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Managing Director and New York FINPRO Practice Leader
In 1995, Melissa Carmichael joined Marsh & McLennan Cos. Inc.'s FINPRO practice, a team of brokers that advises clients on financial and professional liability matters. Even while working full time, in 1999 she began night school to obtain an MBA from New York University's Stern School of Business. After graduating in 2002, she took on more of a sales role within Marsh for several years. She became the New York Metro lead for Marsh Inc.'s FINPRO practice in 2009, focusing on generating new business as well as recruiting and training younger team members. Ms. Carmichael also has worked to advance women in the industry. She and colleagues formed Marsh's Women's Executive Business to Business group, which has expanded to more than 300 members since its first event in New York in 2006.
WHAT'S THE BEST PROFESSIONAL ADVICE YOU RECEIVED?
Soon after I graduated from business school at NYU several years ago, I was contemplating whether I needed a huge career change or whether I could continue to grow within Marsh. One of the senior leaders here—a former mentor I'd rather not name—said that the key to a successful career is consistently getting outside your comfort zone and not being in the same exact job for more than a couple years. He said I would have the opportunity to do that at a firm like Marsh. It turns out he was right. I've been able to take on a new challenge here every few years. Now it's been 15 years and it seems like the time has flown, largely because I was always doing new things.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO YOUNG WOMEN ENTERING THIS FIELD?
Don't be afraid to take risks and promote yourself. I think women tend to shy away from things unless they're 100% certain, but that's a problem because people who don't take risks deny themselves the chance to advance further. For example, a woman who joined Marsh about five years ago was interested in getting an MBA at NYU Stern as I had done. I helped her through the process, and when she finished her degree last year she had the same, "What's next?" feeling as I had when I did it. I made sure we gave her new responsibilities and access to senior leadership. I think it's been great for her because she's on the fast track here. You'd think that just by being in New York, you'd have access to leadership, but actually you have to get out of your rut and make sure you're negotiating with people at every level. You have to figure out how to reach out and up and above. It doesn't necessarily happen naturally.
OUTSIDE OF WORK AND FAMILY, WHOM DO YOU ADMIRE MOST?
Michelle Obama. She's a trailblazer for modern women who are highly educated and have professional careers. She's making the office of First Lady modern and professional while balancing it with her duties to her family.
WHAT DID YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU GREW UP?
Besides a Broadway star? I think I always knew that I wanted to get into business. My father ran various manufacturing facilities and helped me get started. As an undergrad at the University of South Carolina, I was an intern in the (human resources) department of Frigidaire, and I got into the insurance business thinking of it as a subset of HR.
WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE MOVIE?
"The Shawshank Redemption." I love that it's about overcoming the restrictions of being in prison.
WHAT'S THE MOST INTERESTING PLACE YOU'VE BEEN?
Paris. I love its architecture and history.
WHAT DO YOU PREFER AND WHY: PHONE OR E-MAIL?
I probably prefer the phone. I feel people are more honest and you can get a better sense of tone on the phone.
Business Insurance's annual Women to Watch feature is our attempt to identify and recognize individuals doing exceptional work in risk management, benefits management, commercial insurance and related fields.