The 2020 Insurance Executives to Watch: Texas Mutual’s Jeanette Ward

For Texas Mutual's chief operating officer Jeanette Ward, success is found within the three C's: customers, consistency and collaboration.
By: | December 9, 2019

When the Texas State Legislature created Texas Mutual Insurance Company to solve a workers’ compensation crisis in 1991, Jeanette Ward didn’t know what workers’ compensation was.

That being said, she also never imagined that she would find a flourishing career in it.

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Her job at what eventually became Texas Mutual was supposed to be temporary, at least until she found her ‘real job.’

However, the  workers’ compensation industry in her home state at the time had other plans for her.

While working a part-time job in the Texas State Capitol to put herself through college, Ward was on the floor of the house chamber when they passed the legislation that created the Texas Workers’ Compensation Insurance Fund, now known as Texas Mutual Insurance Company. “I remember thinking, ‘What is workers’ comp and why are we here so late talking about it?’

A few short years later, she accepted a job as a receptionist at that company.

Now, more than 26 years later, as the chief operating officer of Texas Mutual Insurance Company, she finds herself in an unlikely professional position: Exactly where she started.

It Wasn’t All Luck

New careers are emerging every day. How many of the 2020 Insurance Executives to Watch do you think can say they found lasting success the first place they started? Here’s how she got there:

Ward began working part time for Texas Workers’ Compensation Insurance Fund as a way to put herself through college. After earning her Bachelor of Arts in Government from the University of Texas at Austin, Ward joined Texas Mutual full-time in 1993. Her desire to achieve professionally came with an obvious motivator: her young daughter.

Ward became a mother and a single parent at the age of seventeen. She was no stranger to overcoming adversity. Similarly, she was not the only one entering the Texas workers’ comp market in a unique position.

Born in response to skyrocketing workers’ comp rates and poor market capacity in the 1980’s, Texas Mutual had the upper hand in the market but held little historic foundation to create sustainable success, especially as the competition returned. Faced with a sink-or-swim mentality, Ward chose to swim.

“There were so many opportunities for growth because the company was growing,” said Ward of her early days with the company.

As a young parent and a young professional, Ward was also navigating the waters of a young company within which she was becoming more heavily relied upon. She credits her industry poise to her love of problem-solving and past exploration of all areas of the company.

“I ended up working all over the organization from a receptionist in the executive office to an executive assistant to the president to managing budget and planning and even corporate accounting. Eventually I became responsible for claim operations, marketing, underwriting, and then IT. I’ve seen every aspect of this insurance company and I think part of that is because I was able to see a problem and want to step in and help,” said Ward of her rounded experience.

Her exposure to all areas of the company and willingness to go the extra mile soon made her an invaluable business asset.

“When we were first formed, there were hardly any other carriers writing workers’ compensation in Texas; but, as soon as other carriers came in and started writing in Texas again, we lost significant share. In the mid 1990’s early 2000’s, we had to learn how to be a competitive insurance carrier whereas before we were operating as more of a startup. We had all the pains that you would have in a startup environment.”

While the company’s market position proved challenging in those early years, the experience eventually gave Ward a competitive edge as a leader. After holding the position of senior vice president of policyholder services, she was most recently appointed to chief operating officer in May 2018.

“The thing that I’m good at is solving problems so that has been the impetus behind a majority of the promotions I was able to get, because I was always willing to roll up my sleeves and help wherever I was needed.”

The Calm in the Storm

In her almost three decades with Texas Mutual Insurance Company, Ward has accomplished many things, including instating an entirely new claims handling system and emphasizing the need for Spanish-speaking employees to better communicate with injured workers.

“That was just something along the way that I thought was just critically important. We’ve now hired around twenty trainees out of college that are bilingual,” explained Ward.

A desire to collaborate was something that was not just conveyed to clients. Using the key strategies she learned in her deep-rooted history with the company, Ward has been able to translate her leadership values into the performance of her employees.

Recalling that an employee once called her, “the calm” within the storm, Ward clearly knows how to convey a proper attitude onto subordinates; but it’s her results that exemplify her knowledge of leadership and business.

The secret? If you put the customer first, it will translate into results.

“At 43% of the market, we are the market leaders and we want to remain that way. We do that by doing the basics well; executing on good claims practices, good underwriting, and following the three ‘C’s’. We understand what our customers want and we make the proper investments.”

The Three C’s

According to Ward, the three C’s to success are simple:

The customer comes first, customers like consistency, and consistency comes from collaboration. “We have to always put the customer at the heart of everything we do. We have to collaborate in order to serve them, so that they’re having the most consistent and positive experience at Texas Mutual that they possibly can.”

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In the wake of the workers’ comp crisis of the 80’s, rates have declined significantly and workers’ compensation insurance is affordable again, but Texas Mutual has continued to dominate the market, even when the competition regained its footing.

A company veteran now at the height of her career, Ward found success at a young age and is using that as a motivator to continuously serve her customers, her employees, and her community.

“Competition is fierce, so we want to make sure we maintain that market leader status.”

With so many factors and focuses, preserving the integrity of the workers’ comp system is the number one priority. The goal has always been to help millions of Texas workers get home safely, especially the 1.5 million that rely on Texas Mutual.

“We think it’s fair to all stakeholders,” said Ward of the professional environment that she had a hand in creating.

“The Texas workers’ compensation system supports employers and injured workers and we want to maintain the integrity of a system that we think works really well.” &


 

For the full list of Insurance Executives to Watch in 2020, click here.

Emily Spennato is a former staff writer with Risk & Insurance.

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