2014 Power Broker: Under 40

Young Talent Pushing Forward

Many insurance professionals say they “fell into” the industry. Our Power Broker® winners and finalists under age 40 are no different, crediting their introduction to the business largely to family members who got them an “in.” Their experiences entering and working their way up through the ranks demonstrate both the strengths and weaknesses of the industry, and paint a picture of what the future may hold.

2014 Under-40 rankings sponsored by:

The Institues

Denton Christner, 36, a Power Broker® in the Gaming and Hospitality category, started working as a file clerk in his father’s Allstate agency as a high school student. He stayed with Allstate through college and eventually became an agent at the age of 21.

After agency consolidation left him and other brokers with smaller books looking for other options, he took a tip from another family member and went the independent route, joining BayRisk Insurance Brokers at 24.

Eleven years later, Christner is vice president and has helped BayRisk build its biggest new business source: a program for food truck insurance. Taking advantage of social media and online marketing, he has used the Internet as a primary sales driver, bringing InsureMyFoodTruck.com to the top of search engine results lists.

“Trying to sell commercial insurance to business owners who are oftentimes 10, 20 or 30 years my senior was very difficult. That was a big obstacle as a young agent, trying to prove my professionalism.”
— Denton Christner, vice president, Bay Risk Insurance Brokers

“It was an amazing experience; totally life-changing,” Christner said. “I pretty much ate, slept and breathed food trucks for 18 months getting it launched.”

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Lindsay Roos, 30, and a Power Broker® in the Pharmaceutical category, secured an internship with Marsh as a college junior with the help of a family member. In fact, internships and early training programs are a common thread among our young success stories.

“I interned in our Morristown, N.J., office for two years,” said Roos, a vice president and excess casualty placement broker at Bowring Marsh. “It was my first real work experience, and I really liked the work and the company. Most importantly, I really liked the people.” Marsh hired Roos into a graduate training program that gave her a well-rounded and formalized immersion in the industry alongside her peers.

Kate Simons, a 28-year-old Power Broker® finalist in the Retail category, took a summer internship with Aon as a college student “without really knowing what it was at first.” But the program drew her in, opening up the world of learning opportunities that the insurance industry has to offer.

“In this job, the thing I like is that you ultimately get to learn about all the industries your clients are in, whether it’s retail, real estate, manufacturing, food, and the list goes on and on,” she said.

Like Roos, Simons participated in an early career development program at the company. The 18-month training helped her home in on what aspects of insurance most appealed to her and exposed her to key mentors, leading her to her current position as senior broker.

“I also felt that the industry had a really good focus on developing young talent and investing in the future,” Simons said.

Attracting Graduates

Indeed, internships and intensive training programs continue to be key tools in bringing new grads into the fold.

Big brokers like Aon, Marsh and Beecher Carlson reach out to colleges to find prospective talent and introduce them to the industry. If all goes according to plan, those interns become full-time hires.

A year or two of initial training for new employees gets their feet wet in every aspect of the business. Those onboarding programs help young brokers find what niche appeals to them, and in what function they can excel.

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For many, that process helps young professionals move on from simply “falling into” insurance to really embracing it as a rewarding and exciting career.

As evidence of these programs’ successes, notice that this year’s “Under 40” class of winners and finalists includes 60 brokers, as opposed to last year’s 40. More young brokers are thriving in the business.

“The best experience comes from clinging onto some good people who are willing to teach you.”

— Lindsay Roos, vice president, Bowring Marsh

Yet, for an industry that invests considerable time and resources in developing new talent, the concern remains that not enough young people realize the benefits of working in insurance. In spite of a wealth of opportunity, the influx of new grads remains troublingly low.

“There are not enough young people getting into insurance, unfortunately,” Christner said. “It takes a lot of convincing and hand-holding and mentorship to get new producers settled into their career.”

