2018 Power Broker

The Next Generation of Leaders

With already burgeoning careers, the 2018 Power Broker® Rising Stars share the key components to their success.
By: | March 5, 2018 • 7 min read

See the complete list of Power Broker® Rising Stars.

Every year, Risk & Insurance® recognizes the best of the best in insurance brokering. These Power Brokers exemplify creative risk solutions, exceptional customer service and a profound knowledge of the industry over 25 sectors.

This year, 214 brokers nationwide and beyond became 2018 Power Broker® winners or finalists. Of these, 80 winners and finalists were under the age of 40, making them Risk & Insurance® Rising Stars.


Rising Stars are young leaders who have taken the insurance broker industry by storm with above-and-beyond attitudes to get their clients what they need when they need it.

“Never say no.”

That’s Berj Basralian’s approach to brokering. An account executive for Risk Strategies/DeWitt Stern, Basralian is the youngest Rising Star this year at age 27. He works specifically in the Entertainment sector, which, he said, is an industry where he needs a good sense of humor and should be just a little bit crazy.

“I try not to let insurance dictate what clients can and can’t do. I always try to find a solution,” he said. “Sometimes you have to look at something from a consumer standpoint and say, ‘that would make for some great TV.’ Then I work to make it happen.”

His philosophy is to get on the phone or see a client in person when they have a question or concern.

“You get a better sense of what they’re doing. You can only explain so much in an email, but over the phone you learn more.”

Communication Is Key

This year’s Rising Stars understand the power of communication.

“This is something I hold near and dear to me,” said Justin Johnson, age 31, account executive, Aon Risk Solutions, a Rising Star from the Construction sector. “I will go to the ends of the earth for our clients.”

Justin Johnson, account executive, Aon Risk Solutions

He finds teaching clients about construction and its coverages as the most rewarding part of his job, because he gets to help them understand the nuances of construction risks.

Johnson “works with companies that may not have a lot of experience on the construction side. These might be Fortune 500 companies that build one or two new facilities every 10 years.

“Construction is like a foreign topic to them. I like to work with them and articulate how certain coverages work to ensure they are protected appropriately.”

He always tries to respond within the same day he receives an inquiry from a client. The digital age, he said, makes it so that responses are sought out fast.

“Being able to respond quickly helps to develop trust and ultimately build strong relationships.”

“We millennials have a different way of managing how to communicate. I think we are focused more so on results than on process, which is good. We’re more fluid in how we communicate,” said Katie Crowe, account executive, Aon Risk Solutions, age 28, a Public Sector Rising Star.

Many of these Rising Stars have grown up with easy-access communication at their fingertips, whether it be by email, text or some form of instant messenger.

“I think sometimes we forget that we all put our pants on the same way. My philosophy is to always be human when I communicate [with clients]. That humanizing factor is how we really connect with each other.”


Crowe makes a pointed effort to check in with her clients and see how they’re doing. She believes having that extra touch of care enables her to better serve her clients.

Jennifer Akhter, senior vice president, Aon Affinity, age 36, an Employee Benefits Rising Star, said honesty is always the best policy when communicating with clients.

“We must be honest about what we have to accomplish together. This industry is consistently changing, and that’s exciting. There is a way we can change and impact the companies that we work with.”

The Path to Brokering

Akhter joined the brokering field like many other Rising Stars; she found her way to it circuitously.

She was enrolled in law school, but after joining Liberty Mutual as a liability underwriter, her plans changed.

“No two days are alike. This industry keeps changing and evolving. Aon allows an individual, like me, to be creative,” she said. “There is a tremendous opportunity to learn and to grow. Insurance is an industry that allows people to influence others in a positive manner.”

Basralian, too, was working toward earning his law degree.

“I worked for an attorney [after graduating college],” Basralian said. He decided it wasn’t his path and turned to his family in the insurance business for advice. The rest was history.

Now when he sees his family, “we trade our insurance war stories,” he said in good humor.

“I think sometimes we forget that we all put our pants on the same way. My philosophy is to always be human. That humanizing factor is how we really connect with each other.” — Katie Crowe, account executive, Aon Risk Solutions

In his line of work, seeing the finished product drives him to work harder.

“When we get to see the finished product — sometimes some things can come up so out of the norm. We see the stuff come in before its even filmed. Getting to see how it all came together is the best part,” Basralian said.

He mentioned a tank being used on a prank show as an example of such ‘out of the norm’ events. In another instance, he had a client who added a last-minute stunt that involved dangling a person from a helicopter. He had four days to get the carriers and the coverage secured.

Johnson, on the other hand, entered the construction sector as a civil engineer, working for three years on the project side. The company he worked for at the time had a philosophy of rotating employees into different groups to help them get a better understanding of the business holistically.

