By Loretta L. Worters, Vice President, Media Relations, Triple-I
To celebrate international day of Women in shipping – observed every May 18 – Triple-I interviews women who have made a difference in the maritime field. Last year, Triple-I focused on Isabelle TherrienSVP-Canada, Falvey Cargo Underwriting.
For as long as Anne Marie Elder could remember, she loved the ocean. As the niece of a merchant marine officer, she heard her uncle̵7;s stories about the merchant navy’s role in World War II. She imagined what it felt like to stand on the deck and watch the sun reflect on the surface of the water, breathe in the salty air and listen to the ocean waves. When she was in sixth grade, her Aunt Margaret told her about the first class of women to graduate from the US Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA or Kings Point) and encouraged her to consider USMMA as an option for college.
It was the only college that elders applied to. She entered in 1984, in a class of about 211 men and 28 women. When she graduated, there were only 16 women—a dropout rate of 43 percent.
As part of her training, she was required to serve two six-month terms as a midshipman aboard commercial American merchant ships. A 20-year-old woman on board a merchant ship with 25 men was not always well received. Within the first few hours on board a ship, the ship’s captain informed her bluntly that women did not belong at sea and that he did not want her on his ship.
“I was given specific orders to leave the bridge any time the captain was there,” she recalls. “I was also not allowed to eat in the dining room at the same time as he ate his meals. This went on the whole time I was working on board that ship.”
“The captain’s reaction was so ridiculous and unprofessional,” she said, “I decided to take the high road and refused to let him rob me of a great learning and life experience.”
Elders noted that the first month aboard the ship could be challenging. “Some men gave me a hard time, but once they realized I was there to work and learn, they became more like brothers who looked out for me, made sure I was safe and watched over the ship and when I was in a port.” For the first six months, Elder was the only woman aboard the ship.
“I went there to get an education, and nothing was going to deter me,” she said. “I was very serious, on the straight and narrow.”
By the age of 21, she had seen more of the world than anyone she knew.
“They were some of the greatest times of my life,” she said.
And the ship’s captain? He gave her one of the best evaluations she received during her year at sea.
“He didn’t want me on his ship, but he clearly respected the job I was doing.”
Swallows the anchor
Elder thought she would spend a few years at sea, but there weren’t many sailing jobs when she graduated. She thought about going to law school. But she had a wonderful mentor and teacher at Kings Point: Rich Roenbeck, also a former Kings Pointer who taught her about marine insurance.
“He was so good, such a good teacher, and it was quite interesting, so I decided to swallow the anchor – give up the sea life – and try marine insurance,” she said.
Elder’s aunt was again encouraging. “A teacher in NYC and also a nurse at the VA hospital, she was an inspiration to me,” Elder said. “She was the main reason I went to Kings Point and got ahead. When I started working, she took me out and bought me a whole wardrobe so that I would look and feel confident when I went to my new job .”
Her first job was with Continental Insurance/MOAC, which employed six marine interns in their New York office—five men and Elder—where she began writing hull and cargo insurance. She also became very involved with the American Institute of Marine Underwriters (AIMU).
“AIMU is a hugely important part of marine insurance,” she said. “They are a wonderful organization that has been around for 125 years this year! They provide education in our industry and are involved in issues that are important to our industry.”
She is also involved in the International Union of Marine Insurance (IUMI) and has focused on how data digitization can change marine insurance.
Elder lives by King Point’s motto she learned years ago – Acta Non Verba! – Actions do not words! Today, as a result of her actions, she is the Global Chief Underwriting Officer, Marine at AXA XL, a division of AXA, where her job is to develop the strategy and manage the portfolio of the company’s $1.1 billion book of marine business, a of the largest marine insurance companies in the world.
One of her biggest concerns is the talent gap facing the industry. Not only in the US, but also the rest of the world.
“Companies need to be more creative about getting people into this industry,” she said. “They need to think differently, assess the skills, not necessarily the knowledge of insurance, but the overall skills. Companies should compensate them appropriately for those skills and develop them quickly as underwriters.”
What gives Elder the greatest joy is developing people.
“You have to be the captain of your own ship,” she said. “You can take that ship wherever you want, but you have to have a plan and develop the skills you need to know where you’re going. If you’re not going in the direction of your dreams, you have to change the course of your ship.”
She noted that women can sometimes be less vocal about their ambitions.
“Women think that if they work hard, they will get a reasonable salary and chance to advance, but that is not necessarily the case. Women need to work hard and develop the skills for advancement, but they also need to make sure their managers know their short and long career aspirations,” she said.
“I spent three years in London in marine contract reinsurance and would never have had that opportunity if I hadn’t resigned. It put me on people’s radar,” she explained. “You have to be positioned and ready for the opportunities. You have to network and vocalize what you want. It also takes a good sponsor which is different from a mentor. A mentor guides and helps you strategize, but a sponsor promotes you to other people to help you advance in your career. You need both. I had someone looking out for me early on. It was a man. There were few female leaders when I started,” she said. “There still aren’t many women in senior positions in marine insurance, but men are doing a better job of recognizing women’s assets .”
Elders noted that women and men can have very different leadership styles.
“We don’t always think the same way or deal the same way,” she said. “Having that diversity in mind makes a stronger company. Studies have shown that more diverse companies have higher profits.”
“It’s a great time for women to be in this industry because of all the opportunities out there,” she said. “I tell women, ‘Take the helm and be that leader.’ I tell them, ‘Full speed ahead, ladies, full speed ahead!’ “