Appreciate your expertise but be willing to learn from anyone. It’s fun to have all the answers but it’s also limiting. Every member of your team provides a unique perspective — whether from life experience, career experience, education or their own personal approach — that can benefit you and your business. An open mind and the humility necessary to be taught by others offers untold growth potential.
For my series on strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Pat Renzi. Pat is a principal with the Life Technology Solutions practice of Milliman and functions as its CEO. Life Technology Solutions provides products and services related to financial and risk reporting and projections, including IntegrateTM, MG-ALFA®, and MG-Triton®. Pat, who joined the firm in 1999, was elected to the firm’s board of directors in 2015.
Thank you for joining us Pat! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to your specific career path?
In college I was a math major, though at the time I wasn’t entirely sure what I would do with the degree. I took a part time job with Geico Insurance in their finance department while I was pursuing a masters in statistics. By happenstance I was approached by an individual within the company who asked if I had ever considered becoming an actuary. I didn’t know what an actuary did at that time, nor did I know the man was putting together Geico’s Life Insurance team. I decided to take a chance and try something new and it led me to a thriving career in actuarial systems in the insurance industry.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
The Life Technology Solutions practice at Milliman was operating as a small, 15 person team focused on shrink-wrapped software solutions for companies in need of actuarial solutions. Somewhat out of the blue we were approached by The Phoenix Group, one of the largest providers of insurance solutions in the United Kingdom, after they had read an article showing that our small, niche software was compatible with IBM’s grid. Phoenix was interested in seeing if we could offer them a solution to fit their needs. This was surprising on a number of levels, most particularly that Phoenix already worked with the largest actuarial software providers in the UK market and we had no software presence in the UK.
While we debated whether the time and resources required to bid on the project made sense for our small team, in the end our natural curiosity and desire to thoughtfully expand our offering led us to an initial meeting, which turned into a proposal and then blossomed into a long standing relationship that fundamentally changed the course of our business. It started by recognizing that our cultures aligned — particularly that we each had bold assertions to be the best in the world in our respective fields — and continued because of a symbiotic desire to collaborate and create the right tools and the right experiences that could be tailored to the unique needs of The Phoenix Group. More importantly, our team went into the relationship with a ‘listening’ rather than a ‘telling’ mentality — we heard what the client wanted rather than telling them what they needed.
As a result of that very unexpected engagement that we easily could have turned down for lack of resources, today our team of 15 has grown to over 120, our business is now based around the flagship, end-to-end enterprise solution we created called Integrate, and we continue to partner with Phoenix to deliver cutting-edge solutions to the insurance industry.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
There have been plenty of ‘fluke moments’ that turned out to be quite fortuitous, such as landing a job as an actuarial student even before I knew what an actuary did. I look back on that experience now and realize that, had I not been willing to jump into the unknown, I would have missed out on a very rewarding career.
Another example is that in my previous story of working with The Phoenix Group our team was asked to map costs to our proposal. Absolute neophytes in pricing models of this scale, our team came up with what we thought was a reasonable amount. Looking back, I recall how we worried it might be too much — it was certainly more than any other project we had worked on to that point.
After nervously sharing the number with Phoenix, the CFO came back and told us point-blank it wasn’t high enough. He knew at the time what I didn’t: that until we agreed on a price that was fair for both parties, we wouldn’t be able to invest the longevity, time and resources required to produce what they needed. When we settled on the final price it was more than 3x our original offer! But that experience demonstrated the importance of working with partners who value what you bring to the table and can recognize that all parties involved need to be compensated fairly in order to produce the best results.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our team has built a culture of curiosity. As a leader of a group of 120 individuals, I have recognized that I can (and do!) learn from anyone. Every member of our team offers value and insight that is unique to their own experiences and expertise.
The nature of our business allows us to work with a wide range of clients — everyone from early adopters and risk takers, to more middle-of-the-road companies who are looking to us to help them manage their current needs without driving them too far forward too fast. In order to meet the various needs of these clients it’s critical that we choose to listen rather than tell. This takes a level of humility that isn’t always valued in business — it feels natural to want to go to clients and present yourself as the ‘expert’ in your field. The reality is that we do own a level of expertise, but that expertise is only as valuable as our willingness to adapt and grow with our clients.
This mentality has proven incredibly useful for our company and has contributed directly to our ongoing growth, as we continue to engage with clients and present new ideas that not only help their business, but also build out our own product offering.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Our mission as part of the Life Technology Solutions practice at Milliman is to provide solutions to insurance actuaries that free up their time by automating or improving the mundane reporting and modeling tasks on their plate. We’ve been quite successful at achieving this goal and have given the actuarial world the precious gift of time. In the age of Big Data, however, we have the opportunity to create value with that time by providing actuaries the tools they need to be leaders in their organizations and drive strategic decisions. Using our platform, which has access to valuable repositories of data, our next step is to help actuaries mine that data to better understand their customers and their business.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Early in my career I felt that if I was going to be successful and climb the corporate ladder I was going to need to behave like all of the other executives I saw. This was particularly hard for me as it went against my very nature. Overtime I realized how stressful this was and, more importantly, how others do not react well to it. I needed to interact with my colleagues in ways that felt comfortable and natural to me.
