Sometimes the path one takes isn’t the one that leads to the future. For Chris Feneli, the path he took into an engineering career took a sharp turn — right into an insurance career.
A surprising outcome for Feneli, senior director at NFP in New York City. But it’s one that Feneli says is the best fit for his personality. Perhaps more surprising was his own revelation about engineering. “I got an engineering degree and decided I wanted nothing to do with being an engineer for the rest of my life.”
Not that he hadn’t had opportunity — Feneli says he was provided a number of summer internships, and he was intrigued by the idea of creating solutions and efficiencies. Yet it was during one of those internships that he realized the job wasn’t a great fit. He envisioned days in the field interacting with people and examining issues and seeing how things were built.
Instead, he says that for every day in the field, “it felt like there was a week back in the office behind a computer screen, working through numbers and programs and design and analysis. With my personality, I needed more of that personal interaction. It opened my eyes.”
So in 2005, he followed friends and family into the insurance business. He says his story is fairly typical of those who are in the business. “Very few people plan to be here.”
He started working for a large company in their wholesale division, which he says helped his career get off the ground. “Starting on the wholesale side was a great way to learn the business,” says Feneli. “It was a big company with a robust training program, and it allowed me to jump in and get my feet wet.”
In that position, Feneli would call on clients regularly. In one case, the connection turned into another career-changing moment. “One of the firms I called on was young guys who had a growing, successful (insurance consulting) business, and we hit it off. I liked the idea of partnering with them, but seeing the more well-rounded picture of what our clients are facing versus just having a small sampling of products that I was responsible for talking about.”
So in 2008, Feneli moved to consulting. It’s been a good move — today, Feneli is a senior director, overseeing account teams in the state of New York that are responsible for $50 million in revenue. It’s a place the 34-year-old didn’t expect to be, particularly given his earlier career aspirations and shift in direction. “I’ve always thought I was fairly intelligent and able to identify opportunities and take advantage of them,” but Feneli says even so, he’s surprised at how far he’s come in such a short time.
He speaks of that accomplishment with awe — when he has time. “I work for one of the five largest consulting firms in the country when it comes to employee benefits. Being in charge of all of our account teams in the state of New York is certainly something that, when there’s a little time to reflect, I think in a fairly short period of time, I’m in a position where I have quite a bit of authority and responsibility. That’s not something I take lightly, and it’s something I hope is a reflection of the hard work, energy and passion I put into the business.”