September 25, 2023

🔒 Rising to the highest: How leaders at Kohl’s, Acuity and the Brewers climbed the company ladder

Because the workforce has grown ever extra transient and enterprise challenges ever extra sophisticated, there’s one thing to be stated for longevity in management. This 12 months’s Ladies in Enterprise concern profiles three executives in southeastern Wisconsin who’ve spent most of their careers with one group and have made a profound affect there whereas ascending the ranks.

Becoming a member of Kohl’s Corp. in 1999 as a senior monetary analyst, Jill Timm has been a part of the corporate’s progress from a Midwestern division retailer chain right into a nationwide omnichannel retailer. Since entering into the function of chief monetary officer in 2019, she’s led the corporate via a few of its most difficult instances to this point.

Melissa Winter’s entrée to the enterprise world got here shortly after graduating faculty, taking a job as a claims consultant at Acuity in 1998. What she assumed could be a stepping stone into a completely completely different trade has as a substitute developed into an completed tenure with the property and casualty insurance coverage firm, which she now leads as president. 

Marti Wronski launched a profession in skilled sports activities upon becoming a member of the Milwaukee Brewers in 2003 as vice chairman – basic counsel. Fueled by a fascination with the interior workings of the franchise and fixed pursuit of enchancment, she labored her approach as much as the function of chief working officer final 12 months.


Learn every particular person profile right here: 

Melissa Winter’s journey from claims agent to Acuity president

Jill Timm’s path to battle-tested management as Kohl’s CFO 

Marti Wronski’s recreation altering profession with the Milwaukee Brewers


Melissa Winter
Credit score: Valerie Hill

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

Like lots of her colleagues, Winter joined the corporate (then generally known as Heritage Mutual Insurance coverage Co.) via 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 finding out whereas getting her undergrad on the now-shuttered Cardinal Stritch College.

Three years later, a promotion to central claims supervisor finally modified her thoughts.

“I stepped into that management function in all probability at concerning the time that I’d have thought-about shifting into graduate college of some kind, however I cherished main, cherished managing a workforce and that basically cemented my love for the insurance coverage trade,” she stated.

Right this moment, Winter leads a workforce of roughly 1,600 staff as president of Acuity, a property and casualty insurance coverage firm that covers greater than 130,000 companies, together with 300,000 industrial automobiles, and almost half 1,000,000 houses and personal passenger automobiles 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 a long time as president and chief govt 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 12 months. Acuity has been acknowledged as a prime employer by numerous publications, together with Forbes’ record of America’s Finest Midsize Employers for the previous three years. Securing that popularity has helped it rent at a fast charge, with employees measurement growing 18% from 2018 to 2022.

Trying again, Winter’s preliminary resolution to remain at Acuity was rooted in what she described as a “revolution” taking maintain below Salzmann’s management, one which finally remodeled Acuity’s tradition and efficiency into what defines it right now.

Now, as she takes the reins, Winter sees one in all 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 progress.

Stepping up

Winter spent seven years on the claims aspect 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 govt function in 2016 upon being named vice chairman of enterprise consulting. The enterprise-focused function, overseeing strategic planning, employees features and inside innovation groups, gave Winter a broad view of the group and helped develop her management fashion from one centered on teaching and directing into one grounded in partnerships with different leaders driving towards a standard objective, she stated.

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

“We each are very enthusiastic about innovation, very enthusiastic about tradition, taking a look at ways in which we are able to stretch the group,” she stated. “I believe that makes for a extremely sturdy partnership as we work via the transition years as a result of we’ve an extended historical past of open and trustworthy communication and with the ability to efficiently problem each other.”

Staring down danger

Acuity is poised for continued progress below Winter’s management, with plans to increase into one other eight to 10 states over the subsequent decade whereas additionally rising into new industrial enterprise and buyer segments and bolstering its presence in current markets.

Driving this progress is a tradition that “stares down danger.” Spelled out as a part of Acuity’s widespread function, 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 right now’s post-pandemic world, that has meant embracing a hybrid office as a long-term technique, “as a result of because the world modifications, our tradition has to develop and thrive with it,” stated Winter.

Melissa Winter
Melissa Winter
Credit score: Valerie Hill

Embracing a hybrid future

Previous to the pandemic, greater than 75% of Acuity’s whole workforce labored completely from its huge 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 way quieter lately.