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned over the years is simply to be myself. As a leader, when you can be yourself you subtly give permission to the rest of your team to also be themselves, and that’s really what you want. When team members feel comfortable they are more open and honest. It breeds trust and collaboration and — ultimately — results in getting the best from every individual.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
I believe one of the biggest challenges for leaders — male or female — is entrusting the people you work with and empowering them with the space and resources necessary to achieve the company’s goals. This may be easy when your team is small, but as it grows it becomes even more important to have faith in those you work with and empower them to make decisions. Growing with your team means accepting that you can’t always have a say in every decision made — trusting in your team may require relinquishing control, but ultimately it allows the work to move forward unimpeded.
It’s also critical to let go of an assumption of perfection — leading an organization or a team means mistakes are going to happen, whether at your hands or the hands of someone else. Remember mistakes are a valuable — and inevitable — part of the process, and some of the best learning and growth comes from overcoming a mistake or challenge. Trusting others that they can also learn from mistakes helps free you of the burden of trying to control every outcome.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I have been lucky in my career and have had a lot of smart, talented people who have trusted me and given me good advice in different ways. One person, Dennis Stanley, led the MG-ALFA team at Milliman before it became the Life Technology Solutions practice. Dennis brought me in specifically to be his successor, but we worked together side by side for 15 years before he retired and turned full leadership over to me.
Dennis is a technical genius but he recognized his own limitations in managing people, clients and the day-to-day side of things. He shared great insights over the years and perhaps most valuable, he taught me to trust myself through the fact that he trusted me. This was an incredibly important lesson because it gave me the freedom to take bigger risks and opened the door to opportunities I might otherwise not have had.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
The success I’ve experienced at Milliman led to an election to the Board of Directors. Today I’m chair of the Board committee on corporate social responsibility and diversity and inclusion, an opportunity that allows me to use my time and influence to do good in the world.
One example is through one of the other businesses at Milliman, the MicroInsurance Centre, an initiative to bring insurance to the underdeveloped world. The poorest people around the world suffer the most when something catastrophic happens. Having a safeguard in place, such as insurance in the event of unforeseen circumstances, can help provide stability against things like crop failure or drought, allowing farmers to weather a bad season and prepare for the next.
Another initiative we work with is Math Motivators, a program that allows us to go into local schools to tutor math and, along the way, expose students to careers in math if there is interest. We provide monetary donations to Math Motivators but we also donate our time and talents to help encourage financial literacy.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1) Recognize when fortune is smiling down upon you.
Believe it or not, this happens to all of us but the biggest hurdle is recognizing it. It can be argued that I stumbled into my career choice, but the reality is that an opportunity came unexpectedly my direction and I had to have the courage and foresight to say yes. When an opportunity to branch out our business and product offering was presented to my small team of 15 individuals, rather than rationalize our way out of it we decided to jump in with both feet, and it led to greater growth and opportunity than we could have imagined.
2) Appreciate your expertise but be willing to learn from anyone.
It’s fun to have all the answers but it’s also limiting. Every member of your team provides a unique perspective — whether from life experience, career experience, education or their own personal approach — that can benefit you and your business. An open mind and the humility necessary to be taught by others offers untold growth potential.
3) Trust others around you.
Feeling that your boss or leaders trust you is an incredibly empowering experience. It offers freedom to experiment and opens the door to growth. Extend that trust to those around you and free yourself of the burden to control every outcome. It often means taking a step outside of the spotlight, but seeing others shine is often more rewarding. Additionally, it also allows you to focus on those areas where you can provide the most value.
4) Focus your efforts on what yields the most value
As a leader of a team or an organization it is easy to slip into a mindset where you focus primarily on those areas where you are most comfortable or are assured of your own level of expertise and experience. This may not be the place where you add the most value however. It’s imperative you step outside of your own comfort zone and lend your time and energy to those tasks that will bring the most value to your team and the organization.
5) Rely on your instincts.
In a data-centric world it can be easy to get caught up in the numbers or the data or some other measurable ‘fact.’ These are valuable tools, but to be truly agile and successful you have to be confident to make quick decisions based on your gut. If you’ve done the hard work in other areas, your instincts will rarely steer you wrong. As important as it is to trust those around you, it’s just as important to trust in yourself.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I feel very passionate about the role of diversity — not just gender or cultural diversity, but diversity of thinking and perspective. I find that both in business and in the world around us we tend to be hierarchical and tied into stereotypes, whether conscious or not, that dictate an individual (including ourselves) must operate within a certain box. This has such a limiting effect on our thinking, and puts us in a position of digging our heels in about what we know and refusing to allow our minds to be influenced or changed.
Carol Dweck wrote a fascinating book called Mindset, where she emphasizes our need as a society to move from a ‘know it all’ culture to a ‘learn it all’ culture. I’d like to adopt this strategy within my own sphere of influence — starting with my family and working my way out to my team, my company and the world.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Maya Angelou once said “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. Please remember that your difficulties do not define you. They simply strengthen your ability to overcome.”
My mother suffered more tragedy in her lifetime than anyone should, but she always described herself as fortunate — as having lived a blessed life. Witnessing that ability to always see the brightness, even through the dark, was profound.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
The person I would most like to meet is Melinda Gates. While I certainly admire what she is doing with the Gates Foundation, I’ve seen a new, more public and vocal focus on female empowerment both in business and in the world around us. This extends to education, economic independence, freedom to control our own bodies and decisions, etc. It seems to me she has really found a voice on these matters and it empowers me to use my own platform to advance these causes as well.