Sarah Skahan was never going into the insurance industry. That’s what the now-29 year old said when she was young and headed to college to major in English. She was staying out of the family business (her father owns the agency). “I always said, ‘No, I’m going to do my own thing.’”
These days, Skahan, assistant agency manager at Newberry Insurance Group in South Windsor, Connecticut, has no doubts about her choice to join her father’s agency. Having graduated from Kennesaw State University in 2010, Skahan saw few options in front of her. “I was in the South, and there weren’t a ton of jobs. I was frustrated with what was available. Plus, I had all this student loan debt, and I really needed to start working.”
At first, Skahan says she considered going to law school. However, the prospect of adding to her student loan debt dissuaded her. So she turned to the family business. “It started on a contingency that I be trained in personal lines sales, then I could relocate down South and open an office there. Yet here I am,” she laughs.
Knowing more than yesterday
An agent for six years, Skahan focuses on commercial lines as well as the personal lines, an area she now manages. It’s a surprising place for her given her initial trepidation. She says staying in the industry was a challenge for her at first.
“When I first started, it was terrifying and frustrating because there’s so much to know. I had just gotten my license, and I kept thinking I cannot do this. And my father actually said to me ‘Do you know more than you knew last week?’ I said ‘Well, yea’ and he said, ‘Well, imagine what you’re going to know a month from now and a year from now, and focus on that.’”
That advice is something she still follows, particularly when it’s tough going. Skahan says she faces daily obstacles. One in particular is the double whammy of being young and female in a male-dominated industry. At industry events, she’s been asked whose assistant she is and she’s heard male colleagues refer to their claims and support staff as “the ladies in the office.”
That kind of mindset, which Skahan believes is unintentional, is why she works hard to prove that a young female can and should be taken seriously. With a CIC designation, CLCS credentials and her CPCU designation in the works, she’s set out to quantify how far she’s come and how serious she is. Echoing the perspective her father gave her early on, she says “I’m most proud of how much I’ve learned and what I can look back on to see how far I’ve come.”
Plus, she’s working hard to eliminate any thoughts of nepotism among her coworkers, since her father owns the agency. Skahan says she gets no breaks, either. “He pushes me harder than anyone else because he knows I can do it, and he doesn’t want anyone to think I’m here because of him. Of course, I wouldn’t have the opportunity without him, but he knows I can work hard.”
Facing challenging times
That hard work seems to have increased over the last few years, Skahan says. Advertisements on television have put pressure on the entire industry, she says, because clients want answers as to why their rates differ. “Everything they see on TV give them this view of the industry where they’re thinking of us as use car salespeople. They’re looking at us as though we’re not here to help them.”