Katie Crowe, account executive, Aon Risk Solutions

“I was rotated into risk management,” he said. A few years later, he had the opportunity to join Aon, where he entered into brokering.

Crowe also found her way to brokering after starting her career in another field: “I have my undergraduate degree in political science and Mandarin,” she said.

She worked for a company that handled large, multinational power generation stations. It was there she had her first taste of risk management.

She said this background has helped her become a better broker.

“It was challenging making the transition from being a client to a broker. As a risk manager, I was running the show. My needs and expectations were being met. Now I manage risk managers’ needs and do all I can to exceed their expectations,” Crowe said.

“I can say, ‘I was in your shoes.’ I have the knowledge of both sides, and now I can pay it forward.”

Ask Questions

One thing each of these Rising Stars noted is that they don’t always know all the answers: “Insurance is such a broad topic. With so many different ways policies can be constructed, it’s hard to get your arms around the breadth of it all,” said Johnson.

“I think my first two years were spent reading policy,” said Basralian.


“When I first came to the [brokering] world, I had this opportunity to lead a team,” Akhter said. “At that time, I was maybe 25 or 26, and I felt I needed to know all the answers. It was my first lesson learned.

“You don’t have to have all the answers. Listen and collaborate with clients. Rely on your colleagues,” she said. “Being younger, I think, allows me to not be afraid to ask questions.”

“Not every one person knows it all,” added Johnson. “I try my best to align myself internally with our subject matter experts. That way, [clients are] getting the best Aon has to offer.”

Crowe said her first order of business is to make sure she understands what clients are asking for. Then, if she feels she could benefit from additional knowledge, she’ll ask herself who can help.

“People, as a whole, don’t like asking questions and they don’t like asking for help. Younger people, I think, see it as an opportunity to grow,” she said.

When brokers ask questions, “the end result is stronger, because we’re working at a solution through many sets of eyes,” said Akhter. &

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

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Employment Practices


Sexual harassment is a growing concern for corporate America. Risk managers can pave the way to top-down culture change.
By: | March 5, 2018 • 12 min read

The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements opened up Pandora’s Box, launching countless public scandals and accusations. The stories that continue to emerge paint an unflattering picture of corporate America and the culture of sexual harassment that has permeated it for decades.


“The clock has run out on sexual assault, harassment and inequality in the workplace. It’s time to do something about it,” reads the official tagline of Time’s Up, one of the most vocal groups demanding change.

The GoFundMe campaign that supports the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund raised more than $16.7 million in less than a month, making it the most successful GoFundMe initiative on record.

Funds will be used to help victims of sexual harassment and assault bring legal action against harassers, as well as provide public relations consultation to manage any media attention such suits might attract.

The problem was never really a secret.

In surveys conducted since 1980 by the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, 40 percent of women and 15 percent of men consistently reported being sexually harassed at work.

In a sweeping meta-analysis of 25 years’ worth of research data, published in “Personnel Psychology,” an average of 25 percent of women reported experiencing sexual harassment at work. When respondents were given clear definitions of harassing behavior, that figure shot up to 60 percent.

The current climate is just now pushing awareness to the forefront. It was reported last November that law firms in the nation’s capital are seeing a spike in inquiries about sexual harassment cases.

Laura Coppola, regional head of commercial management liability in North America, Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty

In addition, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) website is seeing visits to its harassment web page double.

There’s no question the costs to businesses can be staggering. Twenty-First Century Fox reportedly incurred $50 million in costs tied to the settlement of sexual harassment and discrimination allegations in its Fox News division, as well as a $90 million settlement of shareholder claims arising from sexual harassment scandals.

In June, the company disclosed in a regulatory filing that it had $224 million in costs during the fiscal year related to “management and employee transitions and restructuring” at business units, including the group that houses Fox News.

If time is indeed up, it won’t just impact Hollywood, Silicon Valley or Capitol Hill. It will impact every workplace, in every industry.

“It affects everybody,” said Marie-France Gelot, senior vice president and insurance & claims counsel for Lockton’s Northeast Claims Advisory Group.

“I think anybody in corporate America — at some point — has seen it or been aware of it or been around it.”

“This particular phenomenon is certainly at a much wider scope than we’ve seen in the last decade or so,” said Laura Coppola, regional head of commercial management liability in North America, Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty.

“This is going to touch many industries, many segments, and many people.”

Employers are beginning to wonder if their workplace could be next.

“I think if you’d been asking [insureds] a year ago, ‘Are you interested in hearing about sexual harassment prevention?’ I think the answer would have been, ‘No, we’re good, we’ve got it,’ ” said Bob Graham, vice president, HUB International Limited.

