STARTING OUT YOUNG
High school co-op program opportunity leads to successful career in insurance
By Elisabeth Boone, CPCU
It’s a long way from high school to area president and client advocate, and that’s the path taken by Tabbatha Sipes, vice president of Assured Partners, who began her insurance career at age 17.
“At the time, I didn’t realize that insurance was something I wanted to do long term,” Sipes says. “In my senior year in high school, we had co-op programs where we had to work 30 hours a week, and my first week I saw a posting for a job opening at a local insurance brokerage.
“I applied and got the position, and I thought I would just do it for a year. It wasn’t until about five years in that I really felt like insurance was something I wanted to do long term,” she explains. “I saw all that it had to offer.
“Over the last 20 years, I’ve worked with both regional and national firms and appreciate the opportunity that each of them has provided,” Sipes continues. “I learned something valuable at each firm. Coming into the industry at age 17 and holding an entry-level position allowed me to learn a ton and was a great way to start my career. I did a lot in the personal lines space when I first got started, and then I quickly moved over to the commercial lines side, where I spent the majority of my time in client service.
“During that time, I realized that I wanted to move toward a business development role, and that’s what led me to Assured Partners.
Assured Partners was created in 2011 to, as it says, provide those looking for an insurance partner that will advocate for them. With offices in 35 states and four countries, the firm is one of the largest brokers in the nation and the fastest-growing broker in the United States, with more than $2 billion in revenue. It’s based in Orlando, Florida. The firm offers a full range of products and services.
“I’ve been with the firm for about seven years. When I first started, I was in a business development role as a producer and had success using my technical background. Shortly thereafter, I was asked to lead our commercial lines group. In doing so, I was able to maintain my role in business development, which is my passion,” Sipes says.
“After helping to transform the commercial lines group to meet the accelerated growth we were experiencing, I was asked to lead our office in St. Louis, which has approximately 200 people. I’ve been in this position for about two and a half years. The St. Louis office offers all lines of coverage: personal, commercial, and employee benefits.
“Since Assured Partners was founded over a decade ago, it has had rapid growth and success,” Sipes explains. “It started with an $88 million acquisition and now has over
$2 billion in revenue with a continued focus on organic growth as well as growth through acquisition.
“Assured Partners was founded on a couple of key principles that made me want to start my business development career here. One of the principles is diversity and inclusion. A lot of companies just display it on their websites, but I feel that Assured Partners has woven it into who we are.
“On our website you’ll see ‘Power through Partnership,’ and I believe we don’t just say that we partner together and partner with our clients—we actually do it, day in and day out. I think that was key in helping me be successful,” Sipes asserts.
“It’s my responsibility as a leader
to provide our team a culture that promotes
partnership, expertise, innovation, and passion.”
Shift in the environment
“There has definitely been a big shift in the environment today versus what existed when I started my career 20 years ago,” Sipes observes. “Twenty years ago, women were primarily in client service or support roles, whereas a majority of men were in leadership or business development roles. There was an obvious imbalance and, over the last five years, I’ve seen that shift significantly.
“We’re finding that firms and individuals believe that having more inclusivity and having different ideas and opinions from people with different backgrounds adds value, both to each individual and to the firm. Where we are today is really refreshing.
“I always felt appreciated for the work I did, and I believed I could move into a leadership or business development position without having to fight for it. A lot of women had to fight for those roles. Everybody was respectful but there was always an undercurrent of ‘We really appreciate what you do but you need to be in client service or support’ versus uplifting women into the leadership or business development space,” she says.
“Here at Assured Partners, it doesn’t matter whether somebody is male or female when trying to decide who’s going to be working on an account or given a position. There truly is an attitude of ‘Let’s try to help everybody be the best they can be’ and look at everybody for what they can bring to the table,” Sipes notes.
“Through that we’re seeing the elevation of women throughout our organization, in our executive, regional, and local leadership teams, so there’s a strong belief that everyone is equal regardless of gender,” she adds.
“[W]e don’t just say that we partner
together and partner with our clients—
we actually do it, day in and day out.
I think that was key in helping me be successful.”
Advice to young women
What does Sipes see as the opportunities for women in the insurance business, and what advice would she give to a young woman who’s considering entering the business?
“Today, the opportunities are endless, whether it’s on the carrier side or the brokerage side,” Sipes responds. “Insurance offers so many different career paths that my best recommendation to anybody coming into our industry is to keep an open mind.
“Be willing to try things that push you out of your comfort zone,” she adds, “and don’t have a fear of raising your hand. In fact, do it often, and get as much exposure as you can to different paths and different people.
“The opportunity to lead people is very humbling,” Sipes continues. “I’m grateful for the team I work with. Creating a culture where people feel included is something I take seriously, and it’s what I stay focused on in every decision I make.
“It’s my responsibility as a leader to provide our team a culture that promotes partnership, expertise, innovation, and passion,” she concludes.
Elisabeth Boone, CPCU, is a freelance journalist based in St. Louis, Missouri.