Women in Business Q&A: Tena Melfi, CoverHound

Women in Business Q&A: Tena Melfi, CoverHound
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Tena Melfi joined CoverHound in April 2016 as Chief Revenue Officer.

Tena began her career as a management consultant where she gained experience across a wide range of industries including publishing, utilities, retail and financial services. In 1999 she joined Electric Insurance Company (EIC), a subsidiary of GE, and launched her career in insurance. While at EIC, Tena lead the executive team in defining a Corporate Mission and Personal Lines Vision. In 2005, Tena joined Homesite Group Inc., now a division of American Family Insurance. As the Director of Business Development, Tena established and optimized carrier partnerships and assessed new B2B distribution channels. In 2007, Tena joined Allstate Insurance Co. and took on the responsibility of building and leading an internal general agency, Ivantage, for Allstate. At USAA, Tena served as the executive leader of the USAA Insurance Agency for 5 years. Over the course of her tenure, she implemented solutions to enhance agency operations, improve member experiences, grow the volume of members served and develop the Agency's bench strength. Tena, with her team, achieved significant operational process savings, grew members served by over 35% and annually exceeded revenue and profit targets.

Tena enjoys developing others and is an active mentor and supports efforts to improve diversity and inclusion across the insurance industry.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I am the youngest of 5 children, 3 boys and 2 girls. We were all born within 6 years, so very close in age. My older siblings have had a significant impact on my life. As the youngest, I was constantly wanting to do everything my brothers were doing. They on the other hand, constantly told me, I was too young, too little, a girl....So I grew very determined to do everything they did, and I would show them not only could I do it, but I could also do it better than them. Today, some refer to this characteristic as "Grit", thus at a very young age I developed grit. I don't back down from challenges and I like to push myself to see what I can do.

When I was a senior in High School in Canada, an opportunity presented itself to run the Boston Marathon for the Rotary club. All funds raised would go to the local hospital. At the time, I was working weekends as a waitress in a small town restaurant when a regular came in for coffee and asked my sister if she would be willing to train for and run the marathon and she said no but I was determined. It was January and they didn't have a runner yet for the Marathon in April. He told me I only had 12 weeks to train and I said, no problem. What I learned was, I can do anything I set my mind too, all it takes is a coach, a road map, a little grit and a positive attitude. As a leader, I have applied these life learnings in hopes of encouraging confidence and creating a supportive environment for my employees. I want them to feel that if and when they encounter a 'heart break hill', they can and will overcome it.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at CoverHound?
Over the course of my career, I have been fortunate to be exposed to a wide variety of businesses, companies both big and small. Having worked in Fortune 100 companies, I understand how decisions are made and how important it is to understand the full range of stakeholders involved. In my current role, I am sharing the value proposition of CoverHound to large national insurance carriers and having knowledge and insight into how they make decisions and the players involved is extremely important. My previous experience has enabled me to effectively communicate the value CoverHound will bring to their organization and distribution network.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at CoverHound?
The main highlight is the fact that CoverHound puts the customer at the center of everything we do. We are very proud of our net promoter score and how we ensure customer satisfaction. Our goal is to exceed expectations while providing fast, accurate and actionable options to the consumer. I love how the experience we provide resonates with consumers and is solving a problem in the marketplace. The culture and focus of CoverHound makes my job a lot of fun and makes sharing our value proposition easy - our customer feedback speaks for us!

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
It is a very exciting time for women to be in the Insurance Industry. A lot of positive change is happening ranging from self driving cars and connected homes, both of which are improving safety and reducing claims; to changes in distribution, which is where CoverHound comes in. We are setting the example for national digital agencies of the future! My advice is to be an advocate for change. Don't be afraid to take on risky projects focused on innovation. By being engaged with the new technologies and pushing for new ways to compete in the marketplace, you will make yourself invaluable ... as they say, fail fast, learn and move on!

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
It is critical for everyone in a company to understand how their daily work ties to the overall strategy and vision of the company. Early in my career, I took for granted that everyone on the team knew why their role is important, however, I soon learned that is not always the case. As companies grow and strategies change, people may lose sight of how their work ties to the overall success of the company.

The best way to keep a positive culture and to keep people engaged is to make sure they understand how their daily work ties to the overall goal. I have learned to constantly connect the dots for employees regarding their own role as well as for roles around them. That and recognizing individuals for their contributions leads to a successful team.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I have a husband and a young son. I made the decision many years ago to be home for breakfast and dinner when I am not traveling. I let my boss and my team know that it is important for me not to miss meal time with my family and it has worked wonderfully. It also sends a signal to those around me that work life balance is important and I support them to do the same.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Overall I see companies are making a lot of progress with diversification in their workforce and more opportunities are available to women than ever before, the biggest issue I see is around equal pay.

Unfortunately, there is still a real gap in pay based on gender. When I mentor women, I always encourage them to learn where they stand in relation to their peers and to ask for alignment if necessary. To me, the worst that can happen is the boss says no. I have found that when I ask, it is uncomfortable, but it opens the boss's eyes and the person is hard pressed not to make an adjustment.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Mentors have made a significant impact on my life. Sometimes I have had to seek out mentors, other times people have volunteered to take me under their wing. It is wonderful to have mentors who want to see you be successful. When someone really cares about your success, and they demonstrate it, their feedback is golden. We all have blind spots about how others perceive us and getting timely feedback is a game changer. I would not be where I am today without a great network of mentors.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
There are so many professional women I admire it is hard to name just a few. To narrow it to the insurance industry, I would like to call out three women who have seen an opportunity to do things differently and have pursued it:

Holly Tachovsky, CEO and founder of Build Fax. BuildFax is revolutionary product and essentially allows one to 'run a background check on your house." Holly has successfully developed and led her innovative team to take BuildFax from "a cool idea" to its current industry-changing trajectory. She is a real force in changing the industry.

Mary Frances Fournet, VP American Strategic Insurance. Mary Frances has a wonderfully diverse background. She is an avid cyclist and successfully operated her own cycling shop. Back in 2000, she had an opportunity to work with a young insurance carrier in Florida. She helped grow the company to become one of the 15 largest residential property insurers in the US. I love the fact that she had no insurance background and grew to be a key, influential player in the success of ASI.

Barbara Bufkin, EVP Business Development Hamilton Insurance. Barbara is a veteran in the insurance industry and is a true champion of change. She recently joined Hamilton to drive a paradigm shift in commercial insurance and was recently awarded the prestigious Inclusion Champion Award by the Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation (IICF). The IICF's Inclusion Champion Award recognizes insurance leaders who are mentors and sponsors to women in the industry.

I'd also like to call out two very successful women who have recently been named to CEO positions in top insurance companies:
Tricia Griffith -CEO of Progressive, effective July 2016
Kara Raiguel - CEO Gen Re, effective May 2016

What do you want CoverHound to accomplish in the next year?
To date, CoverHound has demonstrated it has a very differentiated and successful business model. We have proven our technology capabilities and have set a new industry standard for Net Promoter Score.

This year, I want to see us continue to build on our momentum and deliver the best in class bundled Auto and Home solution and demonstrate we can transfer our personal lines success over to the small commercial space.

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