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Head of Customer Relationship Management
Zurich Global Corporate in North America
Valerie Butt, who grew up in Atlanta, has an MBA in risk management and finance from the University of Georgia, where she was class valedictorian. After setting out to become a federal prosecutor, she changed course in college in part because she found many attorneys are unhappy with their work. She found, though, that legal skills she had acquired served her well in the insurance industry. After working for a broker and as a risk manager for a technology firm, Ms. Butt joined Zurich Corporate Global in North America in 1998, where she has helped launch several Zurich initiatives and heads Zurich's Customer Relationship Management Group, managing the North American market. She is a co-founder of the Zurich-based Women's Insurance Network and, with other Zurich employees, volunteered as part of Earthwatch Institute's restoration of mangroves in Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami.
WHAT'S THE BEST PROFESSIONAL ADVICE YOU RECEIVED?
"You miss 100% of the shots you never take," which is attributable to Wayne Gretzky. Once you're afraid to take a risk, you may as well call it a game and give up. You've got to take risks in life in order to succeed; and I've always believed that if you want to make something happen in your life, you really just have to kind of do it. I would probably say that adage—you miss 100% of the shots you never take—really kind of epitomizes how I approach my career. You take those calculated risks because that's what true leaders do.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO YOUNG WOMEN ENTERING THIS FIELD?
The advice I would give is to not take anything too personally in this business. I've always felt that if you focus on the issues at hand, and that if you listen perceptively to your audience and proactively offer solutions, and not get caught up in personal feelings, you are a more effective leader and manager and can make much better personal decisions.
OUTSIDE OF WORK AND FAMILY, WHOM DO YOU ADMIRE MOST?
I would say probably (Myanmar democracy icon) Aung San Suu Kyi. She really symbolized the dedication to fight for what's right at whatever cost, somebody who sticks by their beliefs and effects lasting change.
WHAT DID YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU GREW UP?
For most of my high school years and beginning of college, I actually wanted to be a federal prosecutor. I had a very innate sense of right and wrong and felt I wanted to protect the rights of victims anywhere. (But) the more I talked to (attorneys), I saw that seeing things in black and white as an attorney is an impediment to success, and many attorneys didn't enjoy it and most wanted to get out of this profession, so it certainly didn't give me a sense that this was a place I would love to work. I was able to transfer that background and pattern into risk management, so for me it was actually a great foundation for my career in risk management.
WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE MOVIE?
My favorite movie of the past couple of years would have to be "The Hangover." I just love the premise of it, that people should have more fun in their lives.
WHAT'S THE MOST INTERESTING PLACE YOU'VE BEEN?
Sri Lanka. I went here with Earthwatch as a volunteer in the effort to help rebuild the coast after the 2004 tsunami that destroyed a lot of Asia, and Sri Lanka was particularly hard hit. Our goal was to plant various species of mangrove plants throughout the shore. What they discovered is, the mangroves acted as a natural barrier for protection for people's lives, so our goal was to go in, plant additional mangroves along the coast, but also do scientific research about what species was perhaps was the most effective at preventing erosion at the coast. It was certainly a fantastic experience, but the most amazing piece of it was working alongside the local Sri Lankans. Those individuals had really just suffered a cataclysmic disaster of unknowable proportions. They were also in the midst of a civil war, and yet their spirit of hope for the future was ubiquitous. It really opened my eyes and made me appreciate that while you cannot control, necessarily, your environment and what happens to you, you can always control how you react, and these people certain epitomized that constant and pervasive feeling of hope. That would probably be the most interesting place, because it was such an interesting experience.
WHAT DO YOU PREFER AND WHY: PHONE OR E-MAIL?
I actually prefer speaking with people in person. I always try and meet in person. If not, I would say phone is kind of the next step, but certainly, when you're first beginning to know someone, it's critical to establishing that personal bond, to be able to not only hear you, but to be able to communicate in other ways as well.