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Senior vice president and branch manager, Heffernan Insurance Brokers, 201 Second St., Ste. 120, Petaluma 94592, 707-789-3064, www.heffgroup.com

Age: 49

Residence: Benicia

Professional background: 13 years with Chubb & Son insurance company in underwriting, underwriting managing, now will be celebrating 15 years with Heffernan in July of this year. Broker and Branch Manager.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in Finance from Santa Clara University, 1984

Staff: 30-plus

Tell us about yourself and your company: I joined Heffernan Insurance Brokers after a long 10-plus-year career at a major insurance company. I chose Heffernan because it is a large regional brokerage firm that is able to offer sophisticated value-added services to clients that helps them drive down their total cost of risk. I knew Mike Heffernan personally and admired that he committed to giving back 5 percent of our pre tax profits to the nonprofit community to ensure that those in need are being cared for by a corporate partner. It makes us one of the largest philanthropists in the Bay Area.

Working for a company that has a commitment to the community and not purely to making a profit resonated so strongly with me, that I knew immediately that I made the right choice to join the firm. We have grown substantially over our humble beginnings almost 25 years ago, going from $1 million in revenues to $80 million. We have had a North Bay team for 23 of those 25 years, starting in Sonoma and for the past nine years, having a staff of 30 in Petaluma.

Is there a major accomplishment in the past year or so that you would like to share? In the last year I am proud to say that our North Bay team was again voted to be among the region's Best Places to Work. Each year that we have chosen to participate, we have been honored with this award. Our culture focuses so much on respect for one another and we make an effort to blow off steam together and go have some fun.

In fact, our mission statement is, “Answer the phone and have fun!” We know that if we are responsive to our clients we become partners and more often than not, friends. We can laugh and share life together. We also have fun events with staff throughout the year to create camaraderie and that leads to a sense of becoming family. It really is all about answering the phone and having fun!

What is the achievement you are most proud of? After years of the emotional pain of infertility, I am proudest of adopting our two beautiful children, Katy and John. There are more parenting issues involved in raising adopted children and we have been blessed that they are both so amazing and emotionally healthy. They both embrace how loved they are by us as well as their birth families. We celebrate how lucky they are to have so many more people in this life that love them. That has gone a long way in creating a foundation for emotional health.

 What is your biggest challenge today? I think the biggest challenge we face currently is delivering rate increases from insurance carriers, particularly in worker’s compensation. The economy seems to be slowly recovering, but we still have a number of clients facing nominal to flat growth projections and/or having expense challenges. We are adept at bringing a number of resources to bear to help keep rate increases to a minimum, but it is still emotionally difficult to prepare clients and prospects for higher rates, particularly when they just have begun to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Words that best describe you: Genuine, fun, direct, positive, loving and bold.

As a successful female professional, what were the biggest obstacles you faced and how did you overcome them? I have been fortunate to not face a large number of obstacles as a woman professional, but there have been moments....

I have experienced men being surprised that they transitioned so well to partnering with a female broker, where for years they had only had male brokers for their property and casualty insurance lines. I once had contractor say to me as he signed his down payment check for his worker’s compensation, “Wow, I have never bought insurance from a girl before!” I jokingly looked behind me and asked, “Where’s the girl?” We both laughed. think the more comfortable you make it for people that often don’t see a woman broker or a woman at the manager’s table, the easier it is for them to accept and enjoy that you are on the team.

How do you think your profession will change in the next five years? Frankly, I hope and expect to see more and more female property and casualty brokers enjoying our profession. I think they may demand more work life balance than some may have had before them, but we will see the scale balance a bit more in terms of a male/female ratio.

Who was your most important mentor? And tell us a little bit about that person: I would honestly say that Mike Heffernan, our president, is that person. He has encouraged me as a woman broker and manager in our industry -- a rarity -- and has taught me patiently about how to understand the nuances of how to make money in a business while having respect being the major tenet by which you lead and inspire your teams. When you combine that with emphasizing giving back to our community with not only our money, but our time spent volunteering, you realize you are being inspired by someone that is truly special. 

What advice would you give to a young woman entering your profession or the work world today? I would suggest to a young woman entering our profession or any other to do their best to choose a career they truly want to be in through their child bearing years. If you choose well, you can build up your career in position and income to help you then go on to balance having your family.

Focusing on continuity helps you to set up a solid foundation internally and externally, which then allows you to balance the home front more effectively. If you change jobs or careers as you begin your family, you are critically divided with trying to prove yourself on the work front as well as doing all you can to be a good parent. Trying to do both at the same time will prove to be a daunting task.

Most admired businessperson outside your organization: I would say that my father was an incredible inspiration to me and someone I admired personally and professionally. He started an insurance agency in Napa when he finished flying 32 missions over Germany in World War II, married my mom and they went on to have six children. My dad managed to give 100 percent to his business and 100 percent to all of us kids. He always told me, “Make sure you tell the truth. You want to be able to lay straight in bed at night…” He told me in business you only have your reputation. "If you lose that, you will lose what you were intended to become.”

Current reading: Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, which I'm reading with my 16-year-old daughter.

Most want to meet: George Washington

Stress relievers: Running, reading, massage

Favorite hobbies: Supporting our daughter at her high school softball games and cooking with my 7-year-old son.