The Weikel Speaker Series offers Wisconsin MBA students the chance to engage with and learn from accomplished business leaders and alumni. A session held in October 2022 provided students with a unique opportunity to meet Dr. Joan Lamm-Tennant, a seasoned insurance industry professional who is passionate about making the world better and has dedicated her career to making an impact through the insurance and risk management industry. She was one of the few women who began a career in the insurance industry more than 30 years ago, and she has had an outstanding multi-hyphenate career in different roles – chair of the board of directors in multiple organizations including currently for Equitable, founder and CEO of a microinsurance company, a start-up advisor, and professor of business at the Wharton School.
Our speaker indicated that for a period of time she was “torn between two lovers”: academics and the insurance industry. Though she obviously excelled at both, industry won her heart, yet she keeps her hand in academics as well, continuing to teach at Wharton and the Wisconsin School of Business throughout her career.
Dr. Lamm-Tennant had a significant impact in the industry. One example comes from international experience. The opportunity came to her while she was in China and saw a woman working in the rice fields with a baby strapped to her back. The field was not irrigated and the woman could not control the weather; she was bearing all the risk for excessive rain or drought. Dr. Lamm-Tennant wondered why the market was not addressing this worker’s needs. Knowing that insurance is a catalyst for people’s well-being and the advancement of society, she started Blue Marble Microinsurance. This company insures crops around the world by creating partnerships with cooperatives that are supporting people from Africa and South America. Interestingly, they used the word “guarantee” rather than “insurance” to help people understand the concept.
Again, Dr. Lamm–Tennant believes that insurance is a core of the well-being of society and the backbone of the economy. Available insurance coverage with an appropriate pricing structure helps economies and societies to thrive. Insurance companies can strengthen their abilities by partnering with other industries because partnerships give access to other opportunities and offer credibility and trust in the field. Partnerships can help insurance companies to make an impact on climate change and changing the environment, not just pricing the risk and/or increasing the rate as risk increases. Partnerships can transform the insurance industry in the future by embedding insurance coverage in the value chain of the insured. The power of partnerships will broaden the tools available for the insurance industry and will help to innovate and grow the market.
Dr. Lamm-Tennant was asked what the secret formula is for success in the competitive business environment filled with sharks? She believes that successful individuals must have composure and credibility. It is difficult to establish credibility; therefore, ambitious young professionals must work hard to be self-aware, knowing when it is best to listen and when to speak. When they speak, young professionals need to know themselves and carefully choose the words they are going to say. When having tough negotiations with others, for example, it is important to know your walkaways and have a clear plan on how to persuade the other side by showing them what is good for them in the deal.
Dr. Lamm-Tennant has enjoyed an incredible career in the risk space. She has worked diligently to give communities and businesses around the world access to insurance coverage. The only thing she regrets is staying in the same places for too long because of her loyalty to leaders and organizations. She feels that she could have done more if she started an entrepreneurial career earlier. Therefore, her advice to young professionals is to focus on what they do best and not be afraid of changes to move forward. And to learn from the walls we hit.