05/02/2016 12:23 GMT | Updated 05/02/2017 05:12 GMT

Women in Business Q&A: Kim Davis, SVP, NFP

Kim Davis is the SVP and Head of Human Resources for NFP, a leading insurance broker and consultant providing employee benefits, property & casualty, retirement, individual insurance and wealth management solutions. NFP is ranked by Business Insurance as the 5th largest global benefits broker by revenue, the 4th largest US-based privately owned broker and the 11th largest broker of US business. Kim joined NFP in January 2012 through the sale of a company that she co-founded specializing in building benefits and HR solutions for Private Equity and their portfolio of companies through a self-built consortium and high-level consulting practice model. Kim has spent more than 25+ years in several different types of businesses and industries, partnering with business leaders to strategically align the human capital of the business with bottom line success through productivity, engagement, career planning and total compensation programs that would drive efficiencies into the business and foster a pay-for-performance reward system. While Kim initially studied computer programming and accounting, she ultimately received her BA in Business and has positioned herself as an HR leader, Business Strategist and Entrepreneur.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?

I was the youngest of four children in a low to middle income family and felt a bit disconnected to my older brother and sisters, so I became rather self-sufficient and amused myself through study, reading and even establishing little bake sales or other activities that were aimed at helping others. My contributions to charities were small in size and scope but I have always known from an early age that I wanted to find ways to make other people's lives a little better. I married very young and at 25 was a single mother of two. That experience shaped me to understand that nothing was going to be given to me and in order to make my children's lives as good as I could, I needed to work hard, gain an education and find a job that would support us. That made me a resilient and strong-willed person, which I believe has provided me with the ability to strive, succeed and never give up on my goals. I work hard, I am driven and I still want to find ways to make the lives of those around me fruitful and happy. These experiences have made me a leader who leads by example, wouldn't ask others to do something I wouldn't be willing to do myself, and strives to offer others the support to identify their strengths and weaknesses and build off of them to reach their full potential.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at NFP?

I started my career in a GE company and was fortunate enough to gain some of the greatest learnings and training from that experience. I was part of the GE organization when we were in the process of "Work Out", which was a team-based review of every process and how to improve it or stop doing it if it was not adding value. I found that gaining a team's perspective on how to improve the work we did every day and engage the employees in having ownership in that process resonated with me. It helped to make the implementation of the changes with a greater adherence and success than the normal top-down approach. I worked within the Human Resources teams in several industries over the years after GE, including property management, which with tenants was very client-centric, so you had to have trustworthy and dependable employees. I also worked with an internet travel site that included a call center, again requiring a close tie to customer service. Additionally, I worked with casinos, which offer the total client experience, and finally, within a private equity company owned by Carl Icahn. That firm was very focused on expense control and efficiency to maximize shareholder value of the companies. Each company and each position taught me more about engaging employees, creating a diverse workforce to maximize creativity and treating employees with respect. I even learned the hard lesson that as a company, we have to balance compensation and benefits so that we save every dollar we can on costs while working to offer employees the best programs that the company can afford. Supporting the "softer" side of people in my jobs while being cognizant of the importance to the company's profitability to ensure we would have jobs for our employees helped me to be strategic in business decisions while never forgetting that it's our employees that make us successful.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at NFP?

When my partners and I sold our business to NFP in January 2012, I was not sure what to expect. I had been running my own business for 5 years and while it was difficult with scarce resources and long hours, being an entrepreneur gave me a strong sense of accomplishment in my career. However, NFP was a growing company with a great story and was serving people - my true passion. As a broker and consultant, our company treats our employer clients and, therefore all of their employees, as if they were an extension of us. Everything we do is extremely personal and requires respect and genuine caring to offer the best services and programs the client can afford for their employees. That is a fantastic company with which to be associated!