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

“We imagine within the tradition that we’ve and that it’s not certain by the partitions of a constructing, quite that tradition is rooted in the way in which our staff work with each other and within the sense of group they create,” she stated.

On the similar time, the corporate has spared no expense to convey groups collectively and keep the in-office expertise for many who want it. For starters, all staff 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, staff are handled to breakfast, lunch and completely happy hour, normally that includes some kind of leisure. Winter stated the providing has been a “huge hit,” producing constructive vitality among the many workforce.

Hybrid and distant work choices have turned out to be a serious aggressive benefit for Acuity because it continues to strengthen its workforce. Not solely has it helped retain current staff who’ve relocated elsewhere because the pandemic, however it 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 capable of safe, which simply makes us a extra various group and actually permits us to fill our expertise wants into the longer term,” stated Winter.

Jill Timm
Jill Timm
Credit score: Valerie Hill

The primary three years of Jill Timm’s function as chief monetary officer of Kohl’s Corp. have been removed from conventional.

Headlined by a world pandemic, adopted by two tried board takeovers, some would possibly name it baptism by hearth. Standing on a basis of expertise, Timm took these challenges in stride.

“Having 20 years of expertise right here helped me really feel very assured to make choices – and also you didn’t have time to second guess your self,” she stated, recalling the pandemic’s onset when Kohl’s was compelled to quickly shut down its total retailer base, finally contributing to a loss $163 million in 2020.

Timm joined the Menomonee Falls-based retailer in 1999 as a senior monetary analyst and labored her approach up via the corporate’s finance division earlier than turning into CFO in November 2019.

Navigating the pandemic proper out of the gate ready her for a distinct but equally as tumultuous battle towards a bunch of activist buyers who tried to take management of Kohl’s board in 2021, and once more in 2022. Whereas each campaigns resulted in shareholders voting in favor of the corporate’s incumbent management, the expertise proved to be a check of power.

“I needed to be actually assured in what I knew was the fitting reply, in what we have been shifting ahead with,” Timm stated. “I’m a a lot stronger individual and extra assured chief due to it.” 

Over the course of Timm’s profession, Kohl’s has expanded from a Midwestern division retailer chain with solely 200 areas to a nationwide omnichannel retailer with 1,171 shops in 49 states and a $5 billion e-commerce enterprise.

With every section of progress, Timm discovered new alternatives to advance her profession, all whereas retaining tempo with a quickly altering retail panorama and always evolving client calls for. Timm says she thrives on this fast-pace, high-pressure surroundings: It’s a key a part of what made Kohl’s a “nice match” at first of her profession and why she’s nonetheless on the firm 24 years later.

Steering the ship

Right this moment, Timm sits amongst 9 executives who at the moment make up a comparatively new C-suite at Kohl’s. Six of these – together with CEO Tom Kingsbury and president and COO Dave Alves – took their respective posts inside simply the previous 12 months. Along with her confirmed observe document as CFO, constructing on 24 years of institutional information about Kohl’s and the attire retail trade at massive, Timm has claimed her place as a frontrunner amongst leaders.

She sees her function on the manager workforce as considerably of a mentor in addition to a reference level for the corporate’s present long-term progress goals, most of which Timm helped set in movement throughout the previous few years below former CEO Michelle Gass.

Timm isn’t afraid to acknowledge the fact of doing enterprise in a unstable market that feels the affect of all the things from the climate to gasoline costs. She usually tells those who retail is “not for the faint of coronary heart.”

Final 12 months, Kohl’s reported a internet lack of $19 million and gross sales lower of seven.1% on account of inflationary stress on customers. Macroeconomic circumstances have since improved, however the first quarter of this 12 months nonetheless noticed internet gross sales drop 3.3% year-over-year, and earnings have been flat at $14 million.

However Timm is inspired by the corporate’s shorter-term initiatives, comparable to increasing its partnership with magnificence chain Sephora into 850 shops by 12 months’s finish; tapping into dwelling décor, impulse purchases and gifting as potential new income drivers; and retaining costs low at a time when worth is paramount within the minds of customers.

She’s additionally optimistic about what’s forward for Kohl’s below what she described as a “contemporary, new” management workforce that brings new concepts to the desk. Tapping into the minds of fellow executives can also be a part of how she continues to develop and develop in her personal proper.

