2009 Women to Watch: Ellen R. KerrPosted On: Dec. 6, 2009 12:00 AM CST
Vp, Manager, Division of Engineering
Factory Mutual Insurance Co.
Ellen Kerr manages all engineering processes, procedures and people in the Western United States and Latin America for Factory Mutual Insurance Co., which does business as FM Global. Using her experience as a property engineer in the risk management unit at Sara Lee Corp., Ms. Kerr brings a real-world perspective to her clients at FM Global. In her 18 years with FM Global, she is the only female to achieve the title of division engineering manager. Passionate about engineering, Ms. Kerr has led training and recruitment efforts for the insurer's loss prevention engineers and works with the Corporate Planning Council Corporate Partnership Council of the Society of Women Engineers and is a guest panelist at conferences and universities.
Your professional role model: The first one would be my father, who was a chemical engineer. His influence geared me towards engineering in the first place. I've had several managers who have been great mentors in the fact that they have been very good coaches and they also have helped me get on special projects, task forces, have volunteered me to do audits in other offices, giving me exposure locally and globally in the company.
Best professional advice you've received: I heard from a couple of people, "Be yourself." I thought that was interesting. What I took from that is, "Look at what your strengths are and find positions where you can emphasize your strengths and be yourself."
Advice for young women entering this field: My advice is to learn from every experience. Find the lesson. Even when you're not successful, look at why you weren't, and then apply those lessons next time. I think that's critical.
What you wanted to be professionally while growing up: I'm one of the few people who, when they went to college, did not change their major. I actually picked industrial engineering from the get-go. I've been asked on occasion if I want to work more on the underwriting piece of the insurance side, and I've always declined because I always have envisioned myself as being an engineer. That's where my passion lies.
Best book you've read recently: Two books that I read recently inspired me: "The Glass Castle: A Memoir" by Jeannette Walls, a true story about a man overcoming adversity, and "The Terrible Hours: The Man Behind the Greatest Submarine Rescue in History" by Peter Maas, another true story about a man's engineering work used in rescuing the crew of a sunken submarine on the eve of World War II.
Phone or e-mail and why: Absolutely phone. I think actually in this day and age, we rely too much on e-mail and so many things can get misinterpreted. I think we come to a resolution much quicker when we use the phone.