“But I think now everyone’s saying ‘Sure, yes, we’d like to hear something.’ ”

Leading the Conversation

As American workplaces come under increasing scrutiny, the time is ripe for a large-scale pivot in the way employers manage risks related to sexual harassment.

The co-chairs of the EEOC’s select task force on the study of harassment in the workplace expressed it aptly in 2016:

“With legal liability long ago established, with reputational harm from harassment well known, with an entire cottage industry of workplace compliance and training adopted and encouraged for 30 years, why does so much harassment persist and take place in so many of our workplaces? And, most important of all, what can be done to prevent it? After 30 years — is there something we’ve been missing?”

Experts in the management liability field unanimously told Risk & Insurance® these issues should be elevated to the board level and the C-suite.

“Just as cyber liability shifted rapidly from an IT discussion to a board level discussion, so too will the harassment and discrimination discussion go beyond HR and be elevated to the highest levels,” said Coppola. It will become a corporate-wide, enterprise-wide conversation.

“It’s going to take some time to get to that board level, but it’s going to have to happen,” said Paul King, national practice leader, management and professional services, USI Insurance Services.

“Risk management and HR cannot go down parallel paths, not understanding one another. Not anymore. There’s too much at stake.” — Paul King, national practice leader, management and professional services, USI Insurance Services

Risk managers, said Kelly Thoerig, U.S. employment practices liability coverage leader, Marsh, are well suited to lead this conversation, which means actively partnering with human resources, the legal department, the general counsel’s office and outside counsel.


“Just like the quarterback depends on the offensive line, on receivers, on the running backs, it’s not a one-man show,” said King. “This can’t be the risk manager operating in a vacuum; they have to be liaising with multiple parts of the organization.”

Added King, “Risk management and HR cannot go down parallel paths, not understanding one another. Not anymore. There’s too much at stake.”

Connecting with outside counsel can also be of great benefit to risk managers, said Coppola.

“[They can] provide a very independent objective view of what they see in the overall market and how their knowledge of the individual client’s best practices can be improved and enhanced to ensure that they are protecting employees and the organization.”

Brokers and carriers also may be able to offer insights and services. Unfortunately, that piece is often lost because risk management and HR are siloed.

“The [knowledge of the] services that come with the insurance policy end up with the policy — in a drawer in the risk manager’s office,” said Tom Hams, employment practice liability insurance leader, Aon.

“HR doesn’t know that they exist. Even if they’re just online blogs or something like that, they could be more meaningful to the HR department than they are to risk management.

“So it’s important to make sure that companies are aware they’ve got those tools and — more importantly — to share them internally.”

Expediting Cultural Change

The X factor that underpins every aspect of these efforts is culture, experts agreed.

“It’s not so much ‘does the company have best-in-class policies and procedures in place;’ I think many of them do. I think that a significant change needed is doing a full overhaul of corporate culture, and that’s no small feat,” said Gelot.

Paul King, national practice leader, management and professional services, USI Insurance Services

True culture change can only come from the top level. But that isn’t likely to happen unless everyone at the top understands what the scope of the exposure could be if it’s not addressed appropriately on the front end. And for that, money talks, said Thoerig, who will be presenting on the topic at RIMS 2018 in San Antonio.

“Nothing is more instructive than real tangible claims examples and settlement amounts. Arm yourself with … recent, relevant claims examples specific to the industry and the jurisdictions the company operates in.”

In addition, said King, HR and legal should be regularly feeding claims information to risk managers to share at quarterly meetings of the board and give specific updates around these issues.

Armed with that level of intelligence, top brass can set the goals that will drive all anti-harassment efforts, said experts, putting an emphasis on identifying and correcting behavior that could potentially expose a company to liability.

Better Training and Reporting 

The best anti-harassment programs are multilayered, said Hams, with each facet carefully tailored to suit the employee population, the industry and the organization’s goals. A clearly defined policy is essential, stating that harassment will not be tolerated and neither will retaliation against those who report it.

The policy should be clear that employees are expected to report harassment or unacceptable behavior. Hams said he’s seen companies go so far as to state employees who don’t speak up are in violation of the policy.

“At least it should give them pause to stop and think about what they might have seen before they click the button or sign the document,” he said.

Companies should consider how uncomfortable employees may be about speaking up. An open-door policy is a start.

But there should also be multiple reporting points throughout the organization, said Hams, and an anonymous hotline for those reluctant to bring the matter up with anyone in their chain of command, and a multilingual hotline as well.

An effective training plan will have multiple moving parts and should touch every level of the organization from the executive suite to managers and supervisors to the rank and file. Comprehensive training is especially critical for the managers and supervisors who might receive or investigate complaints.