Roos echoed that thought, noting that most college students aren’t necessarily looking for a professional career in insurance, but end up there via a tangential skill or interest.

That’s how a career in insurance brokering developed for Blythe O’Brien Hogan, a director in the Global Fine Arts Practice at Aon. O’Brien Hogan majored in art history as an undergraduate, then pursued a master’s degree in art business at Sotheby’s Institute of Art in London. That got her interested in art protection, both for personal collections as well as in transit or on display in a gallery or museum. She eventually wrote her master’s thesis on the development of insurance and risk management for fine art.

“From there I segued into the very dynamic, but a little bit niche, risk management insurance industry for fine art collections,” she said.

Aon’s Global Fine Arts Practice, launched in 2005, allowed O’Brien Hogan, a Power Broker® in the Fine Arts category, to work more closely with all players in the art industry, from handlers, shippers, storage facilities, and conservators to appraisers and tax attorneys.

Growing Pains

Despite being given opportunities and responsibilities early in their careers, many young brokers have had to overcome ageism in order to move ahead.

“Trying to sell commercial insurance to business owners who are oftentimes 10, 20 or 30 years my senior was very difficult,” Christner said. “That was a big obstacle as a young agent, trying to prove my professionalism.”

“It is challenging at times to get people to look past your age,” Simons said. “Being younger and still successful; sometimes, people tend to look for a little gray hair.”

Ultimately, though, a sound working knowledge of clients’ industries wins out, gaining their trust and building a positive reputation.

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Seth Cohen, 30, and an Entertainment Power Broker®, worked around the challenges of youth and inexperience by focusing on educational opportunities and industry training.

“I realized I could really accelerate my experience beyond my years,” said Cohen, an entertainment area vice president with Arthur J. Gallagher. “I got my ARM and CPCU as quickly as I could. I took a UCLA filmmaking and production course that was very intensive. I continue to attend media law conferences. Staying on top of current affairs helps to stay ahead of your inexperience.”

A little persistence never hurt either.

“Hard work and perseverance, being creative and asking questions has been the way to work through all that,” Simons said.

Younger brokers also have the advantage of greater familiarity with changing technologies, which shape industry best practices in a number of ways. Social media and online marketing are becoming increasingly common and important ways to reach clients, as Christner proved with the success of his food truck program. Sophisticated data analysis and modeling are now equally invaluable items in the broker’s toolbox.

“The younger generation probably embraces it more and adapts better,” Simons said. “They have more innovative thoughts as far as asking, ‘What else can I do with this technology and data to look at things a different way?’ ”

Tips for Success

So what can entry-level brokers learn from our Under 40 winners and finalists? First and foremost: Pounce on every new venture.

“I would say take advantage of every single opportunity, meaning every chance to be involved with other professionals [in the industry],” O’Brien Hogan said.

Simons echoed that advice. “Jump on every opportunity, and there are many in the industry, but you have to make the most of them,” she said. “Work hard. Be confident.”

And that uncle, sister or cousin with experience in the field? Tap into their knowledge base, and pick mentors’ brains as often as possible.

“The best experience comes from clinging onto some good people who are willing to teach you,” Roos said.

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Finally, the best brokers — no matter what their age — always have an in-depth knowledge of their customers’ industries. Specializing in areas of interest helps develop expertise that clients covet.

“Knowing the industry is key,” O’Brien Hogan said. “From all different angles — not just insurance, but all the little components that go into risk management.”

While challenges remain for the industry’s stability and growth potential, the growing number of Under 40 Power Broker® winners and finalists offers hope that the industry will remain dynamic for the future.

