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Terrie Pohjola

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Terrie Pohjola

Vp for Programs and Associations
SECURA Insurance Cos.
Appleton, Wis.
Age: 54

Terrie Pohjola has been in the financial services industry for 30 years—with much of her experience at SECURA Insurance Cos.—holding positions in sales, consulting, financial planning and investments. Ms. Pohjola is currently a member of Thrivent Financial Bank's board of directors. She earned her bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and holds a number of designations, including the Certified Public Accountant; Certified Information Technology Professional, issued by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants; and Certified Treasury Professional, issued by the Assn. of Financial Professionals. She is a member of both the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and the Wisconsin Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO WOMEN ENTERING THIS FIELD?

Focus on improving communication skills and developing your leadership qualities. Volunteering is a great way to develop these skills and (will) also get you involved in a charitable cause you believe in. This is not to say you shouldn't develop technical knowledge as well. However, most companies will teach you that. It's harder to teach the soft skills and also more difficult to find candidates for entry-level management positions who have these strengths. You'll have a leg up on others competing for these jobs if you bring these qualities to the table.

WHAT IS THE MOST INTERESTING THING YOU'VE LEARNED IN YOUR CAREER?

When I was vp of (information technology), my biggest concern was data security. I knew little, other than it would be very bad to experience any kind of data breach. I was fortunate to have a very patient information security director who took the time to teach me the fundamentals. I'm no expert by any measure, but I do keep up to speed on information security developments. It is knowledge I need as chairperson of the Thrivent Financial Bank Board technology committee.

DID YOU HAVE A MENTOR EARLY IN YOUR CAREER?

Shortly after I started at SECURA, I met an experienced leader named Bill Hoffman. He had been with SECURA for more than 20 years in various leadership roles. Most importantly, he was responsible for negotiating our reinsurance contracts, which single-handedly saved our company when we had the worst weather year in our 100-year history. Bill was my mentor for nearly 15 years until he retired a few years ago. His most important piece of advice was to make all my career decisions considering the impact to my family as the No. 1 criterion.

WHAT IS YOUR DREAM JOB, OUTSIDE OF YOUR CURRENT ROLE?

My dream job is to be a chief sustainability officer. SECURA is not large enough to justify this position, so as chairperson of our green committee I do serve SECURA in this role. However, I would love for this be my full-time position with more decision-making authority.

OUTSIDE FAMILY AND COLLEAGUES, WHOM DO YOU ADMIRE MOST?

Former Costa Rican President Oscar Arias Sanchez. I was fortunate enough to hear him give a campaign speech in Tamarindo, Guanacaste, Costa Rica, in November of 2005. He was Costa Rica's president twice from 1986 to 1990 and again from 2006 to 2010. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for his efforts toward ending the civil strife in neighboring Central American countries. He also transformed the country's economy from its dependence upon coffee and bananas to marketing more high-end crops such as exotic plants. He also encouraged the tourism industry. As a result, Costa Rica has the highest per-capita income of all Central American countries.

WHAT'S YOUR CAN'T-MISS TV SHOW?

I love “Survivor.” As an outdoor enthusiast, the format of the show appeals to me, but the most interesting factor is the interaction of the team members. I am always amazed at how many of the participants fail to realize the importance of the social aspects of the game.

BEYOND WORK, WHAT ONE THING DO YOU WANT TO DO OR ACCOMPLISH IN LIFE?

It's my goal to establish a charitable foundation directed toward placing adults with autism in the workplace. My youngest son is a high-functioning autistic person who has struggled to find an employer willing to take the time and resources to train him for a meaningful job. The economy is certainly a factor right now; however, most employers just don't understand how to work with autistic individuals. The incidence of autism is increasing, so the ability to fully employ these individuals will be a huge factor in the future.

DO YOU USE SOCIAL MEDIA? IF NOT, WHY NOT?

I'm just getting started. SECURA recognizes the importance of social media. We encourage our associates to be active participants, keeping in mind their own professional image and the fact they are representing SECURA. Social media will continue to grow and may evolve into the preferred method of communication with our new generation of insurance buyers. So it is important to be engaged in social media outlets.