The corporate ladder is more like a jungle gym, she says
When Danielle Larsen (pictured) envisions her career, she doesn’t think about climbing the corporate ladder.
Though she has worked her way up to become head of North America underwriting services at Everest Insurance, Larsen’s journey was far from perfectly linear or vertical.
“Growth should really be like a jungle gym,” she said. “You’re up and down, sideways, and back. I know we call it the corporate ladder, but that’s how it works. Nowadays, the strength in your experience comes from breadth. There should be a balance between breadth and depth.”
The annual conference gathers some of the best and brightest in insurance and will host talks on industry topics such as market trends, battling fatigue, inclusivity in the workplace, and skills development.
Thriving outside her comfort zone
Larsen got her breadth of experience by living and working in four different countries – Brazil, India, Mexico, and Slovakia – for Swiss Re before landing her role at Everest.
“It was just always my plan,” she said of working in multiple countries. “My desire was always to live abroad and learn about different people and cultures, not from visiting but through living and adapting. I wanted to push myself completely out of my comfort zone.
One of the most memorable lessons Larsen picked up during her multi-country stint was that learning comes from the unexpected.
“Being open to learning about what may not be on your radar, and learning about yourself, is important,” she said.
While in India, Larsen was surprised to learn that waiting in line wasn’t part of social practice.
“It seems like such a normal thing in Western cultures. But in India, no-one would get in line and wait for their turn. You’re literally waiting for an elevator and elbowing by people to get in,” she recalled. “That’s a good example of how things will be different in a way you never expect them to be.”
This brand of adaptability is something that Larsen found handy as she navigated vastly different work environments.
“You need to be aware of the feeling that you’re probably experiencing something different,” she continued. “It is going to feel uncomfortable. That is what must happen, and you just need to lean into it.”
Playing the long-term game
Speaking to Insurance Business ahead of Women in Insurance New York, Larsen revealed that moving to Everest from Swiss Re, where she had been managing more than 200 individuals, was initially a lateral move for her career.
But she said she embraced the opportunity to learn about a different part of the industry, and to dive into a key market.
“I was thinking of the long-term game,” said Larsen. “Looking at the short-term and immediate wins can be short-sighted. Earlier in my career, someone said to think about your next role and how it’s setting you up for the role after that. That’s what I like to think about: not the next step, but the step that that leads to.
“I knew I wanted to go to a carrier. I knew I wanted to come and learn more about the US market. I don’t have that on my resume; I need to learn that.
“But what I do know is how to work in operations and process and project management, how to lead teams and structure people. I was realistic about that because the trade-off was getting closer to the business and learning a lot faster.”
Transferrable skills and finding the right organization
The move paid off. Within 15 months at Everest Insurance, Larsen was promoted to lead North America underwriting operations. She’s also been recognized in Insurance Business America’s 2023 Hot 100 list.
For Larsen, taking roles that “broaden your breadth” is a powerful way to upskill. But so is picking the right organization.
“When you’re taking roles that broaden your breadth, where you’re bringing your skills but you’re also needing to learn something, I think the most important thing is finding an organization that’s going to match that,” she said. “There are organizations that are better at understanding transferable skills, at seeing high-performing talent and investing in them.
“I’m thankful Everest was what I thought it was going to be. It’s an excellent organization, and they were quick to recognize [my skills] and act. It could easily have happened in another company and not been the case.”
Register for the Women in Insurance New York Summit and join the conversation. The annual conference, which celebrates the achievements of women in insurance, takes place on September 21, 2023.
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