Listing of Power Broker Winners and Finalists Under 40:

Sarah Allison Senior Vice President Marsh, New York

Sarah Allison
Senior Vice President
Marsh, New York

James Bernstein, 34 Mercer, Cincinnati Employee Benefits

James Bernstein, 34
Mercer, Cincinnati
Employee Benefits

Morgan Anderson, 36 Arthur J. Gallagher, Irvine, Calif. Real Estate

Morgan Anderson, 36 Gallagher, Irvine, Calif.
Real Estate

Charles Blackmon, 34 Krauter & Co., Chicago Private Equity

Charles Blackmon, 34
Krauter & Co., Chicago
Private Equity

Joseph Braunstein, 37 Marsh, New York Aviation

Joseph Braunstein, 37
Marsh, New York
Aviation

Denton Christner, 35 BayRisk Insurance Brokers, Inc., Alameda, Calif. Gaming/Hospitality

Denton Christner, 35
BayRisk, Calif.
Gaming/Hospitality

Krista Cinotti, 35 Willis, New York Financial Services - Banking

Krista Cinotti, 35
Willis, New York
Financial Services

Seth Cohen, 30 Arthur J. Gallagher, Glendale, Calif. Entertainment

Seth Cohen, 30
Gallagher, California
Entertainment

Anne Corona, 36 Aon, Los Angeles Gaming/ Hospitality

Anne Corona, 36
Aon, Los Angeles
Gaming/ Hospitality

Bryan Eure, 34 Willis, New York Real Estate

Bryan Eure, 34
Willis, New York
Real Estate

Lindy Connery, 29 Marsh, New York Technology

Lindy Connery, 29
Marsh, New York
Technology

Ariel Duris, 38 Aon, Denver Aviation, Financial Services - Banking

Ariel Duris, 38
Aon, Denver
Financial Services

Larissa Gallagher, 26 Aon, Southfield, Mich. Chemicals & Refining

Larissa Gallagher, 26
Aon, Southfield, Mich.
Chemicals & Refining

Elisa Black, 28 Aon, Chicago Automotive

Elisa Black, 28
Aon, Chicago
Automotive

David Garrett, 37 John L. Wortham & Son, Houston Private Equity

David Garrett, 37
Wortham Ins., Houston
Private Equity

Jim Gillette, 34 EPIC, Los Angeles Retailing/ Wholesaling

Jim Gillette, 34
EPIC, Los Angeles
Retail

Mike Gingrich, 38 Neace Lukens, Dayton, Ohio Workers' Comp

Mike Gingrich, 38
Neace Lukens, Ohio
Workers’ Comp

Angela Giunto, 37 Aon, Denver Gaming/ Hospitality

Angela Giunto, 37
Aon, Denver
Gaming/ Hospitality

Meaghan Haney, 27 Aon, Washington Education

Meaghan Haney, 27
Aon, Washington
Education

Chris Heinicke, 38 Aon, Hamilton, Bermuda Automotive

Chris Heinicke, 38
Aon, Bermuda
Automotive

Matthew Heinz, 37 Aon, New York Private Equity

Matthew Heinz, 37
Aon, New York
Private Equity

Drew Johnston, 38 Aon, Wichita, Kan, Aviation

Drew Johnston, 38
Aon, Wichita, Kan,
Aviation

Jared McElroy, 33 Aon, Cincinnati Chemicals & Refining

Jared McElroy, 33
Aon, Cincinnati
Chemicals & Refining

Brian Lu, 32 Aon, New York Environmental

Brian Lu, 32
Aon, New York
Environmental

Matt Mautz, 33 Beecher Carlson, Atlanta Workers' Comp

Matt Mautz, 33
Beecher Carlson, 
Workers’ Comp

Tyler LaMantia, 27 Arthur J. Gallagher, Itasca, Ill. Public Sector

Tyler LaMantia, 27
Gallagher, Itasca, Ill.
Public Sector

Lorrie McNaught, 39 Aon/ Albert G. Ruben, Sherman Oaks, Calif. Entertainment

Lorrie McNaught, 39
Aon, California
Entertainment

Keith Montone, 31 Willis, Radnor, Pa. Environmental

Keith Montone, 31
Willis, Radnor, Pa.
Environmental

Anthony Moraes, 36 Integro Insurance Brokers, San Francisco Technology

Anthony Moraes, 36
Integro, San Francisco
Technology

Sean Murphy, 34 Arthur J. Gallagher, Houston Gaming/ Hospitality

Sean Murphy, 34
Gallagher, Houston
