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2015 Women to Watch: Kathleen Savio

2015 Women to Watch: Kathleen Savio

Kathleen Savio

President, programs and direct markets

Zurich North America, a unit of Zurich Insurance Group Ltd.

Schaumburg, Illinois

Age: 50

Kathleen Savio, president for programs and direct markets for Zurich North America in Chicago, wanted to teach but now cherishes learning as part of her career.

“What has kept me a part of this business and a part of this industry is the ability to continuously learn,” said Ms. Savio.

Leading the largest Zurich business in North America — and one of Zurich Insurance Group Ltd.'s largest in the world with nearly 550 employees — Ms. Savio is the only person known to have joined Zurich North America in an entry-level role and advanced to the highest job grade in North America.

“It is a much more dynamic industry than many people realize, and to me it's becoming more innovative and more dynamic all the time, and that is something that is compelling to me and energizing to me about this industry,” she said.

Before she began what has been a long and fruitful career, Ms. Savio was heading for academia. She decided, however, that three to four more years of classes were not for her, so she got a job teaching in a corporate environment — a position she liked, though with a company she did not.

Fate intervened when a former colleague recruited her to Zurich, saying, “I moved over to this company called Zurich, and you would love it here.”

Her colleague was right. “I can't think of anywhere I'd rather be right now,” Ms. Savio said.

Nor can her co-workers think of anywhere they'd rather have her be.

“She is the best leader I've ever worked for,” said David Putz, senior vice president and head of direct markets in Kansas City, Kansas.

“She is absolutely as tenacious and competitive as anybody, but she cares about her people, and she absolutely cares about her customers,” said Mr. Putz.

“Kathleen is a great mentor and partner,” said Brian Little, head of human resources for Zurich North America in Chicago. “She's great at developing people and supporting clients.”

One of the high points in her career was a trip to the highest office in the land, a panel discussion about apprenticeships at the White House with leaders of other Swiss corporations and government officials.

“It was incredible, a truly incredible experience,” said Ms. Savio.

And while she is reminded occasionally that women do not occupy many leadership roles in insurance, Ms. Savio is hopeful.

“There are still the reminders that across the industry there's still opportunity to have more of a balance from a gender perspective,” said Ms. Savio. “I think in that next generation I am seeing more women in accelerated career paths and different roles.”

» NEXT: Lori Seidenberg

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