Bonnita (Bonnie) Boone is a highly respected leader in the insurance industry, not only for her proven expertise in risk management – in particular, for healthcare organizations and financial institutions – but also for her ongoing commitment to promoting diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the industry.
While Boone does a lot of public speaking on D&I in the insurance industry, she doesn’t classify herself as “a D&I person.” Rather, she says she’s “an insurance broker [who has] lived D&I for 38-years.”
When Boone first entered the industry, D&I was not part of the insurance agenda. Reflecting on her early years in a fireside chat at Dive In 2020, she said: “When I first started in the industry, I didn’t have a lot of mentors. I worked for the first black managing director of Marsh, Clifford Johnson, who was a gentleman with integrity, who wasn’t afraid to teach me what he knew, who was proud of me, and helped me reach other levels. I had other mentors that I selected, and I take pride in their leadership and their direction, but none was like Clifford.”
When it comes to “reaching other levels,” Boone has gone from strength to strength throughout her career. She is currently the executive vice president of healthcare in the Risk Management Services group at Gallagher, where she oversees property & casualty risk management business for large integrated delivery systems for physicians, managed care companies, biotech firms, and several other health care companies.
Prior to joining Gallagher, she was a practice group leader at Willis and was one of the first African American women to join the senior leadership team at Marsh New York. She has also headed up an underwriting group, and has trained three presidents of insurance companies.
“Throughout my journey, I’ve had several positions [...] and each position that I left, I was looking for opportunity, I was looking for advancement, I was looking for someone to help me reach the next level,” said Boone. “It wasn’t easy going to a new firm. Each firm I went to, I had to prove to the next group of people that I was competent and that I had learned to think strategically, just as they did. Each position that I’ve taken, I think I’ve gained something. I’ve always been loyal and try to give back to the company, and I always try to develop a legacy.
“It can be hard when you’re sitting in an office, you’re an underwriter and you’re trying to work on big accounts, and nobody gives you an opportunity because you didn’t go to the school they went to, or you’re not [in their friendship group or their family]. Or, it’s hard when you’re at a brokerage firm, and you want to be in the risk management group but they put you in the commercial lines group, or you need someone to take you to client meetings to teach you the ropes. I taught myself, and then I tried to bring people along. I think the most important thing in terms of legacy is to be technically competent, and to learn how to think strategically about business. That’s the hard part. My insurance career started in New York City, and I learned to think strategically and play the game, even though I didn’t always want to.”
Today, one of Boone’s goals is to help the insurance industry understand that there are racial inequities and unconscious biases at play within all organizations. She is encouraging her industry peers to take advantage of the momentum of the macro racial inequities surrounding the death of George Floyd and other recent injustices in the US and to turn that momentum into positive action within the industry. That positive action starts with increasing diversity of thought – something Boone describes as “a good global economic strategy” – and setting younger generations of insurance professionals off on the right path.
Read more: Why 2020 was the best Dive In yet
“It’s so important that we look for young people and we bring them through the ranks […] giving them socio-economic guidance,” she commented, adding that seasoned professionals need to take younger generations by the hand, show them the ropes, bring them to meetings and so on. “When I first started in the industry, I worked for a firm where lacrosse was a big thing. I didn’t know what lacrosse was. And at that time, I couldn’t go outside and Google it. My point is, sometimes there are different social and economic issues, but we must help and support each other.”
Boone concluded her fireside chat with a nod to women in insurance – a cause so close to her heart that she founded the African American Female Network for Commercial Insurance. She said: “As an insurance broker, as an insurance underwriter, and as a woman who wants to have a legacy for all women […] I sincerely hope that […] the next time that you are encountering young women who are Asian, who are Muslim, who are Latinos, who are women of color, that you take them to the client meeting, that you take them to the reinsurance meeting, and that you take the time to let them know that they have value. Diversity of thought is a good global economic strategy.”