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Diversity

About That Time I Was Told to Eat a Live Frog...

Patti Steis on Developing the Next Generation of Talent

 

Difficult conversations are unavoidable in business, whether you have to call a client to admit a mistake, confront a senior leader to stand your ground, or discuss a poor performance review with a direct report. How one handles the situation is the true test.

Patti Steis sometimes thinks back to when she started her career at Marsh, a global leader in the insurance brokerage world. She recalls stewing over difficult conversations and playing out all possible scenarios in her head before making the inevitable call.

That’s when a mentor offered a piece of advice quoting Mark Twain: “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”

“Today, when I have to confront a difficult situation, ‘eat the frog’ is what always sticks in my mind,” Patti said. “And it’s so true. The sooner you address an uncomfortable situation, the better off you are and the better off the others are who might be impacted. And it’s never as bad as you think it’s going to be.”

It’s advice like this that Patti, Marsh’s Washington DC office head, now shares with other young women at the firm.  It’s both her personal mission and a means of paying forward the mentoring she’s received.

Patti’s efforts to advance and develop women coupled with her professional accomplishments, expertise, leadership skills, and career prospects were recently recognized by Business Insurance, which named her among its 2016 Women to Watch.

“Patti embodies everything great that we strive to cultivate in our leaders at Marsh and is one of our most vocal and visible champions of our diversity and inclusion efforts,” said Bo Young Lee, Marsh’s Global Diversity & Inclusion Leader.   

Paying it forward

“When I look at my time at Marsh, I’ve had great people take the time to tell me the truth, even when I didn’t want to hear it; tell me what areas I needed to work on, even when I had a blind spot; and most importantly, give me opportunities where I could really stretch. I feel very fortunate,” Patti said.

To pay it forward, Patti not only mentors several high-potential women leaders at Marsh, she also launched a formal mentoring program in Marsh’s Washington DC office and was instrumental in the launch of its chapter of Marsh’s Women’s Executive Business to Business network, which provides a regular forum for women to meet, network, learn, and share ideas.

According to Patti, mentoring programs are just one aspect of developing the next generation of talent in the insurance industry.

“Every company lives and dies by the strength of its talent, but it’s even more acute in the insurance brokerage industry,” she said. “We don’t make products. We provide advice, intellectual capital, and risk financing solutions. As such, the strength of our talent, in my mind, is priority number one. We need to ensure that we remain the global leader into the future.”

That means not only developing talented young women and minorities, but recruiting and developing nontraditional talent – people who may not fit the traditional insurance or risk management mold but possess the right skill sets to succeed in today’s rapidly changing environment, said Patti, who started her career as a lawyer.

“We are having very different conversations with our clients today than when I joined the industry 17 years ago. We used to talk about exposure, price, and terms and conditions. Fast forward to today: It’s a conversation more focused on risk, capital, data, and analytics. And all of this is happening while technology advances change the way we do business.”

As a result, the industry needs to look for talent with different backgrounds including math and technology, Patti said. It also means looking for talent in new places, like Gallaudet University in Washington DC, the world’s only university for the deaf and hard of hearing. In 2015, Gallaudet launched a Risk Management and Insurance (RMI) degree program. As a member of the RMI board, Patti seeks to connect the insurance industry with Gallaudet students and graduates.

Impact

One only needs to talk to other young professionals to understand Patti’s impact.

“In my professional life, I have had many mentors, but none have had as much impact on my development as an insurance professional and as a woman in business as Patti,” said Rachel Lavender, a senior vice president within Marsh’s FINPRO Practice. “The work we do is part art and part science.  The science part can be learned over time and through experiences. It’s the art of negotiation where Patti has had the greatest impact on me. Patti has taught me that it’s easier to smile and be optimistic than it is to show frustration and anger.”

Overall, Patti remains optimistic about the future of insurance talent. “We are making great strides in recruiting and developing young talent, but there’s always room for improvement.”