What Gives the 2023 Rising Stars Their Superpowers? Hint: It’s Their Humanity
When the Power Broker winners and finalists are announced each year, we read story upon story of brokers’ remarkable feats in helping a wide range of organizations — from nonprofits to motion picture production companies — manage their risks in the best way possible.
Even their clients wonder how these brokers do what they do. It’s common to hear a client express that their broker made them feel as though theirs was the only account the broker was working on.
That’s what it’s like to partner with Rising Stars like Karen Frany, 37, managing director at Brown & Brown Risk Solutions. To deliver the best customer service, Frany roots her approach in what she sees as a fundamental pillar of broking: “Client service is the lifeblood of a professional services firm — period.
“Once my clients understand how much I care and respect their needs, then the relationship just naturally flourishes,” said Frany, a 2023 Hospitality Power Broker winner.
Cameron Lock, 32, AVP and P&C account executive at Newfront in New York, said the joy he finds in engaging with people and his affinity for solving puzzles are two cornerstones of his ability to deliver results for clients.
“I’m just an insurance broker; I’m not saving the world,” Lock said modestly, though his prowess earned him a 2023 Finance Power Broker win. “But some of the clients that we’re working with could potentially alter the world, or at least change the way we run our lives.”
Lock works primarily with FinTech companies recognized for their steady pursuit of innovation, and he relishes the behind-the-scenes process of finding ways to help them safeguard their operations.
“It’s a puzzle, so I get to figure that out,” he said, appreciating his part in the bigger picture. “It’s nice for me to be able to have a little piece of that.”
The Value of Teamwork
As Risk & Insurance got to know several of this year’s Rising Stars, we heard a resounding emphasis from them on the importance of teamwork. They graciously recognize that their ability to successfully support clients is largely due to the cohesion and synergy of their teams.
When Sarah Palmer, 36, senior director in the life science practice and area assistant vice president at Gallagher, organizes a plan for clients, she does so from a teamwide implementation perspective. She makes sure her specific engagement with the account is concentrated in the area where she can provide the most value.
“I’m a person in addition to a professional, both with the people who I work with internally and with my clients. So I feel like work-life balance is super important.” — Sarah Palmer, 36, senior director in the life science practice and area assistant vice president at Gallagher, and a 2023 Power Broker winner in the Pharmaceuticals category
“That area tends to be providing the consultative advice, the problem-solving, and then laying out a plan and getting the client and our team on the same page to execute and follow through on those plans,” said this 2023 Pharmaceuticals Power Broker.
When Derrick Wong, 37, employee benefits practice leader at Risk Cooperative in Washington, D.C., joined his team, one of the cofounders told him, “This isn’t just a brokerage firm; this is a movement.” And it’s the firm’s emphasis on collaboration that catalyzed his decision to join the cooperative in 2019.
Being part of a team of thought-leading brokers and risk managers, Wong said, is what maximizes his ability to develop and create efficient risk management solutions tailored to his clients’ domestic and global needs.
“Developing unique and innovative ways to help companies manage their benefit offerings is a creative process that I genuinely appreciate,” he added. It’s this that earned him a 2023 Employee Benefits Power Broker win.
For Frany, the strength of her team’s ability to provide optimal executive liability solutions hinges upon how fully they understand what each client’s motivations are first. From this position, they can cultivate trust with their clients and ensure that “[our] team is one less variable that they need to worry about.”
Rising Stars also pull through for clients because they see themselves as an extension of their clients’ teams. With clients who need coverage for everything from exotic animals in music videos to drones that fly into nuclear power plants for ads, Abby Flaherty, 30, senior account manager at Risk Strategies, aims to be a team player by engaging with her clients on a personal level and encouraging casual correspondence.
“Entertainment clients often do not operate within the typical 9-to-5 workday and are wearing many different hats to get production up and running,” shared this 2023 Entertainment Power Broker winner. “Oftentimes, details are changing last-minute, with adjustments happening on set in real time. If a text is the only way a client is able to reach out, so be it.
“I do my best to create an open line of communication so the client knows I’m there for them and their business.”
On Work-Life Balance
For as much as Flaherty makes herself available to clients, her personal life is just as important: “I moved out to Boulder, Colorado, from New York City just before the pandemic, so [I] have been on a remote basis since then.
“I love that I’m able to access the outdoors in my personal life while still working for a fast-paced New York brokerage in my professional life.”