Many large employers already have training programs that can be considered best-in-class. Small to midsized employers, however, may still be using the cookie-cutter compliance-centric training that has dominated the field for decades.

The goal of this training is to hit all the bases related to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, ticking off a list of acts or speech that would be considered illegal and affirming the company will not tolerate illegal behavior.

Overwhelmingly though, this type of training misses the mark. Studies have shown that this one-size-fits-all training is ineffective, especially when it’s a rote check-the-box exercise. Employees get the message their employer doesn’t take the subject too seriously.

Worse, it can even aggravate tensions, creating more discriminatory behavior from men who avoid working with women just to eliminate the chance of being accused of anything.

One study even found that men were more likely to place blame on the victim of sexual abuse after they’d received that type of anti-harassment training.

Even at best, compliance-centric training will still fail, because it only addresses behaviors that violate the law. But there is a broad array of behavior that — while not quite illegal — shouldn’t be tolerated.

When this kind of activity is allowed to flourish unchecked, the environment becomes increasingly toxic for those on the receiving end. It also tells employees that the company will tolerate harassment as long as it’s not overly egregious. In that case, it’s just a matter of time before the company is faced with a serious claim.

“Nothing is more instructive than real tangible claims examples and settlement amounts. Arm yourself with … recent, relevant claims examples specific to the industry and the jurisdictions the company operates in.” — Kelly Thoerig, U.S. employment practices liability coverage leader, Marsh

In its 2016 report, the EEOC’s harassment task force recommended changing tactics, exploring alternative training models such as respect-based civility training — what some call professionalism training.


The theory is “if you train them to act in a professional manner, these things tend not to happen at all,” said Hams.

The EEOC also suggested bystander intervention training, which is designed to empower employees to intervene when they witness harassing behavior.

Experts agreed whatever training programs or modules a company chooses, it’s important the training material reflect the workforce and be continuous and regularly refreshed.

A certification scheme also should be put in place to ensure the training is hitting the mark. While the law does not yet require companies to prove the effectiveness of their programs, some suggest it’s only a matter of time before the courts catch up to the problem.

What’s more, said Coppola, it’s simply the right thing to do for companies that want to confirm they’ve created a culture where all employees can expect to be treated professionally.

Zero Tolerance

Gelot and others believe a zero-tolerance policy should be a key component of an effective anti-harassment program.

“There are many companies that have Harvey Weinsteins and Matt Lauers and Kevin Spaceys working in their midst and those people are tolerated. Employees know about them — it’s not a secret.”

Bob Graham, vice president, HUB International Limited

Particularly when the harasser is a high-level executive, companies may wrestle with the decision to look the other way or lose a key rainmaker. In a zero-tolerance environment — one that starts at the top — the decision would be clear.

“What we saw with Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose — they were terminated immediately as the accusations came out. That’s zero tolerance. That’s sending a message to all of the employees within the company that this is completely unacceptable, we won’t tolerate it, and [it] clearly sends a message to the public at large.”

Employers should promote a workplace culture where all forms of harassment and discrimination are unacceptable and reportable, said Gelot. That’s the only way to take the fear and the stigma out of reporting.

That said, the EEOC offers a word of caution on zero-tolerance policies applied militantly without regard for common sense. Employers should hash out the specifics of which acts merit immediate termination versus a warning.

Overzealous application of the zero-tolerance doctrine can backfire if an employee fears her coworker’s children will go hungry if she reports his lewd or sexist jokes.

Creating a Dialogue

As with managing any other exposure that touches everyone, robust sharing of ideas and best practices has the power to improve the risk profile of entire industry sectors.

Facebook raised eyebrows in December, making public its sexual harassment policy in full.

“I hope in sharing it we will start a discussion, both to help smaller companies thinking about this for the first time, and to improve our own practices by learning from other companies,” wrote Lori Goler, Facebook’s global VP of people, about the company’s bold move.


That level of disclosure is making some risk professionals uncomfortable. But others acknowledge the wisdom of it.

“Any time you can share best practices that’s probably a great idea, because no one has all the answers … or at least not all the right answers,” said Graham.

“There’s a reason they did that, and I think it’s for all the right, positive reasons. They want to drive the momentum that is going to reduce or even eliminate what we have seen in corporate America over the last 50-plus years. They want to lead by example, they want to be the model and rightly so,” added Coppola.

“I think we are at a perfect time in our economic environment that allows the evolution of equality in our workplace.”

Part of that should involve making the workplace more egalitarian, said Gelot, and figuring out “how to make female employees not feel ostracized by a ‘boys’ club’ atmosphere, and actively championing the ascension of women into senior rolls.”

“We can’t focus on the past,” said Coppola. “But we can work very hard collectively as a community, and within the insurance industry specifically, to move forward.” &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]