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Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance
When Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam appointed Julie Mix McPeak commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance in January 2011, she brought experience in government and private law practice to the position. Before being named to her current post, Ms. McPeak was counsel to the insurance practice group of law firm Burr & Forman L.L.P. in Nashville, Tenn. Prior to that, Ms. McPeak held several positions at the Kentucky Office of Insurance. Ms. McPeak received her J.D. from the University of Louisville School of Law in 1994 after receiving a B.B.A. in marketing from the University of Kentucky in 1990.
What's your advice for women entering this field?
Learn as much as you can about the different areas of insurance, the different perspectives: the corporate perspective, the legal perspective and certainly the regulatory perspective. Because you can know any one of those, but you certainly don't have the whole picture unless you consider issues from all of those different perspectives.
What attracted you to this industry?
Just to show that everything has a season — believe it or not, health care reform. I was in Kentucky about the time that Kentucky tried to be very advanced in terms of health care reform. That was a bill that passed in 1994, and it created an entity called the Health Policy Board to implement that health care reform initiative that was sort of the precursor for Hillary Clinton's model for health care reform and certainly what we're visiting today. So the creation of this health insurance oversight mechanism and all these different market reforms is what attracted me to join the Health Policy Board and then the Kentucky Department of Insurance — and there was the start of my insurance career.
What aspects of your job give you the greatest sense of accomplishment?
I have been a regulator in the insurance industry for a very long time, and then I was lucky enough to have a legal practice in the insurance regulatory field, and now I'm a regulator again. I very much enjoy being a regulator, knowing that I can make a difference in peoples' lives in Tennessee. And then, through my involvement with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, I have the ability to improve the conditions for people even outside the borders of Tennessee. And that's what I enjoy the most.
What's the most important lesson you've learned in your career?
The most important lesson I think I have learned is to expect the unexpected. Very often, particularly within the last year, what you think your day is going to look like is vastly different than how your day turns out at the end of the work day. There are a lot of issues that are unpredictable that you need to be flexible and be able to respond to. I used to think that I would live in 30-minute increments with my calendar, and then it became 15, and then a lot of times my calendar just goes completely out the window. Be prepared, and expect that you will not know some of the issues that you will be facing on a daily basis.
Outside family, what woman has been your role model?
Someone like Sandy Praeger, who is the Kansas insurance commissioner and has been for many years. I think that she is a role model of mine because she's completely unflappable. She takes very difficult, tough issues, and she can always find a way to make them understandable and easily digestible and easily attackable. I say that because she's currently chair of the (NAIC's) Health Insurance and Managed Care Committee, so she has had on her plate a tremendous amount of health care reform issues. She was president of the NAIC during a lot of very difficult national issues. ... The way that she has remained steadfast and has always been able to handle very, very difficult situations has always impressed me. And the fact that she's an elected commissioner — because there's only about 12 elected commissioners in the United States — it's very impressive to me that she can manage her state of Kansas, her own elections when she needs to do that, and certainly she's been a leader at the NAIC.
What's at the top of your bucket list and why?
A trip to Hawaii, and that has not been on my bucket list as much as it's been at the very top of my 11-year-old daughter's bucket list. So I have been trying to make that happen for her. And I do think that travel is so important for children, to see different cultures and different environments and how different people live. It's always been my goal to take her on more international travels, but she would really like to go to Hawaii, so that's something that we would like to accomplish.
What's your secret vice?
Chocolate chip cookies are a very big problem. When I was in Kentucky, there was a bakery next door to the Kentucky Department of Insurance. And the baker, of course, knew me by first name. He had excellent chocolate chip cookies, and he would come out and find me on the sidewalk and say, “They're about to come out of the oven,” and so I would go buy 12 or so, they're so good. But I try to counter that with a lot of running and Diet Coke.
Business Insurance's annual Women to Watch feature recognizes women who are doing outstanding work in commercial insurance, risk and benefits management, and related fields, including consulting and law.