County of Kent Risk Manager Stephanie Lee Shares Her Journey to Risk Management, the Top Concerns for the Industry and More
R&I: What was your first job?
My first job was when I was, oh, probably 9 or 10 and it was babysitting for the next-door neighbor, their little baby boy, so that was my first job. And then from there I was a waitress, a cashier and then fell into the insurance industry.
R&I: How did you come to your current position?
Well, out of college I worked for Foremost Insurance company in a clerical role. And I had that job for about two and a half months and thought, “I didn’t go to college to write someone else’s report. Somebody should be writing mine.”
And I left Foremost Insurance and went to American States Insurance Company as a personal lines underwriter, so that was truly my first introduction into the insurance industry. And I fell into that because a classmate from college worked at American States and told me that they were looking for another person for the personal lines underwriting department, and I interviewed and was hired for that job.
From American States, I went to Citizens Insurance company as a personal lines underwriter. When the powers that be decided to move the personal lines division to their location in Howell, Michigan, I chose not to transfer and was a lady of leisure for several months, and I thoroughly enjoyed that.
And then I saw a job posting in the newspaper for Kent County. There were two positions that were in the paper. One was for an insurance and claims analyst, and the other was for a risk coordinator.
During my time of being a lady of leisure, I went to one job fair and was fortunate to have met the Kent County human resources employment manager. I interviewed for the insurance and claims analyst and was hired for that position. I started January of 2000 with the County and then I eventually transitioned to being the risk manager.
At first there was no risk manager position for Kent County, so in a sense, the position was created for me. And I’ve been the only person to maintain that position. That was a big win for me, being female and African American, that a position of that nature was created for me.
R&I: What’s been the biggest change in risk management and the insurance industry since you’ve been in it?
Automation I would think would be the biggest change. I would definitely say automation and the various types of insurance that have come up, as I’ve been in this industry. The various insurances that have come out of nowhere, again like cyber insurance. That’s been a huge change within the industry.
And of course, being in this hard market that we’ve been in for a few years, that’s been a big change as well, and an unexpected change. I believe this is the first hard market that I’ve experienced, given my career in the industry, and so that’s a big thing.
R&I: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career?
The biggest challenge that I face — and I would have to say I face this challenge on a daily basis — I am a one-person division. So it’s just me handling the risk management program for Kent County. I know that certainly is not unique, but it is definitely challenging because of all the programs that I have to administer, all the hats that I need to wear.
R&I: Who has been your mentor(s) and why?
I really have not had a mentor. I’ve always wanted one, especially early on in my career. Unfortunately I’ve not found a mentor. I never found a mentor. Whenever I would go to conferences or seminars, I would always look at all the attendees and think, ‘Gosh, am I going to find a mentor at this time?’ And it has just never really happened.
R&I: What is the risk management community doing right?
I think they are putting out a lot of communication about the hard market and why that’s happening. I think the risk management community does a good job of publicizing what the current insurance trends are, risk management trends, and making sure that all those that are involved in the risk management field receive the knowledge that they need, and the education and the tools that they need.
R&I: How would you say technology has impacted the risk management profession?
I would say that technology has really grown. I think the technology that is out there has really brought the risk management community together so that we all, as one, can definitely communicate with one another as needs arise that you need some help with. You can reach out to your peers for help through message boards such as on PRIMA.
R&I: What do you think the top concerns will be for public sector risk managers in 2022?
I would have to say any continuation of this hard market and trying to place lines of coverage for the public sector. Renewals have been very challenging for the last few years, with premiums continuing to increase and insurance rates increasing. It’s just really difficult. So I think the continuation of the hard market will continue to be a huge challenge. I know that has been a huge challenge for Kent County lines of insurance.
R&I: What’s your favorite book or movie?
I like to read whodunit murder mysteries, and I can never solve them. I’m always surprised at the end, on who the murderer is or was, so that’s always surprising. Now on the flip side of that, for movies, I do not like murder mystery movies. I don’t like thrillers. Now, I can read about them, but I don’t like to watch them because I’m too scared.
R&I: What is your favorite drink?
I typically like sweet drinks. Bonefish has a wonderful, delicious pomegranate martini that I absolutely love. And that’s the only place that I will order a pomegranate martini, so I do enjoy that.
R&I: What have you accomplished that you are proudest of?
I’m most proud of, and what I’ve accomplished, is, of course, being a wife and a mother. Those are my biggest accomplishments. I feel like work is work, and whatever your job, you do your job to the best of your abilities.
R&I: What is the riskiest activity you’ve ever engaged in?
I don’t go ballooning, or bungee jumping, or anything like that. I’m pretty low key. I keep both feet on the ground. I’m a good time, but I’m a safe good time. &