Women in Business: Monika Bolkun-Robert, Partner, Schaefer Enterprises Inc

Monika was born and raised in Poland and spent her summers in England working and studying English. While on her last year of high school, she got a summer job selling cosmetics for a European company at trade shows.

She received a scholarship for high scholastic achievement throughout her 5-year Graduate degree at the Bialystok University of Technology.

During college she interned in the marketing department with one of the most successful distributors of wines and spirits in Poland. It was the only company that was listed in the NASDAQ stock market at that time.

At 24 years old, a month after finishing her MBA in Marketing and Management, Monika came to New York.

Once in New York, she started working as an assistant to the President of an insurance and bonding brokerage firm on Wall Street without any experience in insurance. With an MBA in Marketing & Management, she used her knowledge to become an asset to the company.

Eventually, she moved to Schaefer Enterprises Inc, and become partner and vice-president.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
Growing up around high achievers like my parents and siblings have given me the confidence that anything you want to achieve is possible if you are passionate about it, prepare for it and do your best everyday.

My mom is an accomplished Pharmacist, My Dad, a Master Mechanic, My twin bother, a MD. PHD. Hematologist and my sister, a PHD. Pharmacist.

I've been in positions of leadership from elementary school through graduate school, so being a leader is part of my personality.

I have learned that leadership is about the team - the culture they keep and embrace, it's about empathy for your customers, clients, employees and the communities where you do business, it's about doing the right thing for the right reasons, being confident enough to take risks and responsible enough to think of those who your decisions and risks may affect.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Schaefer Enterprises?
Having started from the bottom up in the insurance business, has given me a great understanding of how time consuming or difficult certain parts of the job are. It gives me the opportunity to praise my team for a job well done or to demand more from them if needed.

Additionally, I developed skills to positively influence underwriters and capitalized on premium credits and coverage advantages. I learned to provide my customers with unique solutions depending on their insurance needs.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Schaefer Enterprises?
The highlight has been being nominated by INC. magazine as one of the 5,000 fastest growing privately held companies in the US. We ranked #17 among insurance companies with a 95% retention rate of our customers.

The challenges have been to find or create new markets for the companies with high & medium rate of exposures, especially since the number of insurance providers has decreased significantly due to excessive claims in the construction sector over the last few years.

What advice can you offer to women who want to work in insurance?
Work on building an outstanding reputation.

Knowledge, experience, and confidence combine to create credibility, and that credibility is the basis of your reputation.

Additionally, a short cut to learning: Being enthusiastic, having a positive attitude about life and a sense of humor make you friends anywhere, and friends share their life experiences to help you grow personally and professionally.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
There is a universal principle called the "Law of Attraction," which says, "You always attract into your life the people, ideas, and resources in harmony with your dominant thoughts."

The more you learn and grow, the more experiences you have that you benefit from, and the wiser you become as a businessperson, the faster and more consistently your business will grow as well.
You will always attract the type of people who are harmony with your own level of personal development. The rule is, "Your life only gets better when you get better."

Your people get better only when you become a better manager. Your customers get better only when you become a better salesperson. Your business gets better only when you become a better businessperson. There are no shortcuts. And there is no other way.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
There's no such thing as perfect balance. Starting and running businesses is hard work, some years you don't sleep much, and the more your business grows, the tougher the decisions and the more people depend on you. But if you love what you are doing, it's all that matters. Truly, you can only strive for harmony as defined by you at any given point in your life. Sometimes you dedicate more time to your business and sometimes you dedicate more time to your family, but you always give it 100% of your attention. It is important that you never loose sight of why you are doing it in the first place - your wellbeing and happiness.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Child planning and work-life balance challenges continue to be the most common reasons why women turn down senior positions within companies. The general perception in the work place is that pregnant women or women with children automatically are unable to do the job.

I remember when I was pregnant with my daughter, most of my clients didn't know about it. When I was 9month pregnant one of my biggest clients visited me in my office. I got up from behind the desk to greet him and he looked so surprised when he saw me. He asked me then if I am pregnant, I joked that I just had a big lunch. After the meeting, he sent me an email that he is concerned about his renewal since I am due any day now. His insurance was coming up for renewal in a month. I explained to him that I would have everything ready, as always. He has been my loyal client for over 7 years. I assured him that he will not be left without help and that our staff of professionals will be there for him. I told him that I would monitor everything while I am away. Eventually 2 weeks after I had my baby I was in his office signing the contract. He wouldn't deal with anybody else.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I learned valuable lessons from my mother - who made tough decisions as the leader of the family to give us a better life. She taught me to rely on myself, to respect deadlines and to develop a problem solver attitude that I still apply today.

Many great people gave me a shot when I was young and inexperienced; they believed in me and invested in my professional and personal growth and I didn't want to let them down, so I worked my tail off.

With the same gratitude for all the opportunities I received, I enjoy helping others develop their businesses and careers.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I admire Sara Blakely, the creator of SPANX. She is the youngest self-made female billionaire. She started the business without knowing anything about the undergarment industry, except that she had a unique product.

I admire her for her resilience to create a successful business and the humble generosity to share her wealth with the less fortunate.

What do you want Schaefer Enterprises to accomplish in the next year?
We started our agency with 3 people, now we have over 15 employees. We are working on exclusive programs for urgent care market and the food industry as well as the construction industry. I am really confident that we will open those programs in 2015 and that would give us enormous advantage in insurance market.