Meet the Silver Lining’s Bestie: Margaret Milkint

Margaret Resce Milkint, The Jacobson Group

Margaret Resce Milkint, The Jacobson Group


Stewart: Welcome to another edition of Insurance AUM Journal podcast. My name is Stewart Foley, and I’m standing with you at the corner of insurance and asset management with a good friend today, Margaret Milkint. I’ve known Margaret for a good long time, and she is the grande dame of recruiting in the insurance space. We couldn’t be happier to have you, Margaret, welcome.

Margaret: Oh, thank you, Stewart. Very honored to be here. It’s been a pleasure to serve with you and to make a difference with you out there.

Stewart: You are one of the most active advocates for women in the insurance space. You’ve created this thing called Wing. We can talk more about that. I’m really dying to know that you’re front and center on how COVID-19 is impacting the job market. You have a front row seat to executives and compensation levels, and I’m dying to get to that stuff. What I’d love to do is start with, and I think anybody who knows someone like you, who’s a very accomplished professional, wants to know your story. So, would you tell us your story?

Margaret: I would love to tell the story, Stewart, thank you for asking. So I am a Chicago girl born and raised. I was raised on the southwest side of Chicago in the West Beverly area by Nick and Mary Resce. I am half Italian and half Spanish and Mexican. So it’s a great combination and this is why I talk with my hands all the time and it’s really part of my roots. I will tell you that I was raised by hard working parents and grandparents who gave me those values of work ethic and relationships and care and positivity. My grandmother, Margaret always said, you get further with honey than vinegar. My mother always said, when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. And so these are etched in my head. This is my ethos. This is who I am and how I operate.

Margaret: You mentioned something that’s near and dear to my heart. And that is my passion for being a champion for diversity and inclusion. I focused a lot on gender, women. Women are still diverse in insurance. And I go back to my roots a little bit because I went to an all-girls Catholic high school on the south side of Chicago called Mother McAuley, we’re the Might Macs. And I really think that that was defining for me going to high school with all women, being educated by women, being around women and seeing women lead the whole school. So the student body president was a woman. I was the editor of the newspaper, I was a woman; everybody was women. And that was, I think it was lifting. And I didn’t realize how formative it really was until after all these years. I went on to the university of Illinois and obviously that was coed.

Margaret: And that was a wonderful experience back on the leadership journey. Many women and men who are my mentors, I have to say, you go back to your mentors, to parents and grandparents, and then early teachers and professors, women, and men who shape you along the way. So I always say mentoring never ends. And even in this time of COVID-19, I’m saying to people, take the moments that are mentoring moments. They’re micro moments that we have. You’ve mentored me, Stewart, along the way. Our good friend who introduced us, Tom Callahan, he is a continual mentor. And I think we all have to find those moments and those mentors to celebrate.

Margaret: So that’s just a little bit about Margaret. I have to tell you here in this age of COVID-19, I’ve been practicing a lot of gratitude. I have been working hard to find the silver linings, like all of us. And I’m not going to say it hasn’t been tough, it’s been tough. And we’re finding our way together, but I’ve been honest about it, like all of us have, and we’re doing our best, but it’s not been easy because nobody’s given us a rule book on this.

Stewart: Yeah, it’s really interesting. At the end of the 2008 financial crisis, when all of that was going on, we were being told, “Hey, get out there and hurry up, get it together, spend money, spend money. Everything’s fine.” And in this case, it’s the exact opposite. It’s like, “Stay home, stay home. Don’t do anything.” You know, Chicago is starting to open up a little bit more. We’re just north of Chicago. Things seem to be, you can kind of tell it in traffic and whatnot, but where COVID-19 really impacts your world, I assume, and what I wanted to talk about is, I’ve been working with Lake Forest College up until recently. I know that they’ve got students who have had internships that were, the offers were pulled back. There have been offers for full time employment pulled back. And you have a view on this from the experiences that you’re seeing. What’s your take on it?

