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Executive Vice President, HR Business Process Outsourcing
In her 18 years at Aon Hewitt, Maria Yao has helped to develop and implement an operations strategy to optimize the company’s Human Resources Business Process Outsourcing services. She developed and implemented an operations strategy to refocus on core competencies — workforce administration, payroll, employee benefits, and human resource information technology.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO WOMEN ENTERING THIS FIELD?
I have always had a changing roster of mentors. Changing the roster of mentors has been critical for me. Also, you should take advantage of the opportunities presented, especially those that you think are going to stretch your capabilities. I also tell folks that I mentor you need to let your results speak for themselves. Those results are going to define you and your accomplishments.
WHAT’S THE BEST ADVICE YOU’VE RECEIVED IN YOUR LIFE?
Best advice was to do something that really engages you. And do it with people you trust, so you know you are putting your best out there.
WHAT’S THE BEST-KEPT SECRET ABOUT WORKING IN THE INSURANCE INDUSTRY?
The best-kept secret is that this is an exciting place to work. If you would talk to the average person, perhaps coming out of college, looking for a job, you’d say, I’m in the HR-outsourcing industry. Maybe that doesn’t sound so exciting. But the things we do touch people every day.
WHAT’S THE NEXT MAJOR CHALLENGE IN YOUR BUSINESS SECTOR?
In the HR-BPO outsourcing sector, things are changing quite a bit. As things evolve, we have to make sure that as new technologies or new approaches or applications are coming out that we stay in lock-step or two steps ahead. As those innovations and new technologies emerge, we need to be able to turn on a dime and change our model. Still, that has to be balanced with some things we have learned over the past decade — you can’t be all things to all people. As fast as the market is evolving, you have to be smart enough to know where to place your bets.
WHAT DO YOU DO TO RELIEVE STRESS?
I like to travel with family, which sometimes can be relaxing and sometimes stressful. My job has me on the road a lot, so if I can get an opportunity to travel with my family and spend some down time with them, that’s great. The best is if I can travel and hit a winery and a golf course at the same time.
WHAT’S YOUR SECRET VICE?
My secret one, which probably won’t be so secret anymore, is my love for chocolate cupcakes.
WHAT SKILL HAS BEEN AN UNEXPECTED AID TO YOUR CAREER?
I grew up in a small town, in a tight-knit community. You had to make relationships and care and feed those relationships in that small community. You would either be in the in or out crowd. Relationship building was something I had to learn at a pretty young age. In our space, client relationships are everything. You can deliver the best service ever, but if you really haven’t honed your relationship, given it the proper care and feeding, you really are just a service provider.
WHAT’S AT THE TOP OF YOUR BUCKET LIST?
Six months ago, I probably would have said it was to go back to China. I had taken a family trip there several years ago with my father, but it went all too fast. However, my 12-year-old niece called a few weeks ago and said she really wanted to go to Paris with me. The fact that I have a 12-year-old niece who is interested in going to a foreign country — not just the fun stuff but learning about a country, too — is exciting to me, too. Anything I can do with her is generally at the top of my list.
Business Insurance's annual Women to Watch feature recognizes women doing outstanding work in insurance, risk management, employee benefits and related fields.