FROM MAILROOM TO MANAGEMENT
Energetic, enthusiastic, and focused, this young agent is working to become a third-generation owner
By Elisabeth Boone, CPCU
With my youth a tiny dot in the rearview mirror, I continue to be impressed by the energy and determination that young people bring to the challenge of building careers in the insurance industry. An excellent example of someone with this tireless drive is Brittany Mohr, ARM, AINS, an account manager and producer in the agency her grandfather established in Baton Rouge in 1968.
Other kids may have dreamed of becoming firefighters or doctors or teachers, but right from the start, Mohr knew she wanted to be the third generation of her family to own Lewis Mohr Real Estate and Insurance Agency.
With that goal in mind, she says, “I went to the University of Alabama where I majored in finance and specialized in insurance. I saw this as a stepping stone so that when I started to work at the agency, I would be prepared to be a productive member of the staff.” Mohr earned her degree in 2012 and has been with the agency since graduating.
Some of us may remember when an aspiring leader started at the bottom, working in the mailroom and gradually advancing through the ranks to a management position. Mohr followed a similar path. “My father and I agreed that I should experience every aspect of the agency operation,” she recalls. “I can proudly state that I have done every job in the agency. I started out answering phones and processing mail, and then I moved to personal lines where I learned how to rate and quote policies. Next, I began to handle small commercial accounts, then larger ones, and then I shifted to sales.
“My father and I believed it was important for me to earn the respect of everyone in the agency by working hard and acquiring knowledge,” Mohr adds. “That wouldn’t have happened if I had showed up totally unprepared and said, ‘Hi, everyone; I’m Brittany and I’m going to be taking over the agency.’”
Another factor that motivated Mohr to join the family agency was her realization that, in her words, “Insurance is involved with almost every milestone in people’s lives, from getting married and buying your first home to tragedies like accidents and untimely deaths. Insurance plays a key role when you’re starting a new business, filing a lawsuit, surviving a disaster, or dealing with a pandemic. I asked myself: ‘How could this job ever be boring?’ A career in our family agency satisfied my yearning to constantly be learning and growing and to being a part of important conversations,” Mohr asserts.
Like his daughter, Jeff Mohr knew he wanted to follow his father into the agency. He worked there during high school and while earning a degree in business administration from Louisiana State University. The opportunity to own the agency arrived unexpectedly when, in 1984, Lewis was diagnosed with lung cancer and died two months later.
At the age of 23 and just out of college, Jeff found himself at the helm of the agency his father had worked so hard to build. He also was a newlywed, having married Lisa, Brittany’s mother, just six months earlier.
Having needed to quickly get up to speed with all aspects of the agency operation, Jeff now places a high value on mentoring his employees and providing an environment where they can grow in their fields.
“I’m so proud of my father and all he’s accomplished, so I couldn’t even consider not working with him and carrying on the legacy,” Brittany says.
“My father isn’t yet close to retiring, but we’re working on an eight- to ten-year plan for me to succeed him,” she continues. “During that time, I’ll gradually be acquiring the agency so that when he does retire, I’ll become the sole owner.”
A woman’s place
At age 30, Mohr hasn’t endured the kind of blatant discrimination and in-your-face putdowns that were routinely visited on women of an older generation. “I think the old narratives about women’s limitations are all outdated,” she observes. “In the future I think the focus should be on how agencies can best support all of their employees.
“As a woman, I need no accommodation. I want the same direct, consistent feedback that’s given to my male counterparts,” she adds. “Research shows that that’s often lacking. The idea that women are inherently different from men in terms of disposition and behaviors is just a barrier to our growth.
“When companies invest time to analyze why women are not advancing, so many trends emerge,” Mohr continues. “For example, many women say that they’re hesitant to take risks because it’s harder for them to recover from their mistakes. That results in a hesitation to speak up. It’s not a lack of confidence; it’s the pressure of consequences, which leads to a lack of information and feedback.
“The ability to grow and learn should be provided for all employees,” she declares. “Management should consistently evaluate the context and situations in which we judge those employees. Feedback needs to be direct and specific, with concrete suggestions for improvement, and it needs to be given to everyone. Previously, that kind of feedback was provided only to males.”
As a future agency owner, Mohr faces a challenge that confronts other women in her situation. “My peer group is limited to males,” she says. “Resources for female agency owners are scarce, and without this Broken Glass series, I wouldn’t discover these stories about women who have overcome obstacles and risen to the top. In my local circle, I’m one of only a few females who have planned for perpetuation.”
Discrimination and marginalization continue to be facts of life in the white male-dominated insurance industry, but attitudes toward women are changing. “I consider myself part of the next wave,” Mohr says. “So many women have already climbed this ladder before me and paved the way for female advancement. But so far as agency principals go, it’s still very much a male-dominated space.
“Just because women are not well represented in a field, however, doesn’t mean we aren’t welcome,” she adds. “Sometimes I’m the only woman in the room, but I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by some really incredible men. I’ve been blown away by how forthcoming these agency principals are with sharing their mistakes and career missteps.
“These men went from strangers to mentors in a matter of minutes,” Mohr notes. “I think this is a key piece to growing new leaders. Historically that piece has been reserved for men, and now we’re reaching a place where that piece is going away because, instead of mentoring the next generation, agency principals are selling.”
Women as leaders
What unique qualities does Mohr think women bring to leadership positions in the insurance industry?
“I think a big difference for women in leadership is that how we react to someone’s mistake or failure affects that person’s ability to succeed and thrive in the future,” she responds. “Competence and success in the workplace always have context, and I think women in the workplace are forcing that context to come to the forefront.”
How would Mohr characterize the opportunities available to women who aspire to be leaders and owners of independent agencies?
“The opportunities are endless,” she declares. “There is no place a woman cannot go in this industry. Insurance offers such wide-ranging career options, whether it’s management, sales, customer service, crisis claims management, legal, data analytics, technology, even social media. Young people have a wide array of choices, and there’s something for everybody.
“Even if you don’t want to run an agency, there are plenty of spaces for you,” she asserts.
Mohr has a message for young women who may be considering a career with an independent agency. “Work/life balance is a major issue today, especially with both spouses or partners pursuing demanding careers,” she observes. “It’s important for young women to design a career that fits their strengths and also affords them the rewards they desire.
“I also think it’s important that as young women we’re honest with ourselves early about what those desires are. Don’t be afraid to want more, and build your career around your vision,” Mohr concludes.
Do you know a female independent agency leader we should feature? If so, please email details about her as well as contact information to Elisabeth Boone, CPCU, senior features editor (firstname.lastname@example.org). We’ll take it from there.