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Director of Risk Management
Smithfield Foods Inc.
Parul Stevens has been director of risk management for Smithfield Foods Inc. for approximately 11 years and is responsible for global risk management programs and management of property/casualty and other lines of insurance. She started with the company 15 years ago as an entry-level tax and commodity trading analyst. Ms. Stevens is now is in the most senior-level risk management position in the organization and is one of the highest-ranking women within the corporation. She was involved in developing Smithfield's first safety management program, achieving a consistent approach to managing safety and resulting in a 42% reduction in claims frequency over six years. Ms. Stevens, who holds an Associate in Risk Management designation, is a member of Smithfield's diversity committee and chair of the Employment Strategy Committee.
Your professional role model: The first person is my father. He immigrated to this country with nothing and retired a very successful businessman. He always instilled that it was important to continuously educate yourself, and that's what he did his whole life. That's what I do. I try to absorb as much knowledge as I can. He always tells me, "Never make the same mistake twice." I heard that over and over growing up and I try to live by that even in my professional role. The second person is my husband. He is a (chief financial officer), and with that C-suite perspective he constantly pushes and challenges my thought processes to the next level. He's definitely contributed to my growth over the years.
Best professional advice you've received: To be patient with promotions and growth within your organization. I was always told to work hard, absorb as much knowledge as I can, and that people would notice and advancement would come.
Advice for women entering the field: Don't just focus on learning about insurance and risk management. Understand your business and gain that institutional knowledge and be able to speak to management in terms that they can relate to. The better you understand the organization you work for, the better you will be at your job.
What you wanted to be professionally while growing up: Either a surgeon or a teacher.
The best book you've read recently: "Sense and Sensibility" by Jane Austen.
Phone or e-mail and why: E-mail. It's just more efficient. It seems like I never have enough hours in the day. I can multitask and do more things by e-mail.
Challenges facing the industry: I often feel like the perception about risk management is just buying insurance—that's our function. I think we need to work hard at changing that perception and showing that we can play a strategic role and add value to an organization and contribute to their bottom line.
Business Insurance’s 2009 Women to Watch feature is our annual attempt to identify women who are doing outstanding work in commercial insurance, risk management, employee benefits and related fields.