The Awards Afterparty
Get to know CLM’s 2017 professionals of the year.
By Phil Gusman
CLM’s membership has recognized all of our professionals of the year as effective leaders dedicated to their roles in the claims industry. Get to know the three award winners better and see what drives them toward success.
Claims Management Professional of the Year
Senior Claims Examiner
Markel Service Inc.
Defining Leadership by Action, Rather Than by Title
Lisa Unger used to run marathons. When she was forced to stop because of injury, she didn’t use that as an excuse to sit back; she decided to climb mountains instead.
“Being stagnant doesn’t work for me,” she says. “The bigger the mountain, the better the challenge. That echoes in all aspects of my life.”
In her professional life, it means leading by action rather than by title. Unger says there were opportunities to rise up through the ranks of management, “but I prefer to be where the action is. I like getting my hands dirty.”
For its part, Markel has encouraged Unger to pursue challenges in roles that best suit her passions. “In addition to handling the EPL matters that I do now,” says Unger, “Markel has afforded me the opportunity to be West region mediation specialist. For the past several years, I have been attending all sorts of mediations and mandatory settlement conferences for different lines of business, handling all different claims for different divisions in the West region.”
This has allowed Unger to become a recognized leader in the industry without traveling down the traditional management road. “People identify title with leadership, and I don’t think that’s necessarily true,” she says. “I think being successful is finding what you’re passionate about.”
That, and putting in the work. “Nothing is a gift,” she says. “There’s no sense of entitlement. You work for everything you get. And when you work for it and earn it, there’s a feeling of pride.”
And that is the example Unger sets: Find your passion, work hard and honestly, and success is sure to follow.
Litigation Professional of the Year
Vice President and Head of Claims
Knight Insurance Group
The Noble Pursuit of Insurance
Caryn Siebert’s passion for her job stems from a strong appreciation for what insurance professionals do every day, and her deep respect for the industry’s mission.
“I wonder sometimes how many people grow up saying, ‘I can’t wait to become an insurance professional so that 80 percent of the time when the phone rings, somebody on the other side is in distress, or yelling at me to try and get my team to pay them money for something I didn’t cause,’” says Siebert.
“But I am here,” she adds, “and my teams are here, to help restore some semblance of order to their lives, because they have had something happen to them. What we do, day in and day out, is never easy, but I think our industry is truly noble. You can finish each day knowing that you have helped people.”
Siebert speaks with a sense of fascination about how ingrained insurance is in everyday life: “You go to a sporting event, a concert, dinner with friends, or just to the office. You don’t even think about how there is insurance for the parking lot, for the arena, the food, the cars and trucks on the freeway, and indemnity and hold-harmless provisions between parties. You are there as a spectator to enjoy yourself, or as a patron, or just heading out for your day or evening. But if something goes wrong, all the people in this profession are there to jump in.”
She adds, “To me, that’s part of who I am and why I do it. It’s not just a job, but a worthwhile career, and something out of which I garner a lot of satisfaction, especially when I work with great colleagues.”
Outside Counsel Professional of the Year
Managing Attorney, Tennessee Office
Carlock, Copeland, and Stair
The Importance of Education, Training, and a New Generation
Angela Kopet is both a student and a teacher.
“I am a huge believer in the education of people in the industry,” she says. “From my standpoint, I’m always learning. I can always take something away from any class I attend at CLM.”
And she’s more than happy to give back to the claims community: “I’ve worked very hard within CLM to do a lot of training, and to be part of the education committees as well as being a faculty member at Claims College.”
Kopet remains impressed by how eager claims professionals are to learn from and participate in the classes they take. “They are not there because they have to be, but because they want to learn, and excel in the work they are doing,” she observes.
She sees that same eagerness in the next wave of claims professionals, but says integrating the millennial generation may well be one of the industry’s greatest challenges. “Millennials have a different viewpoint,” says Kopet. “And that’s not necessarily bad.” She believes the industry, in fact, can greatly benefit from this alternative viewpoint if it can manage to overcome millennials’ unorthodox work habits.
Kopet works closely with a millennial in her office, and using her own experience as an example, she says, “We view things differently, but we’ve been able to work together. He’s been very interested in what I have to say, but I’m also interested in what he has to say, because bringing ideas together has allowed us to come up with solutions that I couldn’t get to on my own, and I assume he couldn’t get to on his own. It’s been successful for us.”
