The Young Pro-Files
AN EXECUTIVE “BALANCING IN PINK”
Young professional rises to rank of brokerage president
By Christopher W. Cook
In the insurance industry, certain dedicated young professionals stand out among their peers and are members of an elite squad of individuals. These are their stories. “Dun dun.”
The second time around can be a challenge when it comes to satisfaction. Think about movie sequels or repurchasing a specific entrée at a restaurant; was it really that good the first time you ate it? Based on my The X-Files comment from this feature’s first installment, will I successfully be able to end with “keep watching the skies” this second time around?
When it comes to the second in line, I’m reminded of exceptional music albums, the first ones I heard from specific bands—the same bands who would later go on to release a lackluster follow-up that I didn’t care for at all. I recall that feeling of disappointment. Well, my readers, I don’t plan to disappoint with my second installment of The Young Pro-Files, where we share the story of a young woman who became president at a brokerage while still in her early 30s.
Kari Dybdahl Kohal, president of Middleton, Wisconsin-based ARMR Brokerage—a wholesale operation specializing in the environmental and specialty insurance industries—knew she was always destined for the industry.
“Insurance has always been in my blood,” she says. “My father was the chief knowledge officer at Willis growing up, so I was surrounded by insurance terminology my entire life. It felt natural to be involved in the insurance industry. More important, I knew very early on in my life that I was intrigued by how entrepreneurs were able to build successful businesses. When I had the opportunity to be an insurance broker, I looked at the opportunity as a way to build my own successful book of business.
“There is endless opportunity in the insurance industry; being a broker is similar to being an entrepreneur. You can choose insurance products that interest you and surround yourself around industries that also interest you.”
Dybdahl Kohal graduated from Madison, Wisconsin’s, Edgewood College in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.
“I chose Edgewood College over other universities due to the experience of the professors,” she says. “In the business school, all professors must have at least 10 years of experience working in a business. This was of value as they brought a real-life approach to educational concepts. While going to college full-time, I was also working full-time at ARMR Brokerage and never really had time for the college experience.
“Currently I am studying for my master’s in business administration (MBA)and only have three classes left with a 4.0 GPA,” she continues. “It has been very demanding with my executive position at work and then spending my nights studying in grad school. However, it’ll completely be worth it.”
On top of studying for her MBA, she also has a goal to earn the CPCU and ARM designations within the next five years.
While hearing the business lingo from an early age assisted with her insurance know-how, Dybdahl Kohal also benefitted from involvement with the emerging leader’s association through the Independent Insurance Agents of Wisconsin during her years as a broker.
“The meetings and outings were a fun way to meet other young insurance professionals in the area,” she says. “We would share what worked for us and what didn’t. By being a member, I learned other perspectives and felt more comfortable navigating through the competition and the uncomfortableness of growing a career in insurance.”
With her firm’s focus on environmental insurance solutions, Dybdahl Kohal has also been “heavily involved in the fire and water restoration and mold remediation industries over the years,” she says. “Being a broker at only 18 years old, I learned so much so fast and would attend industry conferences.
“Eventually I was asked to be a guest speaker for breakout sessions and teach about the various risk management techniques available in the industry. From there I was asked to judge an innovation speaking contest within the cleaning and restoration industry, where we judged them on their innovation of the idea, the practicality, and their risk management.
“Recently I was nominated to sit on the board of directors of the Society of Cleaning and Restoration Technicians, where I am the vice president of marketing. It is truly inspiring to be surrounded by so much opportunity and powerhouses in the industry.”
Being involved with her community is equally important. However, with her current busy schedule, it can be challenging to carve out the time.
“I would love to volunteer my time with a few organizations such as the Urban League and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Dane County,” Dybdahl Kohal says. “It would be an honor to support and mentor young boys and girls with finding their passion and feeling confident enough to pursue their dreams. If I could make a positive impact on a young woman who is struggling to find her way, my heart would be so full.”
Despite the lack of time, Dybdahl Kohal found an alternative way to positively impact the lives of others; we’ll get more into that later.