Margaret: So what I’m going to start out in saying, Stewart, is that there are people playing offense right now, and people playing defense. I will tell you those people playing offense, moving forward, acting with agility, acting with some courage, moving forward and finding a way, they’re the winners here. They’re absolutely winners. There are those organizations that are being reactive and they’re playing defense. And that is, that’s their choice, that’s their business. But I’m seeing, it’s two worlds right now. It’s offense or defense. And I have seen the same as you, with students entry level roles that are just being cut. And then I’ve seen the opposite of companies saying, “We’ve got to go forward, we’ve got to do the virtual internships. We’re going to start our new class of entry level hires and we’re going to do it virtually.” And so I think we are seeing that it can be done, and I think it’s, in my world, on the executive space, I will tell you, my clients have not missed a beat, have not missed a beat.

Margaret: We moved to virtual interviewing, the whole process, to virtual onboarding. We’ve had now six or seven executives who have gone through a virtual process and virtual onboarding who, some of them, haven’t stepped foot on the home office floors. It is really, I think, encouraging, amazing, thank goodness for technology and for all the CIOs out there. I say this, big applause. It’s amazing what we’ve been able to do as an industry. You know, I think there’s a lot of hope and a lot of positivity out here. We’ve got a long way to go, but I feel like we’re going in the right direction.

Stewart: I’m going to give a very strong plug for the insurance industry as a place for a really solid career for young people in particular. I think it really gets overlooked as a bad rap. And I think the insurance industry is a fantastic place for career, and I know that’s your world as well. The one thing I would say, just anecdotally, is that my students, there are some really good students who are available now that weren’t three months ago. They had offers in the fall and they’re available out there, and it seems like if a company was agile and got back into hiring mode, that this would be a pretty good chance for what I would refer to as a buyer’s market. What do you think, do you agree with that?

Margaret: I do you agree with that, Stewart. There is a great opportunity for students to enter insurance right now. There’s a great opportunity for the insurance industry to take advantage of these great students that are available right now and being proactive about it. I think generally the insurance industry is so robust, is so healthy. There is still a war for talent in insurance, and we still have an aging workforce in insurance. So there is a lot of opportunity and there’s opportunity for candidates as well.

Margaret: So I’m going to tell you back to my offense and defense perspective: there are candidates who are going to sit on the sidelines right now, and they’re not going to look at opportunities because they’re worried, they’re scared, they’re nervous. And then there are candidates that are going to say, “This is an opportunity.” And I’m telling them, “Jump on. You know, if you play some offense, you might be selected for a position, who knows. A step above or a half a step above where you thought you could really land.” So there is, again, back to my silver lining. And I would encourage your students at Lake Forest, who are fabulous students, well-trained and applause to all of you. They’re bright, they’re talented, they’re hungry. They want to make a difference in the world and that’s what we need in insurance right now.

Stewart: Very kind of you, I know the college certainly appreciates that as well. You mentioned diversity and inclusion in the insurance business. I think it’s fair to say that that’s needed, this sort of crass description I’ve heard is pale, stale, and male. And I think it’s true, particularly in the executive ranks and the insurance industry is notoriously slow to move. It just is. It’s the good and the bad of it. You know, the insurance industry sells promises for a living. That’s what they do. They take on risk and they say, “Hey, if something happens to you, Margaret, we’ll take care of it.” And as a result of that, they’re just basically built conservatively. And I think things happen a little more slowly, but it seems as though, particularly given efforts like yours at Wing, and I’m hoping that you can talk about that, that there’s headway for diversity and inclusion in insurance. What are you seeing?

Margaret: Well, I am seeing headway and you know what, it’s not by accident, Stewart, it’s by intention. You know, we’re not only talking, but we’re acting. I think when we first went on the DNI journey, when David Mendelson and I founded the Women’s Insurance Networking Group, we were really very rare because we were one of the first, if not the first, groups to welcome men to the table and you are one of our enlightened men. And we thank you for amplifying and celebrating and educating along the way. I never was a part of an all female group before that. And we decided, you know what, WING has to be fully inclusive. Women, men, all audiences from student to entry, to mid-level to executive level. And it really has been a community and we’ve grown into a community together that’s got a voice.

