By Loretta L. Worters, Vice President, Media Relations, Triple-I
In celebration of the International Day of Women in Maritime – Observed every May 18 – Triple-I interviews women who have made a difference in the maritime arena. Last year, Triple-I focused on isabel therrienSVP-Canada, Falvey Cargo Underwriting.
For as long as Anne Marie Elder can remember, she loved the sea. Being the niece of a Merchant Navy officer, she listened to her uncle’s stories about the role of the Merchant Navy in World War II. She imagined how it would feel to stand on the deck and see the sun reflected on the surface of the water, breathe the salty air and listen to the waves of the sea. When she was in the sixth grade, her Aunt Margaret told her about the first class of women graduating from the US Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA or Kings Point) and encouraged her to consider USMMA as an option for her. University.
It was the only college Elder applied to. He entered in 1984, in a class of about 211 men and 28 women. When he graduated, there were only 16 women, a 43 percent dropout rate.
As part of his education, he was required to serve two six-month terms as a midshipman aboard US commercial merchant ships. A 20-year-old woman aboard a merchant ship with 25 men was not always welcome. Within the first few hours aboard a ship, the ship’s captain informed her bluntly that women did not belong on the sea and he did not want her on her ship.
“I was given specific orders to leave the bridge whenever the captain was there,” he recalls. “I was also not allowed to eat in the dining room at the same time he ate. This continued the entire time I worked on board that ship.”
“The captain’s reaction was so ridiculous and unprofessional,” he said, “I decided to take the high road and refused to let him rob me of great learning and life experience.”
Elder noted that the first month aboard the ship could be challenging. “Some of the men gave me a hard time, but once they realized I was there to work and learn, they became more like brothers, looking out for me, making sure I was safe and watched on the ship and in a port”. For the first six months, Elder was the only woman on board the ship.
“I went there to get an education, and nothing deterred me,” he said. “I was very serious, on the straight and narrow path.”
At the age of 21, he had seen more of the world than anyone he knew.
“It was some of the best moments of my life,” he said.
And the captain of that ship? He gave it one of the best evaluations he got during his year at sea.
“He didn’t want me on his boat, but he clearly respected the work I did.”
swallowing the anchor
Elder thought he would spend a few years at sea, but there weren’t many sailing jobs at the time of his graduation. He thought about going to law school. But he had a wonderful mentor and teacher at Kings Point: Rich Roenbeck, who was also a former Kings Pointer who taught him marine insurance.
“He was so good, a great teacher, and it was quite interesting, so I decided to swallow the anchor, give up marine life and try marine insurance,” he said.
Elder’s aunt was again encouraging. “A teacher in New York City and also a nurse at the VA hospital, she was an inspiration to me,” Elder said. “She was the number one 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 she would see me and feel safe when I went to my new job”.
His first job was with Continental Insurance/MOAC, which hired six marine trainees at its New York office (five men and Elder), where he began writing hull and cargo insurance. He also became very involved with the American Institute of Marine Underwriters (GUESS).
“AIMU is a very important part of maritime insurance,” he 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 with the International Union of Marine Insurance (IUMI) and has focused on how digitization of data could change shipping underwriting.
Elder lives by the King Point motto he learned years ago: Act Non Verba! – Facts, not words! Today, as a result of his actions, he is Global Chief Underwriting Officer, Marine in AXAXLa division of AXA, where his job is to develop the strategy and manage the portfolio of the company’s $1.1 billion maritime portfolio of businesses, one of the largest marine insurers in the world.
One of his biggest concerns is the talent gap facing the industry. Not only in the United States, but also in the rest of the world.
“Companies need to be more creative to attract people to this industry,” he said. “They need to think differently, to assess the skill set, not necessarily insurance knowledge, but the overall skill set. Companies should properly compensate them for those skills and quickly develop them as underwriters.”
What gives Elder the greatest joy is the development of people.
“You must be the captain of your own ship,” he said. “You can take that ship anywhere you want, but you have to have a plan and develop the skills you need to know where you’re going. If you are not going in the direction of your dreams, you must change the course of your ship.
She noted that sometimes women can be less vocal about their aspirations.
“Women think that if they work hard, they’ll get a fair wage and chances for promotion, but that’s not necessarily the case. Women need to work hard and develop the skills to advance, but they also need to make sure their managers are aware of their short- and long-term career aspirations,” she said.
“I spent three years in London in marine reinsurance and I never would have had that opportunity if I hadn’t spoken up. It put me on people’s radar,” she explained. “You have to be positioned and ready for opportunities. You have to work in a network and vocalize what you want. You also need a good sponsor which is different from a mentor. A mentor guides him and helps him strategize, but a sponsor promotes him to others to help advance his career. You need both. I had someone from the beginning who was taking care of me. I was a man. There were few women leaders when I started,” he said. “There aren’t many women in high-level positions in marine insurance yet, but men are doing a better job of recognizing women’s assets.”
Elder noted that women and men can have very different leadership styles.
“We don’t always think the same way or manage the same way,” he said. “Having that diversity of thought makes a company stronger. 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 that are out there,” she said. “I tell women, ‘Take the helm and be that leader.’ I tell them: ‘Full speed, ladies, full speed!’ ”