Working from home has benefited Frany as well. Her firm’s open-communication culture helped her really hit her stride, she said, when working remotely from her home in Albany, New York, became the norm.
“While the bar is set high for excellence within our practice, my managers’ collective willingness to empathize and support me and my team members’ work- and home-life situation allows us to really be the best version of ourselves when we are working.”
“I’m just an insurance broker; I’m not saving the world. But some of the clients that we’re working with could potentially alter the world.” — Cameron Lock, 32, AVP and P&C account executive with Newfront in New York and a 2023 Power Broker winner in the Finance category
Palmer has embraced more of a hybrid arrangement, dedicating a significant part of each week to in-real-life time with her colleagues, clients and carrier partners. But working from home has given her the space to do immersive work and model a strong work ethic for her daughter.
“There’s a lot of value to being able to connect personally with carrier partners and team members, but having the ability and the flexibility to be deeply focused on projects or problem-solving [from my home office] has been really valuable for me,” she said.
When it comes to her family, Palmer added, “I strive to be a good example for my daughter of the value of working hard, and to also be really present in my family and personal relationships.”
Upholding this value, Palmer said, makes her a better insurance professional because it means she can relate on a more personal level and be more genuine: “I’m a person in addition to a professional, both with the people who I work with internally and with my clients. So I feel like work-life balance is super important.”
Lock admits that, even though he is perhaps a bit too diligent about keeping his inbox clear, Newfront’s leadership does a great job of encouraging him and his colleagues to uphold their company ethos: Work, love, play.
“We’re all human, so I think we just need to have the right balance,” he said.
Paving the Way for Successors
Most of these Rising Stars have been in the industry for somewhere around a decade, which may not seem like a long time given how common it is to meet “insurance veterans” with lengthy tenures.
But having started their careers near the beginning of the Great Recession of 2008, as Wong, Palmer and Frany did, and having weathered the volatility of a global pandemic, these Rising Stars are well-seasoned in their own right.
None of them are resting on their laurels, however. As they each continue to refine their expertise and hone their craft, they’re also paving the way for their successors.
“[I’m] forever grateful for the opportunities I was able to develop here [at Brown & Brown], from a junior broker … to my current role as managing director within our executive liability practice,” Frany said, reflecting on how she arrived at her new quarterback position in the firm.
Among her new responsibilities as managing director: Frany has been entrusted with training and developing the firm’s risk analysts.
“My favorite part of what I do every day is being able to check in with my team … and [I] feel supported by the executive leadership to guide our company’s next generation of brokers. It’s a testament to where I’ve grown professionally, and I take the responsibility very seriously,” she said.
Each Rising Star also mentioned how having a mentor (or several) has helped them advance at each phase of their career, so they’re paying it forward with advice for the next wave of brokerage talent.
Thinking about the upcoming members of Risk Cooperative’s movement, Wong outlined four professional development suggestions: Set goals, network, collaborate and discuss your aspirations with a mentor.
“Don’t be afraid to discuss career aspirations and professional development opportunities with a manager or mentor. These individuals are leaders for a reason, and their vast experience and knowledge within the insurance industry are tools that are readily available for career development,” he said.
Lock echoed the sentiment: “Learn from someone who’s had a successful career in [insurance].” It’s not about following their exact steps, he added, “but a mentor can help you find the building blocks and figure out how to build your career.”
Many brokerages, especially large ones, have an abundance of talented people streaming in and a plethora of opportunities. It can be tough for new brokers to know which direction to take and how to position themselves for advancement within the organization.
When Palmer stepped into her first producer role at Gallagher, she knew the first few years would be hard. “Coming in, I read a statistic — 80% of new producers fail within the first three years.” She vowed to beat the odds.
“I was going to find a way to use the resources around me to succeed,” she said, “and Gallagher has been a good place for me to do that.”
Her mentors wisely counseled her to be genuine with what she was bringing to the table, and that it was okay to not be the smartest person in the room. “But it is important to know where to go to get help,” she remembers them saying.
“And when you go to get that help to solve the problem for the client, learn from that opportunity.”
For brokers entering the field, Palmer shares similar advice: “Know where to find answers, have mentors that can guide you through problem-solving the challenges that come up on a daily basis, and ask for feedback from the people that you’re working with on all sides — the internal side, the customer side and the carrier side.
“[This] will really help you identify the areas where you need to work.” &
The 2023 Rising Stars