proud of that contribution, that you're committed to the organization. You're the only person who can do that. Make sure that early in your career that you reach out to people that you respect. If you like the way someone leads, reach out to them and begin to build your network."
Best professional advice: "Cherish the diversity of thoughts and ideas."
Early aspirations: "I wanted to be a flight attendant. Clearly I'm not. It's the best thing that ever happened to me that I didn't get that job. I never thought of myself as a business woman until I was probably older than some."
Managing Director, Public Entity & Scholastic Division
Arthur J. Gallagher Risk Management Services Inc.
Baton Rouge, La.
Like many industry professionals following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, 2006 was a busy year for Nancy Sylvester, whose accomplishments include co-authoring legislation allowing Louisiana state public housing programs the flexibility of combining lines of coverage and testifying before lawmakers to gain its approval, and working as a contractor for the Orleans Parish School Board to navigate its post-Katrina insurance issues. Earlier this year, she was contracted as a consultant to assist New Orleans' Ernest N. Morial Convention Center with its insurance program. After spending 15 years as a public entity risk manager for various municipalities and school districts, she is revered for her in-depth understanding of risk management issues facing public entities. A top producer since joining Gallagher in 2000, Ms. Sylvester was recognized in 2006 as a top 10 producer for all of Arthur J. Gallagher's North American retail brokerage operations and producer of the year for its mid-South region.
Greatest influence: "Early in my career, I was fortunate to associate with a very wise and experienced insurance/claims professional, Ben Franklin. (Yes, his name is Ben Franklin. He currently is the claims supervisor for Calcasieu Schools in Lake Charles, La.) From Ben, I learned so much: show up early, work hard, read the fine print, speak the truth and, most importantly, treat people how you wish to be treated. Add a little humor to the mix and everything works out fine. All very basic, all very critical."
Best professional advice: "Years ago as I was struggling with a board matter, the finance director at the time, Steve Fortenberry (currently with McKinney Independent School District in Texas), made a comment, 'Know the difference between preference and principle.'"
Early aspirations: "I wanted to be a lawyer and life got in the way. My next choice was risk management, which led to my current position. With risk management and insurance, every day is different. I have never been bored."
Director of Total Rewards, Compensation and Benefits Department
Newell Rubbermaid Inc.
Lauren Vail did something two and a half years ago that few in benefits management would dare to do. Despite Newell Rubbermaid's workforce of mostly blue-collar, hourly employees, Lauren Vail eliminated all existing medical insurance plan offerings and implemented a full replacement consumer-driven health care program. Since then, the program has been successful in containing costs and maintaining employee satisfaction. Before her work at Newell Rubbermaid, Ms. Vail spent eight years in human resources consulting with Towers Perrin Inc.
What would you change: "Our industry tends to try to fit people into a category very early, expecting you to specialize in life, health, pension, compensation, etc. However, as you advance, you realize that the programs must all fit together to deliver on the corporate objectives. We should find a way to rotate individuals through various specialties early in their career to support their advancement and help them become more well-rounded leaders."
Professional role model: "My grandfather. While I know that he would typically be considered a personal role model, he was incredibly adept at explaining really complicated concepts around personal investing and how insurance can be an important part of a long-term plan. He always talked in a way that was clear without being condescending as well having a gift for leaving you feeling empowered to apply the concepts you've just learned. I always remember that when I'm talking to someone about their personal situation and benefits needs."
Advice to young women: "Practice working outside your comfort zone quickly. As you move forward, work gets more complicated, not less. You need to be able to tackle new projects or new issues that potentially have never been addressed. However, the same skills usually apply to all projects, so jump in and take a risk."
Principal and Los Angeles Communication Line of Business Leader
Buck Consultants L.L.C.
Kate Van Hulzen has been a financial writer and communications consultant for her entire professional career. Ms. Van Hulzen specializes in designing and implementing strategies to help corporations communicate their benefit programs. A customized communications campaign she developed for Northrop Grumman Corp. resulted in a significant increase in employees participating in the company's 401(k) plan, as well as a big rise in the
average contribution. Fluent in Spanish, Ms. Van Hulzen has helped clients communicate benefit plans for Spanish-speaking employees. She has earned several industry awards for her communications projects.
Advice to young women: "It is important to realize that all of us will make mistakes. What sets us apart is what we do about it when we find out we made a mistake."
Professional role model: "Many women have inspired me. One person in particular who especially inspired me was Christine Infante, who worked as a manager for another benefit consultant. We had a frank discussion to identify what skills I would need in order to reach my goals. She helped me to identify different types of projects and work assignments I should be involved in to develop those skills. Working with her was just an extraordinary experience. She really helped me to understand how to develop a career plan for myself and how to achieve that."
Best professional advice: "Know where you want to go and develop a strategy that will help get you there. You need an idea of what you want to achieve and then you need to identify the steps to help get you there. I leaned that from Christine and other women I have worked with over the years."
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