2009 Women to Watch: Seraina MaagPosted On: Dec. 6, 2009 12:00 AM CST
Zurich North America Commercial
Appointed president of Zurich North America Commercial's Specialties unit in 2007, Seraina Maag rose rapidly at the Zurich Financial Services Group Inc. unit after serving as its chief financial officer for slightly more than a year. Ms. Maag applies a collaborative leadership approach to drive decisionmaking authority to field offices. The specialties unit is a $2.4 billion business providing products for complex and volatile risks. She joined Zurich in 2002 as senior investor relations officer and in 2004 became head of investor relations and rating agency management. She simultaneously served as chair of a “financial discipline initiative” that redesigned Zurich's planning process worldwide.
What you wanted to be professionally while growing up: As a teenager, I was a champion in gymnastics on horses, acrobatics on horses. So my dream was to perform in a circus at night and during the day I would be a school teacher for the children of the circus.
Best professional advice you've received: In the leadership role that I am in now, the best advice is be authentic. People want to see who is Seraina Maag; can we trust that person to make the right decisions for us and set the right strategic directions? So when you are out there with people, be authentic.
Your professional role model: Role models change as you progress through your career. If I had to choose one I would choose James J. Schiro, who is our outgoing CEO (of Zurich Financial Services), because he truly exhibits leadership. He has a way and ability to connect with people at any level in the organization. He is a very engaging person. He really believes in people's ability and helps them excel.
Advice for women entering the field: One thing women don't do as well as men throughout their career is networking. That is something I would advise young women, to make sure they build a network within the industry at a very young age because our business is such a people business. It is really important as you progress that you have a network you can build relationships on.
Best book you've read recently: "The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life" by Alice Schroeder. I am really enjoying the book. It's a great read.
Phone or e-mail and why: Definitely phone. I prefer face-to-face, but phone is good. I don't like e-mail because I get too many e-mails every day.