Business Insurance recently named Kim Riley, President, Hylant–Cleveland, one of their 2020 Women to Watch. As someone who earlier in her career was a self-described introvert who couldn’t imagine herself in a leadership position, she has come a long way and is encouraging a whole new generation of women to do the same.
Q: Congratulations on being recognized as an outstanding leader in the field of commercial insurance and risk management. What does being named to this year’s list mean to you?
A: First, Hylant has had three women leaders recognized as part of Women to Watch. I’m so proud to work for an organization that is investing in women and to be among such amazing talent! Second, for me, it’s exciting to be recognized as a leader, especially in a historically male dominated field.
Q: How did your early career prepare you for leadership?
A: Thirty-five years ago, I never imagined I would be a leader, and for a long time, I thought my successes were accidents! I started in accounting for an insurance company; accounting is what I loved to do. But I soon discovered that there were many different career paths within the industry, and I took every opportunity to learn and grow my knowledge of insurance. One day, my boss invited me to participate in a recurring business meeting. I didn’t say anything during that first meeting, and afterwards, he asked me why I hadn’t said anything. Because nobody asked me to. He made it clear that he wouldn’t have invited me if he hadn’t wanted to hear my opinions! That moment was a revelation: I didn’t need permission. Later, while working on a structured settlement, I received a call from a company that wanted to interview me for a CEO position. I was astonished. After that, I started applying for positions in leadership roles and became president of an insurance agency. Today I remind women all the time to use their voice and to set their own career path.
Q: Having an encouraging mentor can be invaluable. What other lessons did you learn from your mentors?
A: One of the great mentors I had, the chairman of a large national retail chain, pushed me to have networking meetings two times a day, breakfast and lunch, every day. That was so hard for me at first. It really pushed me outside of my comfort zone. But doing this helped me build my brand. As president of an organization, it’s really important to be involved in the community and get to know people. There is an expectation—a perceived notion—that a leader’s personal brand is an extension of the organization they are leading. I also discovered that I really enjoyed building relationships with people in the community, even beyond business.
Q: Community involvement is a core value at Hylant. What role has that played for you personally?
A: Being part of the community fills a passion for me. I love engaging in the community, and I love being part of something bigger. Some of my most enjoyable community involvement moments have been the hands-on stuff, like working at the food bank or helping install smoke detectors with the Red Cross. I think being involved in the community really allows me to understand the challenges of our clients and prospects from a different perspective—a more holistic view, not just insurance needs. Being around other leaders and hearing about their challenges and successes also helps me in my journey to be a better leader.
Q: What advice do you give to young women starting their careers?
A: I suggest a few things. First, find and invest in your voice. It’s a great time to be a woman because people are listening. Build relationships that help you amplify your voice. Second, find what you love to do and create your own career path. Write your own career story. I think that insurance is a great place to do that! Third, start now. Set goals and hold yourself accountable for achieving them. Finally, have fun. We put so much pressure on ourselves as women. Surround yourself with women you trust to help you and who you can help in return.
Learn more about careers at Hylant here.