The Young Pro-Files
LEARNING FROM EVERYONE
Young professional develops mentoring program and shares journey in podcast
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.”
While The Young Pro-Files is not a “trilogy,” this installment, being the third one, reminds me that despite what other fans say, I’ve always liked Return of the Jedi, the third film in the original Star Wars saga. From the infiltration and escape at Jabba the Hutt’s palace to (spoiler alert—yes, I know some people have never seen them) Darth Vader’s act of redemption, I love the action sequences and memorable characters. I even love the Ewoks from the Forest Moon of Endor. Seriously, how can you not? Well, the made-for-TV Ewok movies weren’t great, but c’mon, they were made for television.
I’m getting sidetracked. The bottom line: The third part is still good. At least in some cases—like The Young Pro-Files. After all, I am two for two in concluding with “keep watching the skies” (see previous editions to understand this reference). In our third installment we feature Michelle Chia, head of professional liability and cyber (underwriting) at Zurich North America. While her team is located in various cities across the country, pre-pandemic Chia worked out of the company’s New York City office; she currently works from home and meets with customers remotely.
Chia became involved in the insurance industry after applying for an underwriter training program, which became her first job out of college. She attended Tufts University, in Medford, Massachusetts, where she “double majored in economics and child development; I wasn’t sure if I wanted to pursue business or education,” she says. “I minored in Chinese and Studio Art—Chinese (culture and Mandarin) because I toyed with the idea of exploring diplomacy and Studio Art because I was born right brained.”
Chia began working for Zurich in late 2009 as a senior underwriter. She became a regional underwriting manager five years later, prior to becoming a vice president within Errors and Omissions. She assumed her current position in 2018.
To further her education, “while working at Zurich, I attended the Executive MBA program at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania,” Chia says. “I received my MBA with a focus on management and strategy.”
The company also “supported my pursuit of the Registered Professional Liability Underwriter (RPLU) designation, which I achieved early on in my career. Initially, I pursued that designation because I thought it would help my credibility; I present ‘young.’ Along the way, in studying for each of the exams, I learned a lot about the financial lines space.”
Involvement and advice
Involvement in various organizations, both work-related and volunteer-based is an important aspect for growth in both business and life in general.
As a working professional, Chia says that the National African American Insurance Association (NAAIA) has been the largest influence and impact on who she is as a professional. “I don’t identify as Black or African American, but their mission is inspirational, and what they’ve achieved for their members is admirable,” she says.
Chia also spent two years as a Global WIN (Women’s Innovation Network) ambassador for Zurich North America and currently serves as a junior board member for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Metro and Western New York Chapter. “Mentors at Zurich recommended me for this opportunity,” Chia says. “The joy the organization provides to a child and the family members is (selfishly) rewarding, but even more so, the hope sparked by the wish is enduring.”
And speaking of mentors, “mentor-ship is meaningful to me; I have benefitted from being mentored and being a mentor,” Chia says. “I’ve had such great experiences that early on, I wanted to share these experiences with everyone.
“So, a few years back, I built a ‘speed mentoring’ program. It was later expanded upon by one of Zurich’s Employee Resource Groups, Emerging LeaderZ, to give others the opportunity to find mentors who could help them enhance their career journey. When I look back, thus far, that’s one of my most proud moments.”
When it comes to advice for young professionals starting their careers, Chia stresses the importance of learning and being curious.
“Ask questions,” she says. “If you’re curious about a topic, ask someone who you think is an expert in that area. If you’re confused about something, ask someone to explain or clarify. If you’re interested in piloting a new initiative or participating in a short-term project, ask if you can do so.
“One of the things I’ve realized over the years is that you can learn from everyone. I’ve learned from so many managers who have taught me technical and soft skills. There have been mentors who have broadened my network and sponsors who have advocated for me behind closed doors.
“I have mentors who are younger and less experienced than me who teach me every day. My team, they are open and honest with their feedback to me—what works, what doesn’t, what’s new, what’s passé. Hands down, I have the best team; I am so honored that I get to work with them and learn from them every day. I also have the most caring and trustworthy colleagues.”
When it comes to being away from the office, Chia’s lifestyle is adjusting due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Life now is different than the old normal and whatever the new normal will be after we’ve made it through to the other side of this pandemic,” she says. “My extracurricular pursuits generally lie in the food and travel arenas. I usually take two big trips a year, one international and one domestic. My husband and I love eating everything from street food to Michelin-starred restaurants.
“Mentorship is meaningful to me; I have benefitted from being mentored and being a mentor.”
“I also love hosting dinner parties, where I cook for a bunch of friends who don’t know each other and toss out interesting topics for discussion. Because I live in New York City, even the dining out part or having friends over has been a struggle recently.”
As we slowly reach for that “new normal,” Chia also spends her time participating on a podcast that she co-founded.
“Three friends from business school and I host a bi-weekly podcast called Four-of-a-Kind Podcast,” she says. “It focuses on the experience of female founders, investors, business leaders and male allies with the objective of inspiring individuals to start businesses or take the next big role. The podcast can be found on iTunes, Google Play, buzzsprout.com, or wherever you find your podcasts.
“We started this podcast because we wanted to share our journey, lessons learned, and our network with our audience, that audience being those who are interested in learning how to build a business, those who are looking to expand their careers, or those who are supporters of those in the first two categories.
“It’s been a joy to learn from our guest speakers, to share the experience of producing a podcast from scratch, and to go on this exploration with such close friends,” she concludes.
While I started this article discussing Star Wars movies, that word “exploration” reminds me of the other “Star” franchise about boldly going “where no man has gone before.” The image of space is there; that’s close enough. “Keep watching the skies.”