Gaming/ Hospitality

Lee Newmark, 26 Arthur J. Gallagher, Itasca, Ill. Health Care

Lee Newmark, 26
Gallagher, Itasca, Ill.
Health Care

Tandis M. H. Nili, 33 Aon, New York Real Estate

Tandis M. H. Nili, 33
Aon, New York
Real Estate

Blythe O'Brien, 29 Aon, New York Real Estate

Blythe O’Brien, 29
Aon, New York
Real Estate

Dennis O'Neill Jr., 33 Aon, Philadelphia Retailing/ Wholesaling

Dennis O’Neill Jr., 33
Aon, Philadelphia
Retail

Michael O'Neill, 35 Aon, New York Pharmaceuticals

Michael O’Neill, 35
Aon, New York
Pharmaceuticals

Stefanie Pearl, 33 Marsh, New York Financial Services - Banking

Stefanie Pearl, 33
Marsh, New York
Financial Services

Adrian Pellen, 30 Aon, New York Environmental

Adrian Pellen, 30
Aon, New York
Environmental

Mary Pontillo, 37 DeWitt Stern, New York Fine Arts

Mary Pontillo, 37
DeWitt Stern, New York
Fine Arts

Samuel Pugatch, 31 DeWitt Stern, New York Fine Arts

Samuel Pugatch, 31
DeWitt Stern, New York
Fine Arts

Brendan Quinlan, 34 Arthur J. Gallagher, San Francisco Utilities

Brendan Quinlan, 34
Gallagher, Calif.
Utilities

Chris Rafferty, 34 Aon, Chicago Automotive

Chris Rafferty, 34
Aon, Chicago
Automotive

Lindsay Roos, 30 Marsh, Hamilton, Bermuda Pharmaceuticals

Lindsay Roos, 30
Marsh, Bermuda
Pharmaceuticals

Duncan Ross, 35 Marsh, London Energy - Traditional

Duncan Ross, 35
Marsh, London
Energy – Traditional

James Sallada, 34 Marsh, New York Retailing/ Wholesaling

James Sallada, 34
Marsh, New York
Retail

Scott Schachter, 39 Marsh, New York Entertainment

Scott Schachter, 39
Marsh, New York
Entertainment

Aaron Simpson, 37 Aon, Philadelphia Pharmaceuticals

Aaron Simpson, 37
Aon, Philadelphia
Pharmaceuticals

Sharon Sotelo-Lee, 39 Integro Insurance Brokers, San Francisco Technology

Sharon Sotelo-Lee, 39
Integro, San Francisco
Technology

Stephen Stoicovy, 27 Aon, Houston Chemicals & Refining

Stephen Stoicovy, 27
Aon, Houston
Chemicals & Refining

Marc Toy, 38 Beecher Carlson, San Francisco Energy - Alternative

Marc Toy, 38
Beecher Carlson, Calif.
Energy – Alternative

Andy Vetor, 34 MJ Insurance, Indianapolis Employee Benefits

Andy Vetor, 34
MJ Insurance, Ind.
Employee Benefits

Gina Visor, 35 Marsh, Charlotte, N.C. Utilities

Gina Visor, 35
Marsh, Charlotte, N.C.
Utilities

Michael White, 37 Beecher Carlson, Atlanta Construction

Michael White, 37
Beecher Carlson, 
Construction

Ross Wheeler, 37 Aon, Chicago Retailing/ Wholesaling

Ross Wheeler, 37
Aon, Chicago
Retail

Alexander Zavala, 33 Willis, New York Real Estate

Alexander Zavala, 33
Willis, New York
Real Estate

Clayton Corbett, 29 Aon, Houston Energy - Alternative

Clayton Corbett, 29
Aon, Houston
Energy – Alternative

Neil Cayabyab, 34 Marsh, Irvine, Calif. Utilities

Neil Cayabyab, 34
Marsh, Irvine, Calif.
Utilities

Brandon Cole, 29 Arthur J. Gallagher, Greenwood Village, Colo. Nonprofit

Brandon Cole, 29
Gallagher, Colo.
Nonprofit

Helena Lai, 34 Aon - Huntington T. Block Insurance Agency, Washington Fine Arts

Helena Lai, 34
Aon, Washington DC
Fine Arts

Adam Rekerdres, 35 Rekerdres & Sons Insurance Agency, Dallas Marine

Adam Rekerdres, 35
Rekerdres & Sons, Dallas
Marine

Kate Simons, 28 Aon, Chicago Retailing/ Wholesaling

Kate Simons, 28
Aon, Chicago
Retail

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

R&I Profile

Achieving Balance

