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MDRT Leads The Way

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I have long thought that the Million Dollar Round Table is a remarkable organization in many ways. But the recent milestone in the 77-year-old MDRT’s history should make everyone in the industry proud of the group.

I’m referring, of course, to Adelia Chung’s ascendancy to the presidency of the organization in September. This is the first time that a woman has been at the head of the MDRT, and once again it shows how that organization is clearing a path that others will most certainly follow (hopefully, sooner than later).

It is little short of scandalous that we should have had to wait until the 21st century for a woman to head one of the industry’s major organizations. Yet that fact simply and I might add, unflatteringly reflects the picture of the industry as a whole.

Can you think of a woman who is the chief executive officer of a large life insurance company, one of the “brand names” in the business? No, neither can I.

The only woman I can think of who headed a life insurance company is the wonderful Virginia Sheehey, who as I remember also was elected to the board of the American Council of Life Insurers. Not chair(wo)man of the board, however.

I know the expression “glass ceiling” has gotten a lot of mileage, particularly as it refers to limits on how high women can go in business. While the image may be somewhat tired, I think those who feel it is overused are probably men who have never especially had to worry about bumping into it.

In the life insurance business, it seems that the glass of which the ceiling is made is the equivalent of auto safety glass shatterproof except in the most extreme of circumstances.

This is also true of the banking and securities industries. Offhand, I can’t think of any woman heading a major organization in either.

In fact, the situation is not much better in American industry as a whole. If you pore through the Fortune 500, you will come up with five (five out of 500!) women who are CEOs Carly Fiorina at Hewlett-Packard; Patricia Russo at Lucent; Andrea Jung at Avon (surprise!); Mary Sammons at Rite-Aid; and Anne Mulcahy at Xerox.

Now, maybe it is just a coincidence that three of these five women are heads of companies in the technology area a business that puts a premium on being cutting-edge, creative, forward-thinking and nimble.

To how many financial services operations including banks, insurance companies and securities firms would you ordinarily apply any of those four adjectives?

Anyway, the point of this detour through the American business landscape is simply to show how noteworthy is Adelia Chungs taking the helm at the MDRT.

In view of her signal achievement, we put her on the cover of National Underwriter last week in our report on the MDRT’s annual meeting, calling her “The New Face of MDRT.”

Im sure the cover is the last place she expected to be. She was so modest in talking with NU. “With a membership as talented as MDRT’s,” she said, “the part Ill play [as president] will be easy and insignificant.”

Based on those sentiments, we could as easily have accompanied her picture with the words “Class Act.” But that would be true of all those men we’ve known who have been president of the MDRT. In that way, Adelia Chung fits right in with her long line of illustrious predecessors.

Considering how much travel the MDRT’s presidents do in their year at the top, I see Adelia Chung bringing inspiration to women all over the world who may have gotten discouraged about their own glass ceilings and who will now be encouraged to start trying to break through, once again. Bon voyage, Adelia.

Steve Piontek


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, June 25, 2004. Copyright 2004 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.