Margaret: We act, we have a voice, we respect each other and we move forward. And now on WING’s journey, I’m going to tell you, we’ve got some things to celebrate, but it’s not by accident. I think that every time, I will tell you, every time I have a search, every time I make a recommendation for, not just somebody to think about interviewing or hiring, but somebody to be on a panel or to moderate, or to be a keynote speaker, I’m going to make sure I recommend women, and men and women of color. We have to be intentional about it. These small acts turn into big steps. And that’s what we’re seeing.

Margaret: We are doing better, there’s no doubt about it. There are a lot of people who would say, well, it’s not good enough. Well, I don’t look at it that way. I say the glass is half full, we’ve made progress. We’ve got a lot more work to do. Yes, indeed we do. But we are making progress. And we can point to that. We can point to women in the C suite, can point to women I’ve put on boards of directors. I can point to female CEOs, female CIOs, female chief actuaries, we’re you’re doing it, but it has been very intentional.

Stewart: Yeah. I think one of the things that you really took the lead on of note that we were able to participate in is the International Women’s Day event last year that you did. March 8th, I just remember the date. And you had a really nice event that celebrated women in insurance, but it wasn’t a women-only event, to your point. And I think that that’s really important. It was more women than men, but not by a lot. I think that it’s the inclusion part that sometimes gets lost in the diversity and inclusion. We don’t want to do so many things for these specific groups that we splinter those off, we want everybody into the pool.

Stewart: We want everybody to have an opportunity, but at the end of the day, when you go to work at X, Y, Z Insurance Company, and you’re going to begin on a team and you never know the makeup of that team, and you’re going to need to be able to function and to be productive and effective right off the bat with whatever team it is. That’s what we try and instill in our students at the college as well. So I just applaud what you’ve done. I think it would be difficult to quantify how many lives have been positively impacted by your effort with David Mendelson.

Margaret: Thank you, Stewart. And that was a wonderful event. Remember, we even cut the purple tie, which is what they do in Italy on International Women’s Day. So the woman cuts the man’s tie, but then after that, she gives him a kiss on both cheeks.

Stewart: Well, you can’t … there is, the balance is off.

Margaret: There you go. There you go. No, that was great. And I remember Dame Inga Beale was with us, the first female CEO of Lloyd’s. We had Mary Jane Fortin, the president of Allstate who’s now over at Thrivent. And we had Michael Halloran. And yeah, it was, it was a great day. And I think those days, those are events. But what we try to do in this movement is really to create behaviors in culture and DNA. So it’s built into what we do and how we speak because optics do matter.

Stewart: If someone’s in WING, how do they get involved or how do they find you?

Margaret: Well, you can find us on LinkedIn. We have a LinkedIn group page there, and you have to look at up as Women’s Insurance Networking Group, all written out. There is no membership fee. So you apply to be a member, I promise we will accept you, and you can become a part of this community. We have active groups in Chicago and New York and Atlanta and Dallas and San Francisco. And we have a national following. So we participate in the community of DNI events in insurance. We’ve got Dive In, coming up, which I know, Stewart, you and your students have celebrated with us. That’s the celebration for diversity and inclusion and insurance that was started by Dame Inga Beale. And that is quite a happening. We are in 20 cities this year in the Americas. We’re in Mexico City. We’re in Bermuda, we’re in Canada and 20 cities in the states.

Margaret: It will be a fully virtual event and they’re free. These events are free. So you can zoom in to Bermuda. You can zoom into New York, we’ll be having an event that’s based out of Chicago. And we’ll be talking about things that are current, like mental health, self-care, justice, and equity. This is the direction now that DNI is taking, it’s not just a gender conversation and it has to grow. We’re talking about belonging and we’re talking about racial equality and we’re talking about what it means to be an ally and we’re doing it, so this is the call to action. And the women and men that we partner with are men and women for others. They truly care about making a difference and they want practical action.