Soon after joining, NFP decided to go from more of a holding company of smaller broker and consulting firms to an operational company that would engage every office and employee as a part of the NFP family. This was a change from the previous model of purchasing smaller firms like ours and allowing them to operate independently. I was working on the HR consulting model for our clients, and with this change in business strategy, was in the right place at the right time! I was offered an opportunity to create a companywide HR shared services organization to support our 3,300 employees. With a limited budget and a need to create the internal and external HR teams across the company, we modeled an organization that could ultimately do both. We strategically placed HR Business Partners with internal and external HR consulting backgrounds in our regional offices and our shared services related positions. In our Austin, TX office we set out to make this model a reality. Our CEO and COO supported the idea, and we built what I think is the first revenue-generating and internal support HR team of its kind. It is very exciting to have leadership that is creative and willing to take risks for the expectation of success! Our business has a huge acquisition pipeline for benefits and property & casualty firms to grow our business and that keeps us very busy in both areas of HR. I love the people, I love the culture we are building, and that makes getting up every day to tackle the challenges and see us all reap the rewards, fantastic!

What advice can you offer to women who are looking for a career in your industry?

Insurance has long had the reputation for being more of a "man's world," but that is changing rapidly, not only for our industry but for the workforce in general. Over 62% of our positions are currently held by women and more within the SVP, VP and director levels than most of the top performing companies. We have already been attracting and engaging women into our workforce. My advice to other women is to understand the differences between what we bring to the workforce and what men do. Be strategic in your thinking, stand up for your beliefs, and frankly, get out of your own way. Sometimes women, like men, have long held beliefs about the makeup of the workforce and where we fit in, and we need to just believe in ourselves and show that those differences we have offer the business a tremendous upside.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?

I can't say I am very good at it much of the time, and my husband, would likely agree that I need to be better at balancing my work and family life. I am a bit of a workaholic who sees so much potential and wants to make a difference in our employees' lives for the better. This means I sometimes lose track of time. What I would say is understand yourself and the needs of your family and then work to manage the balance as best as you can. When I am with my family, I try to be present and enjoy that time to its fullest.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?

I think it is definitely finding time for everything. We want to be successful but we are also incredibly caring and nurturing people that want to have a full family life and enjoy the sweet and fleeting moments. We want to watch our children grow up and share with them life lessons that will shape them into the next generation of people. We do that in the hopes that they will care for our planet and each other in a better and more engaged way than we did. With that comes workplace flexibility and childcare needs that we have to work together to figure out. Child care is becoming a major work issue for both women and men in the more shared family environments of today.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?

I have had a couple of mentors in my career that truly helped me to succeed. These were bosses and supporters that asked my opinion before giving me theirs, pushed me to think past my initial reactions or thoughts so that I could put myself in the place of the person or people I was making decisions for; so I was being fair and respectful. Those experiences gave me a lot of self-confidence in my abilities and made me creative in my problem solving. I hope the few women I can think of, who I would consider myself a mentor to, would say that I was tough but fair, taught them to think for themselves, stand up for what they believe is right, and to treat people like you would like to be treated.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?

Historically that would be Mother Teresa and in today's world, I would pick Michelle Obama. Of all the wonderful things Mother Teresa did, she believed that the greatest gift we gave was of ourselves. I love so many of her famous quotes, but maybe most of all her quote, "If you judge people, you have no time to love them." In contrast, in modern society, Michelle Obama has been a great role model. She came from simple beginnings; she studied and crafted her own professional successes while never forgetting her community roots. Today, she is actively working to help curb childhood obesity through her reach and support of programs designed to get children active and eating healthy.

What do you want to personally and professionally accomplish in the next year?

I want to continue building out the PeopleFirst culture that we started at NFP. I want our employees to be engaged and excited about the work they do, the development they receive, and the betterment of their lives, personally and professionally, from being part of the NFP team. I want our guiding principle at NFP of "It's personal" to resonate to each of our employees and to our clients as authentic and real. That is absolutely what we are all striving for!

Personally, I want to see my children and grandchildren grow and find happiness. I want to support my husband as he continues his education in behavioral health counseling and in turn, watch his success in helping others enhance or find solace in their lives. I also want to carve out more time to help other women find the resources, support and inner strength to move their lives forward towards the goals that they hope to achieve. In essence, I want to give back the successes I have enjoyed in any way that I can!