As a 32-year-old woman, becoming an executive is an amazing accomplishment, and Dybdhal Kohal is grateful for the opportunities received and the influential figures who have helped along the way.
“My father has been a very influential mentor,” she says. “He taught me most of what I know about environmental insurance and the environmental insurance industry. He has also been my motivator and has always been pushing me to get out of my comfort zone.
“Early in my career when I was working as a broker full-time and juggling a full credit load in school, a co-worker, Shelly Schlachter, was always there to help. I could not have graduated from college while working as a broker full-time without her support. She was always someone I could trust and rely on.
“More recently, Paul Fuller has been an exceptional mentor with my current role as president,” Dybdahl Kohal continues. “He understands where I am in my career and keeps me in check. I am truly grateful that he believes in me and takes the time to mentor me. I firmly believe in finding a mentor or at least a support system that pushes you and supports whatever risk you need to take to grow your career.”
Dybdahl Kohal also stresses the importance of creating a personal brand and gaining experience to stand out from your competition. She recalls her first on-site visit: “The agent had me come in to tour a chemical facility in northern Georgia to identify any potential environmental risks that would need to be included in the insurance we were brokering,” she says. “I show up to work before my flight in a hot pink button-up shirt, polka dotted pants, and a pair of hot pink heels.
“The president of ARMR at the time goes, ‘You are going to wear that to your site visit?’ I simply replied, ‘It doesn’t matter what I look like; the value I can provide to the client is what matters and I know a lot about environmental insurance.’ He smiled and said I would do great. The meeting went better than expected, and 13 years later my relationship with that agent is still going strong.”
Dybdahl Kohal offers this advice to young professionals just starting out their careers: “It is so easy to get caught up in what you should be that you can lose what makes you great,” she says. “Every day I channel what works for me, trust my knowledge, and stay focused on improving.
“We only have one shot to build our brand and reputation. Protect it with all you have and always be yourself, no matter what pressure you run into. Authenticity will always win. Maybe not immediately, but it will in the long run.
“Learn as much as you can as fast as you can,” she continues. “This will build self-confidence—especially being young—and increases your competitive advantage. Stay curious; ask a lot of questions fueled by curiosity and find a mentor that you look up to who can push you out of your comfort zone.
“Success comes from helping others achieve their success, and in return they will support yours. Selling insurance is not only about making money, but also about giving everything you’ve got to help others solve problems. The money will fall into place if you do not lose sight of helping others first. It is also important to get comfortable with losing opportunities when you are doing the right thing. Stay true to what is right and never sacrifice your quality for a quick win.”
When she’s not working for the brokerage or studying for school, Dybdahl Kohal can generally be found at home with her husband and two dogs, Piper, a cockapoo, and Huck, a pudelpointer. At home, she also enjoys baking and reading to “escape the pressure of my career,” she says. “It is difficult to find a perfect balance between work and my personal life, but I make it work.”
Five months ago, she also began writing a career and lifestyle blog called Balanced in Pink. Compared to an online journal, the project “focuses on improving the balance in my life and shares my passion for career growth,” Dydbahl Kohal says. “The blog is targeted for young professional women who are wanting to grow their career but are afraid of being their authentic self in business. It takes a lot of work to be two different versions of yourself every day. I believe every woman can be a ‘boss lady’ in business while still loving pink and being quirky.
“Making a positive impact and helping others see their full potential fills me with so much happiness. A few months ago, I wrote a blog post about what to do when someone tells you ‘no.’ Essentially it was encouraging the reader to shift their mindset that ‘no’ does not mean forever, it means ‘not right now’ and gives you an opportunity to try again.
“A reader wrote me that she was about to quit her job until she read that post. It gave her the courage to reset and try again. She eventually received a promotion and is now happy in a job that was once creating her misery. This is why I started Balanced in Pink,” she concludes.
While making a positive impact for others, you can remind anyone that no matter what they want to achieve, the sky’s the limit. “Keep watching the skies.” I did it again!