Stewart: You’ve worked in the insurance industry, placing executives for a number of years, and I’m not going to put a number on that, but let’s just say that you have experience at doing that. So can we do a before, during and after COVID-19? Or would you prefer, is it, the last three years? How do you see this trending over this last little bit here?

Margaret: I think you’re again, right on point, Stewart. We’re not going to go back. We won’t go back to before COVID-19, so we have to go forward. We were already talking about future of work. We were already talking about remote working and gig workers and what that all meant. Now we’re doing it, we’re doing it. And technology has been a great enabler. I think that the mindset that people have about agility has also enabled us to be able to move forward. So I’ve heard it said a couple of times, but genie’s out of the battle. She’s not going back, and the way that we’re thinking, the way that we’re operating, even the way that I’m looking at talent today, I have to look at it with a different lens. We were saying, leaders need to be agile. Leaders need to be digitally focused. Leaders need to be technology minded.

Margaret: Now I’m saying, we need leaders who can communicate, who can communicate. And the rise of the human skills has never been more important than today. You know, you probably heard me five years ago, I was talking about the Buka landscape. We are in a Buka landscape right now. It is volatile. It is uncertain. It is complex. And it is ambiguous. We need leaders who can lead, who don’t need a role book who listen and who care and who are empathetic, kind, who know how to say thank you. And who can step up with character and conviction. We need all of that in these tool kits and these are behaviors and traits that we are talking about in a loud and proud way. Empathy, compassion, kindness, sense of humor, you need that all and more to be a successful leader today. And I think you can lead in Amy Winneger’s words, lead in any level. We’re all leaders.

Stewart: Yeah, it’s a great point. And I mean, when I started off our podcast together, by saying how inspirational you are and I think that your answer to that last question sums it up better than I ever could. I find that to be just the way that you come at it is so refreshing. I think it’s so wise and really actionable. The idea that you can lead at every level is so important so I applaud you. It is so great to catch up with you. I learn a lot. I always love seeing your smiling face. You are always smiling, which is terrific. So thanks very much for being on with us today.

Margaret: Thank you, Stewart. It was such a pleasure to catch up with you. I appreciate you and your leadership and your voice, your advocacy. You’re one of our enlightened males and we need you. And we need your students so send them my way. We’ve got the insurance career movement. We’ve got Dive In. We’ve got the IICF Regional Women’s Forums coming up. We have all kinds of ways that we’re going to be staying connected in this digital space.

Stewart: I should have said this, but it’s The Jacobson Group. How does somebody find you?

Margaret: Well, they can find me on LinkedIn. They can find Jacobson. We’re based in Chicago, but we are obviously virtual. All of our team right now is completely working from home. So we’ll make sure that we get all of my contact information. I was going to say day or night, happy to find me. Text, email, LinkedIn.

Stewart: Can you spell your last name? Just because for everybody so they can find you.

Margaret: Oh sure. So my full name is Margaret Resce Milkint, R-E-S-C-E. And then Milkint is M-I-L-K-I-N-T.

Stewart: Margaret, thanks for being our guest. This is Stewart Foley, thanks for joining us on the Insurance AUM Journal podcast.

Margaret Resce Milkint is Managing Partner of The Jacobson Group. A member of the firm’s Executive Management Team, she is a key ambassador in establishing strategic client relationships and broadening the firm’s reach and breadth of insurance talent solutions. Margaret’s passion lies in counseling clients on leadership selection and she has successfully managed countless executive searches during her more than 30 years with the firm. She is also a champion for diversity, inclusion and intersectionality in the insurance industry. She co-founded the Women’s Insurance Networking Group, a platform for networking and career development among female and enlightened male insurance professionals.