September 26, 2023

🔒 Melissa Winter’s journey from claims agent to Acuity president

When Melissa Winter took her first job out of faculty in 1998 at Sheboygan-based Acuity, she was considering a future profession in enterprise regulation.

Like lots of her colleagues, Winter joined the corporate (then often known as Heritage Mutual Insurance coverage Co.) by means of its coaching program for latest faculty grads. Earlier than she’d pursue a graduate diploma, her plan was to spend a while getting a really feel for the enterprise world whereas additionally, as a claims consultant, tapping into the issue fixing and investigation abilities she loved learning whereas getting her undergrad on the now-shuttered Cardinal Stritch College.

Three years later, a promotion to central claims supervisor in the end modified her thoughts.

“I stepped into that management position in all probability at in regards to the time that I might have thought of shifting into graduate faculty of some type, however I liked main, liked managing a group and that actually cemented my love for the insurance coverage business,” she stated.

Immediately, Winter leads a workforce of roughly 1,600 workers as president of Acuity, a property and casualty insurance coverage firm that covers greater than 130,000 companies, together with 300,000 business autos, and almost half one million properties and personal passenger autos in 31 states.

Introduced in February, Winter’s promotion set in movement a management transition that has Acuity’s longtime head Ben Salzmann stepping apart after almost three many years as president and chief government officer. He’ll stay CEO for the subsequent three years earlier than passing the title on to Winter and retaining his seat on the corporate’s board of administrators.

In the meantime, the corporate continues to realize momentum in increasing its workforce, geographic footprint and market share, with written premiums totaling $2.2 billion final yr. Acuity has been acknowledged as a prime employer by numerous publications, together with Forbes’ checklist of America’s Greatest Midsize Employers for the previous three years. Securing that fame has helped it rent at a speedy fee, with workers dimension rising 18% from 2018 to 2022.

Wanting again, Winter’s preliminary determination to remain at Acuity was rooted in what she described as a “revolution” taking maintain beneath Salzmann’s management, one which in the end remodeled Acuity’s tradition and efficiency into what defines it in the present day.

Now, as she takes the reins, Winter sees certainly one of her biggest obligations as being a “nice steward and enabler” of the employee-centric, innovation-driven tradition that has underpinned her 25-year profession and continues to energy the 98-year-old firm’s future development.

Stepping up

Winter spent seven years on the claims facet of the enterprise earlier than shifting laterally into Acuity’s inside consulting division, the place she labored on claims technique, coaching, course of enhancements and led a number of strategic initiatives.

She landed her first government position in 2016 upon being named vice chairman of enterprise consulting. The enterprise-focused position, overseeing strategic planning, workers capabilities and inside innovation groups, gave Winter a broad view of the group and helped develop her management type from one centered on teaching and directing into one grounded in partnerships with different leaders driving towards a typical objective, she stated.

And it was throughout the firm’s inside consulting arm the place Winter developed a detailed working relationship with Salzmann. By means of frequent collaboration on strategic planning initiatives, the 2 had been aligned in lots of their ideas and approaches, and that helped lay the groundwork for Winter to at some point carry the torch.

“We each are very captivated with innovation, very captivated with tradition, ways in which we are able to stretch the group,” she stated. “I feel that makes for a very sturdy partnership as we work by means of the transition years as a result of we have now an extended historical past of open and sincere communication and with the ability to efficiently problem each other.”

Melissa Winter
Credit score: Valerie Hill

Staring down danger

Acuity is poised for continued development beneath Winter’s management, with plans to broaden into one other eight to 10 states over the subsequent decade whereas additionally rising into new business enterprise and buyer segments and bolstering its presence in present markets.

Driving this development is a tradition that “stares down danger.” Spelled out as a part of Acuity’s frequent goal, the mantra is considerably of a rallying cry, stated Winter.

“Insurance coverage is about danger administration and taking up danger, however we use staring down danger actually to use to greater than that, that we’re prepared to stretch organizationally into new locations, that we wish to innovate, that we wish to tackle new challenges and step into areas the place different organizations could also be held again,” she stated.

In in the present day’s post-pandemic world, that has meant embracing a hybrid office as a long-term technique, “as a result of because the world adjustments, our tradition has to develop and thrive with it,” stated Winter.

Embracing a hybrid future

Previous to the pandemic, greater than 75% of Acuity’s complete workforce labored completely from its large headquarters constructing in Sheboygan, absolutely seen from I-43 close to Kohler. The 1.2 million-square-foot campus, which contains a 400-foot flagpole (flying a 140-by-70-foot American flag), 2,000-person theater, 65-foot Ferris wheel and several other Dale Chihuly glass sculptures suspended from lofty foyer ceilings, is far quieter lately.

Acuity doesn’t have an official versatile work coverage. As a substitute, it’s as much as managers to work with group members to find out a schedule that works greatest for each the corporate and the person. There are specific roles – managing money and checks or sustaining the pc system, for instance – that require workers to be on-site full time, however the firm tries to “empower” its workers with alternative each time doable, stated Winter.

“We consider within the tradition that we have now and that it isn’t sure by the partitions of a constructing, relatively that tradition is rooted in the best way our workers work with each other and within the sense of neighborhood they create,” she stated.

On the similar time, the corporate has spared no expense to carry groups collectively and keep the in-office expertise for individuals who choose it. For starters, all workers nonetheless have their very own desk area – breaking from the post-pandemic office pattern of hoteling. After which, there are the perks. On “Free For All” Wednesdays, workers are handled to breakfast, lunch and completely happy hour, normally that includes some type of leisure. Winter stated the providing has been a “massive hit,” producing constructive power among the many group.

Hybrid and distant work choices have turned out to be a significant aggressive benefit for Acuity because it continues to strengthen its workforce. Not solely has it helped retain present workers who’ve relocated elsewhere for the reason that pandemic, but it surely has additionally allowed the corporate to broaden its expertise pool past southeastern Wisconsin.

“We get entry to expertise in Colorado, Georgia, throughout our working territory that’s in any other case expertise we wouldn’t have been in a position to safe, which simply makes us a extra numerous group and actually permits us to fill our expertise wants into the long run,” stated Winter.