Change Agent: “a person from inside or outside the organization who helps an organization transform itself by focusing on such matters as organizational effectiveness, improvement, and development.”
If an example is needed to better understand the definition of Change Agent, Mary Kotch would serve as a great prototype. As Chief Information Officer (CIO) of Validus Holdings, Ltd, Mary Kotch is eager to find the most immediate pathway to an elegant solution whenever she is confronted with inefficient complexity.
This love of problem solving is likely why she so enjoys driving change in a company and why she has made a habit of seeking out difficult challenges. It is also why she remains fascinated by the new and disruptive technologies that can transform the competitive landscape and drive revenue. But keeping your eye on the “new” while moving forward the “old” is no mean feat. As an investment in the future, Mary always makes a point to build bridges with universities to both teach and learn from the next generation.
But Mary brings a balanced view to her role. “At the end of the day, my motivation is about leaving my company, and the world for our children, just a little better than I found it,” says Mary.
Leader in the Global Insurance and Reinsurance Markets
At Validus Holdings, Ltd, the team seeks to establish themselves as a leader in the global insurance and reinsurance markets. The principal operating objective of Validus Holdings, Ltd is to use their capital efficiently by underwriting primarily short-tail insurance and reinsurance contracts with superior risk and return characteristics.
Their primary underwriting objective is to construct a portfolio of short-tail insurance and reinsurance contracts that maximizes their return on equity subject to prudent risk constraints on the amount of capital they expose to any single event. They manage their risks through a variety of means, including contract terms, portfolio selection, diversification criteria, including geographic diversification criteria, and proprietary and commercially available third-party vendor catastrophe models.
Mary as a True Leader
It is very important for large enterprises to have both clear and reasonable standards to which everyone in the environment can adhere. According to Mary, it is important for leaders to stay on the front lines and develop a sense for which “best practices” are working and which are not appropriate for a specific situation. She maintains that once a leader has confidence that the standards are both clear and reasonable for the given environment, the staff has to be trained and held accountable to those standards. But the training doesn’t stop there. Mary encourages her staff to acquire advanced degrees, certifications and other trainings. She believes that encouraging team members to develop their skillsets has created a better environment at her company.
These days, most leaders seem to think that the generational transition of staff is the main complication for businesses to manage. But according to Mary, the situation is actually far more complex than just the usual transition of staff from old to young. Far more treacherous for traditional companies, is the challenge of new start-ups that use a combination of cutting edge technology and a flexible structure of part-time freelancers to cut costs and raise profit margins.
One key solution for this challenge is for traditional companies to establish a strong technology talent program that acts as a pipeline to universities to attract top talent. Mary also places a large priority on building technology channels and partnerships with blue chip technology companies as well as their brash start-up rivals. Where the traditional companies bring the maturity of best practice that can only be gained through the long ordeals of experience, financial and technology start-ups have their thumb on the pulse of client needs and innovation like few others in the marketplace.
Women in Business
Having more women in organizations has been shown to improve financial results on average and increase innovation and group performance.
Mary believes that the economy’s growth trajectory relies on more female entrepreneurs and executives entering the IT market. She thinks women should expand their motivational skills, team building skills, and their ability to see projects through to completion. They also need to embrace their competitive spirit, which is essential for success on both the playing field and in the workplace.
Mary often works with universities to increase awareness on how few women are entering into technology programs.
“My family balances me, I learned it is necessary to take time for them, they come first,” says Mary. She coaches her daughter’s soccer team, she also has a group of close friends to help balance her work life. Competing in Spartan races and Warrior Dashes also helps her to reduce stress. Even while traveling, Mary uses technology like video calling to stay connected with family. Her intense commitment to family, also gives her a sense of routine and being accountable, which she carries with her into her business life.
Recreating the Past
Mary feels that her education served her very well and she is fortunate to have an academic background in both technology and law. She has also been well served by her executive experience in both small and large companies.
If Mary had anything to do differently, she probably would have invested a few years of work experience in a technology or financial start-up. Small start-ups tend to have a very intimate relationship with their clients and immerse themselves in their brands, products, and services, ensuring a client-centric approach that delivers on their business objectives.
“One message I might send a young Mary Kotch, is never commit to a major initiative unless you understand how the bottom line revenue is benefited AND you have identified business performance measures beyond the basic marketing objectives. Our function as executives is to understand the big picture impact of what we are doing. Moving forward the tactical plan while also advancing the strategic plan is the only way to achieve business success.