XL Catlin’s Denise Balan stays calm and focused when faced with crisis.
By: | January 10, 2018 • 6 min read

In the high-stress scenario of kidnap or ransom, the first image that comes to mind isn’t necessarily a yoga mat — at least, not for most.

But Denise Balan, senior VP and head of U.S. kidnap & ransom, XL Catlin, who practices yoga every day, would swear by it.

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“I looked at these opposing aspects of my life,” she said. “Yoga is about focus, balance, clarity of intent. In a moment of stress, how do you respond? The more clarity and calmness you maintain, the better positioned you are to provide assistance in moments of crisis.

“Nobody wants to be speaking to a frenetic person when either dealing with a dangerous situation or planning for prevention of a situation,” she added.

“There’s a poem by [Rudyard] Kipling on that,” added Balan’s colleague Ben Tucker. “What it boils down to is: If you can remain calm, you can manage through a crisis a lot better.”

Tucker, who works side by side with Balan as head of U.S. terrorism and political violence, XL Catlin, has seen how yoga influences his colleague.

“The way Denise interacts with stakeholders in this process — she is very professional and calm in the approach she takes.”

Yin and Yang

Sometimes seemingly opposite or contrary forces may actually be complementary and interconnected. In Balan’s life, yoga and K&R have become her yin and yang.

She entered the insurance world after earning a juris doctor degree and practicing law for a few years. The switch came, she said, when Balan realized she wasn’t enjoying her time as a commercial litigator.

Denise Balan, senior VP and head of U.S. kidnap & ransom, XL Catlin

In her new role, she was able to use her legal background to manage litigation at AIG, where her transition from law to insurance took place. She started her insurance career in the environmental sector.

In a chance meeting in 2007, Balan met with crisis management underwriters who told her about kidnap and ransom products.

She was hooked.

Because of her background in yoga, Balan liked the crisis management side of the job. Being able to bring the calmness and clearness of intent she practiced during yoga into assisting clients in planning for crisis management piqued her interest.

She then joined XL Catlin in July 2013, where she built the K&R team.

As she became more immersed in her field, Balan began to notice something: The principles she learned in yoga were the same principles ex-military and ex-law enforcement practiced when called to a K&R-related crisis.

She said, “They have a warrior mentality — focus, purpose, strength and logic — and I would say yoga is quite similar in discipline.”

“K&R responders have a warrior mentality — focus, purpose, strength and logic — and I would say yoga is quite similar in discipline.” — Denise Balan, senior VP and head of U.S. kidnap & ransom, XL Catlin

Many understand yoga to be, in itself, one type of meditation, but yoga actually encompasses a group of physical, mental and spiritual practices. Each is a discipline. Some forms of yoga focus on movement and breathing, others focus on posture and technique. Some yoga is meant to relax the mind and create a sense of calmness; other yoga types make participants sweat.

