2009 Women to Watch: Patricia A. HenryPosted On: Dec. 6, 2009 12:00 AM CST
Executive Vp and Deputy General Counsel
ACE Group Holdings Inc.
Patricia A. Henry has served as executive vp and deputy general counsel for government and industry affairs for ACE Group Holdings Inc. in Philadelphia since 2006. She joined CIGNA Corp. in 1992 as part of a team that dealt with toxic tort claims. This brought the claims from regional offices into the insurer's Philadelphia headquarters to coordinate them and assure they were handled consistently. She previously represented CIGNA as an associate attorney in the Philadelphia law firm White & Williams L.L.P. In 1999, ACE Ltd. bought CIGNA's property/casualty operations and Ms. Henry also made the move. As head of government affairs for ACE USA and later ACE Group Holdings, Ms. Henry has spent considerable time representing the insurer on Capitol Hill. Among other things, she was involved in efforts to achieve federal asbestos litigation reform. She also served as technical chair of the asbestos working group of the American Insurance Assn. She also serves on a task force to develop and implement ACE's position on environmental and climate change.
Your professional role model: Who I am professionally has been influenced by a number of people and events. First, my parents have had a significant impact on my approach to my career. I grew up in a fairly small, diverse, blue-collar town where my father was a lawyer and then a judge. While he passed away when I was only 11, I remember vividly how he treated everyone from the janitor to the CEO with the same amount of respect and genuine interest. I'd like to think that I treat people the same way and believe that my ability to relate to all types of people has clearly contributed to my success, particularly in my current role, which is heavily dependent on people skills. From my mother, I have learned to be both optimistic and resilient. After my father's death, she went back to college, graduated at age 59 and proceeded to teach school for 10 years. I am sure that this experience has influenced my drive to have a successful career because I have always been determined to be financially independent. Once I entered the insurance industry, I was very fortunate to have the chance to work closely with Brian Duperreault and Evan Greenberg, both of whom provided me great opportunities, but more importantly, their time, advice, support and guidance. In this industry, it does not get any better than that.
Best professional advice you've received: I was a fourth-year associate managing a large discovery project for a senior partner who had a well-deserved reputation for being extremely demanding and difficult. He was giving the more junior attorneys and paralegals on my team such a hard time that everyone was upset and work was not getting done. I went to his office and told him exactly what I thought. Then I went back to my office and thought, "Well, I may need to start looking for another job," since I had just disagreed with the senior partner. So, I went back to his office to apologize. He told me to sit down and he said, "Trish, you will never get anywhere in this business if you are a shrinking violet." I have never forgotten that advice and think it has served me well.
Advice for women entering the field: Be visible in your company and your industry. Speak up in meetings; volunteer for assignments where you will get the opportunity to work with people outside of your immediate area; and, when you do, make sure you perform exceptionally so that people remember who you are and that you did a great job. Reputations get formed very early in careers, so do everything you can to develop a reputation as someone who is smart and capable, a team player, results-oriented and has integrity. Bring a passion to your job that is palatable and care about whether you win the case, win the account or get the legislation passed. In my experience, people who exhibit these traits get recognized and when opportunities for advancement arise. They are identified as individuals for the job.
What you wanted to be professionally while growing up: I always loved going to the courthouse with my father, especially when he was a judge, because everyone was so nice and respectful to him and I remembering feeling so proud. Given those experiences, I always wanted to be a lawyer, but in my mind that meant being in court all day, not reviewing and litigating the meaning of insurance policies and certainly not working in government affairs. I do not think you can really plan the exact path of your career. When I graduated from law school in the 1980s, the job market was not great, like today. But one area that was very busy was asbestos and environmental insurance coverage litigation, so I started out handling coverage cases. When ACE Ltd. bought CIGNA's (property/casualty) division in 1999, they gave me the opportunity to go to Washington to work on asbestos litigation reform legislation. While I never planned on moving into a government affairs role, I found I really enjoyed it and have been happily managing that function ever since.
Best book you've read recently: "Three Cups of Tea" by Greg Mortenson. My daughters both had to read this book for a schoolwide project, so I decided to read it as well. It is a wonderful book that shows the power of one individual's commitment to make a difference in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. It also presents a very different and provocative perspective about possible solutions to the terror threat in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Phone or e-mail and why: I think it depends on the nature of the communication. If the communication is merely to provide some routine, noncontroversial information, e-mail is fine and a very efficient tool. However, I do not think e-mail is the best way to communicate sensitive information or to convey information that really demands a give-and-take dialogue. In my view, it is passive-aggressive to send such communications by e-mail. Also, the number of e-mails most of us receive on a routine day is out of hand and can really turn into a time waster, where you can spend hours reviewing, deleting and forwarding e-mails, but at the end of the day, what have you really accomplished? There has to be a balance.