"It was challenging to overcome stereotypes that portrayed women as best suited for clerical or support roles and then make the transition into underwriting and leadership positions."
Debra Richardson started her career in the insurance industry in 1977. In the seventies, women generally started in the mailroom. Debra began delivering mail at Safeco Insurance. She pushed a mail cart for three months until a manager in the commercial lines department asked her to take a math test to see if she had what it took to rate policies. Debra passed the test and went from assistant to underwriter in less than a year.
"Dedication to continual professional development and learning, largely through the pursuit of industry designations, helped me improve my technical skills and grow my professional network of amazing people—all of whom I continue to learn from today."
In 1987 Debra joined Gulf Insurance where she learned about the Certified Insurance Counselors (CIC) program through her colleagues. Her curiosity led to a conversation with her manager about the program.
"I went to my manager and told him, 'Hey, I want to enroll in that CIC program I keep hearing about.' I completed my CIC designation in just 11 months. l really loved it and truly learned so much."
The CIC designation provided Debra with the property and casualty coverage knowledge necessary for her career as an underwriter. On top of that foundation, she added expertise in risk control with the CRM designation. The program's annual updates requirements kept deepening her technical understanding of the industry.
DEBRA'S LEARNING PATH
"The CRM curricula is about the big picture of risk management—it gives you a comprehensive way of looking at things."
"As a university faculty member, one of the first calls I made was to The National Alliance to say, 'I want this program on my campus.' It helped me tremendously in my career and I thought it was very important to make sure my students had access to the same quality insurance and risk management education."
Debra enjoyed a successful career as Underwriting Director with St. Paul Companies. In 2004, she joined The Hanover Insurance Group as Regional Vice President. Reflecting on her career helped her find her true passion.
"I loved working for insurance companies. I loved managing and interacting with people. As RVP, I dealt with all levels of underwriting—small business, middle market, and large accounts. I enjoyed sharing ideas, new approaches, and expertise with teammates. I asked myself, 'What was the best part of my career?' I realized it was mentoring people and bringing them along. I discovered I was an educator. So I knew, that’s what I wanted to do."
Debra contemplated retirement until The University of North Texas in Denton offered her a faculty position in Risk Management, Insurance, and Financial Services. She joined UNT in 2009 and taught for six years.
Debra describes her success in education as one of her greatest accomplishments. In 2013, she became the Director of the Risk Management and Insurance Undergraduate Program at the University of Texas at Dallas at The Naveen Jindal School of Management.
"Moving into higher education and helping students—who often know little about our great industry and its benefits to society and to them personally—and seeing them succeed in their careers ranks among my greatest accomplishments."
"My inspiration comes from wanting to make my parents proud because they didn’t go to college. My ring is inscribed on the inside 'For mom and dad.' Having my kids inspire me; my husband inspires me."
Today, Debra’s mission is to share her knowledge and experiences with the next generation of Insurance and Risk Management professionals. She finds purpose in supporting new producers, account managers, and other young professionals become successful.
"I’m glad that I achieved my designations early on and that I got my MBA so I could teach. I had a great career in corporate insurance for 31 years but satisfaction has come during these last ten years. Getting texts from students that say, 'Hey, I just passed another exam' or, 'I just got promoted to underwriting manager!' makes me the proudest."
Debra continues to have a positive impact on education and the insurance and risk management industry. She was awarded the Jindal Faculty Idol of the Year award and was presented with an Owlie Award (Outstanding, Worthy Leaders, Involved Exceptionally) in 2018. She brings visibility to the program through student organizations like Gamma Iota Sigma. Debra currently serves on Gamma Iota Sigma’s board of Trustees. UT Dallas is one of seven superior chapters under her leadership. Debra is considered by students, colleagues, friends, and family as a master of time management. In addition to setting aside special family time, she travels the world with her students, exposing them to new business and cultural opportunities.
"I’ve been blessed with being able to do what I love. I want to see this program grow and start a graduate program. Florida State, The Wharton School at The University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Georgia’s Terry School of Business all have great programs. We don't have a comparable program, so maybe I can explore creating one here at UTD."