Lifestyle the September 2018 issue

Kathleen Savio, CEO, Zurich North America, Schaumburg

Always be on the lookout for opportunities. You can find them, and sometimes you can make them.
By Chris Hann Posted on August 31, 2018
You joined Zurich in 1991 as an entry-level technical writer. What did that job entail?
I was responsible for updating phone-booksize manuals with step-by-step processes for people to follow to enter information into the green screen terminals.

Did you harbor secret aspirations to become CEO?
No! I was reflecting back on this recently. My very first performance review I said maybe someday I could become a manager. That was as much as I could foresee as a newer employee.

So what’s the lesson here?
No matter what you’re asked to do, do it in the best possible way every single time and learn something from that. And then the next time, apply what you learned, and you’ll keep getting better. Always be on the lookout for opportunities. You can find them, and sometimes you can make them.

I read that as a little girl you wanted to be an Egypt archaeologist. Where did that come from?
The King Tut exhibit was a big thing in that age. I imagined being on a dig and reconstructing what life would have been like. I was really fascinated by it for a number of years.

Do you see any connection with your current job?
The first things that come to my mind are the elements of problem solving and creation that I think both of them have. Putting pieces together and figuring out how something worked, how things were used to help people. Those puzzles are really interesting to me. In insurance, it’s about how we help put the pieces together to solve a problem or deliver a solution.

What would you tell other women pursuing upper-management positions?
The first thing I would say is, “Do it,” no question. Whether you are driven by data and analytics, technology, problem solving, relationships— those are all aspects of our industry. Women often have those capabilities, the skills to problem solve and coach teams. I’d like to see more diversity in general, and I’m working to encourage more of it.

You’ve described yourself as an “off-the chart introvert.” How does such a person become CEO of a Forbes 100 company?
On the Myers Briggs test, I get the highest score you can get in introversion. My energies come from within. The way that I try to maximize it, in a world that can sometimes be more extrovert-friendly, is to listen more than I talk and to be smart about picking my spots to get that energy out in ways that hopefully have the most impact.

You’ve been in the industry for 27 years. What has kept you in insurance?
Two things. I have been able to basically change careers multiple times within one company in one industry. As I’ve gotten to understand the industry more, and started to understand the impact that insurance has on people, on businesses, I key in on the relationships you can have with people. It’s a very big industry, but it can feel like a small community. At the end of the day, those relationships are what really keep me here.

How would your colleagues describe your management style?
They would say I listen well. They would say I ask a lot of questions. While I might be quiet, it shouldn’t be mistaken for not willing to be bold. If you could change one thing about the insurance industry, what would it be? This is an industry that is poised for cutting-edge thinking around data and analytics and technology. If I could change one thing, it would be helping to rebrand the image of what this industry is about and attracting different kinds of people than maybe we have historically done.

What gives you your leader’s edge?
I think being a good listener differentiates me. It gives me an edge and an advantage. The more I can listen, the more I can understand. Then I can go at the opportunities and the problems and engage with the right people to get those solved.

The Savio File

Favorite Movie: The Godfather

Favorite Vacation Spot: Southern California (“We’re starting to work our way up the coast.”)

Favorite Actress: Meryl Streep (“Both on and off screen she’s interesting to me. I also appreciate her having a point of view and being willing to express that in different ways. She’s kept a reasonably quiet personal life, which I also appreciate.”)

Favorite Musician: “I’m a SiriusXM Alt-Nation person. If I was going to go old-school, it would be The Police.”

Wheels: Audi A5

Chris Hann Associate Editor Read More

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