Jill Timm
Jill Timm
Credit score: Valerie Hill

Setting an instance

Whilst Kohl’s has grown, its tradition has maintained a “small-company really feel,” stated Timm, which has allowed her the liberty to place household first – even in situations when it wasn’t particularly handy, just like the time she chaperoned her daughter’s fifth grade discipline journey to the Wisconsin State Capitol throughout quarter shut.

“Not a really perfect time for somebody in finance to be on a faculty bus going to Madison,” she stated, however upholding a dedication to her daughter was extra vital. “And there was by no means a second that I felt like that was the incorrect selection. Kohl’s didn’t make me really feel that approach, I didn’t make myself really feel that approach. … My daughter additionally performs basketball, and I’ll let you know, I don’t miss a recreation.”

By brazenly demonstrating her priorities, Timm goals to uphold a normal for different working mother and father at Kohl’s, particularly those that is likely to be combating the stress of balancing work and residential life.

On the similar time, she continues to be an instance for her daughters, now 17 and 20, of what’s attainable.

“Being a CFO as a girl will not be one thing you see loads, so actually breaking that tumbler ceiling for them. I believe now they know the sky’s the restrict, which is improbable,” Timm stated.

Timm describes mentorship as one in all her passions, largely on account of the individuals who have mentored her all through her profession. Today, she retains in contact ceaselessly with Wes McDonald, who served as Kohl’s CFO from 2003 to 2017. His steering was significantly impactful throughout the pandemic and stays so right now as Kohl’s continues to navigate an ever-changing retail panorama and macroeconomic headwinds. She attributes McDonald’s affect not solely to her ardour for growing the subsequent era of leaders, but in addition to her personal success.

“With out his mentorship, with out his pushing me, I don’t know that I’d be sitting within the seat right now as a result of you must construct that confidence and to have somebody sitting on this seat telling you that you are able to do this undoubtedly helps,” she stated.

In right now’s world of hybrid work, by which random run-ins on the cafeteria or post-meeting conversations are tougher to return by, Timm has needed to modify her strategy to shepherding within the subsequent era of employees, together with the finance division’s 15 summer season interns this 12 months. She makes a degree of attending completely happy hours and workforce gatherings so she will be able to keep seen and approachable. She commonly meets with the interns in teams of 5 main as much as their remaining presentation on the finish of the summer season.

“I believe the youthful era is actually the way forward for this group and my job is to assist them be prepared for these positions, so the extra I can act and be a part of that the higher,” Timm stated. 

Marti Wronski
Marti Wronski
Credit score: Valerie Hill

In November 2003, when Milwaukee Brewers govt Rick Schlesinger, then the workforce’s govt vice chairman of enterprise operations, first referred to as Marti Wronski to see if she was desirous about main the Brewers’ authorized division, she turned him down.

On the time, the Brewers’ $400 million baseball stadium – recognized then as Miller Park – was simply two years outdated, and the membership’s entrance workplace was in a rebuild mode coming off a management shakeup.

Wronksi had two kids below the age of 1 and was educating part-time at Marquette College Legislation College, following a five-year stint as a authorized affiliate at Milwaukee-based agency Foley & Lardner. She wasn’t within the Brewers’ function, however she provided to assist with the search.

When she instructed her husband, Andy Wronski, now head of Foley & Lardner’s Milwaukee workplace, he inspired her to name Schlesinger again and discover the chance.

Quick ahead 20 years and what began as an interim function with the Brewers – permitting Wronski to stay on the school at Marquette Legislation College for a time – has as a substitute grow to be a profession in skilled sports activities. Wronski has been the workforce’s basic counsel and later senior vice chairman of administration. In December, she was promoted to chief working officer, which added enterprise analytics and technique to her current obligations overseeing the authorized, info know-how and human assets departments of the Brewers. It’s the title Schlesinger held with the Brewers from 2011 to 2018 till being named president of enterprise operations.

“It’s fascinating as a result of there’s I assume some pure evolution to it,” Wronski stated, reflecting on her tenure. “I’ve developed with the group.”