After having her second child and working full-time, Balan wanted to find something physical and relaxing for herself; a friend suggested yoga. During her first lesson, Balan said she was enamored with it.

“I felt like I’d done it all my life.”

She dove into the philosophy of yoga, adopting the practice into her daily routine. Every morning, whether Balan is in her Long Island home or on a business trip, she pulls out her yoga mat to practice.

“I always travel with my mat,” she said. “Daily practice is the simplest form of connection to routine to maintain my balance — physically and mentally.”

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She said the strangest place she has ever practiced was in Lisbon. She was on a very narrow balcony with a bird feeder swarming with sparrows overhead.

After years of studying and practicing, Balan is considered a yogi — someone who is highly proficient in yoga. She attends annual retreats with her yoga group, where she is able to rejuvenate, ready to tackle any K&R event when she returns.

In 2016, Balan visited Tuscany, Italy, where she learned the practice of yoga nidra, a very deep form of meditation. It’s described as the “going-to-sleep stage” — a type of yoga that brings participants to a state of consciousness between waking and sleeping.

“It awakens a different part of your brain,” Balan commented. “Orally describing it doesn’t quite do it justice. One has to practice Nidra to fully understand the effect it has on your being.”

Keeping a level head during a crisis is key in their line of business, Tucker said. He can attest to the benefit of having a yogi on board.

“I’ve seen her run table-top exercises where there is this group of people in a room and they run an exercise, a simulation of a kidnap incident. Denise is very committed to what we’re doing,” said Tucker.

“She brings that energy. She doesn’t get flustered by much.”

Building a K&R Program

When Balan joined XL Catlin, she was tasked with creating the K&R team.

Balan during a retreat in Sicily, Italy, 2017

She spent time researching and analyzing what clients would want in their K&R coverage. What stuck out most to Balan was the fact that, in these situations, the decision to purchase kidnap and ransom cover is rarely made because of desire for reimbursement of money.

“I asked why people buy this type of coverage. The answer was for the security responders,” she said.

“These are the people who sit with the family. They’re similar to psychologists or priests,” Balan further explained. “Corporations can afford to pay ransom. They buy [K&R] because it gives them access to these trained and dedicated professionals who not only provide negotiation advice, but actually sit with a victim’s family, engaging deep levels of emotional investment.”

“I’ve learned to appreciate all moments in life — one at a time. The ability to think clearly and calmly guides my work, my practice and my personal life.” — Denise Balan, senior VP and head of U.S. kidnap & ransom, XL Catlin

Balan described these responders as people having total clarity of purpose, setting their intentions to resolve a crisis — a practice at the very heart of yoga. She knew XL Catlin’s new kidnap program would put stock in their responders.

“I’ve worked closely with the responders to better understand what they can do for our clientele. These are the people who run into danger — warrior hearts married to dedication to our clients’ best interests.”

But K&R is more than fast-paced crisis and quick thinking; Balan also spent a good deal of time writing the K&R form and getting the company’s resources in order. This was a huge task to tackle when creating the program from the ground up.

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“A lot of my day-to-day is speaking with brokers and finding ways to enhance our product,” she said.

After a few months, she was able to hire the company’s first K&R underwriter. From there, the program has grown. It’s left her feeling professionally rewarded.

“People don’t often get that opportunity to build something up from scratch,” she said. “It’s been an amazing experience — rewarding and fun.”

“She brings groups of people together,” said Tucker. “She’s created a positive environment.”

Balan’s yogi nature extends beyond the office walls, too. Her pride and joy, she said, are her kids. And while it may seem like two large parts of her life are opposite in nature, Balan’s achieved balance through her passions.

“[Yoga] has given me the ability to see beyond only one aspect of any situation” she said. “I’ve learned to appreciate all moments in life — one at a time. The ability to think clearly and calmly guides my work, my practice and my personal life.” &

Autumn Heisler is a staff writer at Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]