Kopet also speaks about the need to keep up with technology and the rapidly evolving insurance landscape. Succeeding in the claims world of tomorrow will take a continued focus on education and training, and the fresh ideas of a new generation of claims professionals.
CLM’s Professionals of the Year Discuss Their Big Night at the Annual Conference
What was it like to hear your name called at the annual conference and to receive your reward on stage at the Grand Ole Opry?
Caryn Siebert: When you’re sitting there in the audience and you hear the names being read—and then you hear that it’s your name called as the winner—it’s a great feeling to know that you received the recognition from your peers, from your business partners, and from others in the industry who nominated you through the CLM process.
It was my mom’s 80th birthday this year, so I couldn’t have thought of a better gift to give her than having her in the audience with me. And getting up there on the stage at the Grand Ole Opry was just an amazing experience.
Lisa Unger: This honor means more to me than the standard yearly review with a raise or a bonus with my company, because what it says to me is, “You’ve earned the respect from the people in your industry. You have earned their trust.” It’s not only humbling, but also it’s a great sense of accomplishment.
It was epic to hear my name called. I was nervous. I don’t like losing. You never wake up and say, “This is a great day to lose.” You want to win.
Angela Kopet: It was interesting to be in my home state during an annual conference. Actually taking the stage in Tennessee—in a state where I’m licensed and practice—and winning the award was amazing. I couldn’t have asked for a better place for it to occur.
All three Professionals of the Year award winners this year are women. What does that mean to you, and do you think it has any broader significance as far as where this industry is heading?
Siebert: There were some terrific candidates—male and female—most of whom I’ve known over the years and have been on panels with regarding diversity, whether it was gender, racial, or sexual orientation. I think this year just happened to be the one when three women won. CLM definitely encourages diversity in participation and recognizes that the industry has changed over the years.
Unger: It wasn’t just Angela, Karen, and me who won, but also [Cunningham Lindsey CEO Jane Tutoki, winner of CLM’s Lifetime Achievement Award] who was recognized. So, it was not just a trifecta, but a trifecta-plus-one. It was inspiring to be part of a group of such accomplished women.
Ironically, the next day, the panel of CEOs who spoke at the first morning session consisted of all white males, and they even made a joke about that, so I think there are still some stereotypes that might stand true at the upper levels. But the message that I see is that women are becoming significant players in the industry. I don’t think the scale is balanced between men and women currently at the highest levels, but there’s no reason why that ceiling can’t be exceeded.
Kopet: I don’t know if there’s any significance to it or not. It was commented on quite a bit, and I thought it was very interesting that the award winners were all women. I think statistics show it is a heavily male-dominated industry, so it is encouraging to see strong women coming up through the ranks as managers and leaders within the industry. I think that only allows for different viewpoints and different thoughts, and makes businesses stronger.
How do you plan to stay active and involved with CLM?
Siebert: It’s been great to see CLM grow and expand and continue to change to address the needs of an evolving industry and a growing membership base. I’m still involved with CLM through Claims College, where I’m going to be an instructor this year, and then through the different subcommittees, writing articles with other members and fellows, and as a speaker at the regional and national conferences. Finally, I’m mentoring others and getting them involved in CLM.
Unger: I’m the president of CLM’s Los Angeles Chapter, so I’m involved in all of our networking, training, and education opportunities on the local level. As my connections grew and my leadership strengths were identified, the opportunity to become involved with the ADR Committee presented itself, and I am now the chair of the national ADR Committee. I’m also one of the co-chairs of the EPL Committee. I am teaching at Claims College’s School of Mediation for the second consecutive year as well as serving on the executive council for CLM’s new School of Leadership. I have spoken and will continue to speak at a number of different CLM conferences, and I’ve been asked to become more instrumental with women’s networking to enhance participation and meaningful networking.
Kopet: I have a lot of speaking engagements, and go to a lot of conferences. I am involved with Claims College, and I just changed schools. Previously, I taught in the School of Property and the School of Casualty; this year I’ll be speaking in the School of Casualty and School of Leadership, so that will be a big change. It’s exciting for me to be part of that new school.