A number of elements have stored her with the membership: the ever-changing nature {of professional} sports activities, her drive to fulfill the subsequent problem (lately it’s Main League Baseball’s latest guidelines modifications and post-pandemic shifts in client conduct), and the family-oriented tradition of the workforce. The Wronskis’ 4 sons, now younger adults, grew up round what’s now American Household Subject, climbing on dugouts and crawling on the warning observe.

A frontrunner who’s at all times on the transfer, Wronski continues to drive the small-market franchise ahead into a brand new period of professional sports activities.

Studying and listening

The early days of Wronski’s profession with the Brewers have been all about studying. Having by no means labored in skilled sports activities earlier than, she was way more acquainted with the enterprise aspect of the franchise than she was with the baseball aspect. She remembers sitting in conferences and jotting down baseball jargon to lookup later and pouring over the official MLB rulebook, “simply to ensure I had as a lot information as I might management,” she stated.

She sought out colleagues who have been prepared to take the time to elucidate the nuances of the enterprise, and that laid the groundwork for constructing belief and relationships.

As Wronski set to work constructing her authorized workforce – from only one paralegal to now three legal professionals and a paralegal – and getting the membership’s authorized issues so as, she was routinely uncovered to the interior workings of the franchise and have become fascinated with the synergies between the baseball aspect and the enterprise aspect.

“In case you’re doing all your job proper as in-house counsel, most discussions contact you or undergo you,” she stated. “I’d simply take all of it in, and I began to study the priorities for the completely different departments, how they considered their piece of the enterprise after which how the completely different items of the enterprise match collectively.”

Marti Wronski
Marti Wronski
Credit score: Valerie Hill

Tradition shift

Over the subsequent a number of years, Wronski had a entrance row seat to the wave of fast change shifting via the professional sports activities trade, with developments in know-how and vast adoption of analytics-based technique each on and off the sphere. And with that, the character and expectations of the expertise pool was altering, too.

A brand new era of employees was asking extra of employers. Moderately than bending over backwards for a job in professional sports activities – as had lengthy been the trade norm, stated Wronski – staff have been elevating the bar for what it might take to draw them. The Brewers group was now competing for expertise amidst a a lot bigger discipline, and its operations and tradition would want to adapt to fulfill this problem. 

So, in 2017, Wronski was approached by Schlesinger and Brewers principal proprietor Mark Attanasio to guide a tradition shift throughout the group. On this function, she’d be accountable for spearheading “operational processes and efficiencies required to develop and evolve the Brewers model,” the membership described not too long ago in asserting Wronski as one in all 50 girls named to the Sports activities Enterprise Journal Recreation Changers Class of 2023.

5 years later, the group has made “nice progress,” stated Wronski, however change doesn’t occur in a single day.

After the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it was again to sq. one as all the group needed to basically recreate the way it did enterprise for 2 seasons of scaled-back operations and fan capability. However the challenges of the previous three years have additionally referred to as consideration to extra alternatives for progress, together with a heavier concentrate on variety, fairness and inclusion. Wronski is at the moment working to launch one other strategic planning initiative within the subsequent six months.

“We’re nonetheless placing these items collectively of who we’re. … I don’t assume it ever ends, and I don’t assume you possibly can ever take your foot off the pedal, otherwise you’re faking it,” she stated.

Paving the way in which

Wronski’s promotion to COO final 12 months marked the primary time the Brewers entrance workplace had named a girl to that publish. Wronski may even be the highest-ranking feminine govt for the Brewers since Wendy Selig-Prieb led the franchise as president and CEO from 1998 to 2002 after which for 3 extra years as chairman. Selig-Prieb herself had a hand in hiring Wronski, so the presence of feminine management within the Brewers entrance workplace wasn’t a whole anomaly to her.

However the significance of being now one in all solely two feminine COOs in Main League Baseball hit dwelling when Wronksi obtained quite a few letters of congratulations following the promotion announcement – from crayon drawings by younger ladies to phrases of encouragement by completed girls Wronski had at all times needed to fulfill. She’s since made it a precedence to be accessible for panel discussions and conversations with different girls within the trade and past.

“I noticed fairly rapidly that I checked out my function as doing higher for the group, however they seemed to me for slightly greater than that. … If you’re put ready of getting a possibility to do one thing proper and higher, you higher do it,” she stated, including her hope is that sooner or later there will probably be no extra “firsts” left to have fun.