Graduating from Northeastern University with the desire to join a multinational corporation — and a mountain of school debt — Danielle Larsen (pictured), a speaker at Women in Insurance Chicago, came across a job opportunity that would prove to be a crossroads in her life. Swiss Reinsurance Company Ltd. was hiring for a position in Mexico City. The catch? It was a local hire contract.
“I was seeking an international experience, but it wasn’t a popular approach to take an entry-level opportunity at what would be essentially a very low salary,” said Larsen, now Head P&C BM Bratislava, director, Property & Casualty Business Management at Swiss Re.
Despite her family questioning her decision and urging her to find a higher paying job in the US, Larsen said she stood her ground because she “felt in my gut that advice wasn’t suited for me.”
“I was looking at the mid- to long-term — I saw it as something that would lead me in three to five years to where I really wanted to be. I was thinking about the bigger picture and broader opportunities.”
And from Mexico City, to New York, Brazil, India and now the Slovak Republic, Larsen never looked back. She’s been fortunate to grow with the company over the last decade, and though she got into the industry accidentally one of the things Larsen likes about reinsurance is the fact you can see what your work does to the bigger ecosystem, specifically the sustainability of communities. She shares that being part of something that “ultimately drives that forward and has a tangible impact is the biggest reward in insurance and reinsurance.”
“It makes what we all do worthwhile,” she said.
Rolling the dice with her first role at Swiss Re taught Larsen an important lesson: there will be times you want to do something that feels unpopular, or isn’t well-received, but if something inside tells you it’s the right fit for you, do it anyway. The biggest risks and biggest rewards in her career and personal life have come when she listened to that gut feeling, and, while no two people’s journeys are the same, the advice she would give is that it all comes down to making decisions that feed your authenticity.
“Be very bold in taking those risks, and be comfortable with your decisions,” Larsen said, adding that while you ultimately make your own choices, it’s also critical to make sure you’re learning from those around you.
Over the course of her career, Larsen has had the benefit of strong female leaders and allies in her corner who provided a safe space to discuss ideas and challenges and shared their insights and advice with her. The whole experience “was always really empowering,” Larsen said, and, now a female leader herself, Larsen looks for ways to pay it forward, including by lending her voice to the upcoming Women in Insurance Chicago event.
“At the end of the day, our collective strength is really the most important element that comes out of these types of events,” said Larsen, who’s speaking at the panel “Choosing Resilience,” a session featuring industry leaders who will share moments that required resilience and the skills they leaned on to succeed.
For Larsen, one of the key components to her resilience is finding a “super healthy” balance between work and personal life. In a senior role and as a young mother of a three-year-old, she’s “trying to be active and present in my relationship and in my home as a mom — but also feed my career.” While the idea of balance is different for everyone, not being ashamed of what it looks like for you is the most important point.
“I often find women secretly find what balances them but don’t want to share it with others,” Larsen said.
For example, they might be afraid to say they need to take a longer lunch to function optimally or want to duck out early to get to the gym because it makes them feel important. They hope it happens “instead of outwardly saying this is how I manage it, this is what feeds me and it’s something I’m really proud of,” Larsen noted.
“I make sure I’m able to completely disconnect and find time to recharge, so in any place I am — whether I’m a mom, wife or leader — I’m fully present and not thinking in the background about all the other things I could be doing.”
As leaders, your own ideas and inspiration can be absorbed by those around you, Larsen said, and when she’s worked with a leader that is strong and resilient, that energy has passed on to her. She doesn’t take for granted the impact a leader can have by demonstrating that powerful approach and pairing it with a willingness to have an open dialogue with those around you.
“We see those types of elements in leaders around us all the time, and it’s just one of those topics that I really connect with,” Larsen said. “When I speak at the session, I’m hoping it will resonate with someone else in the same way.”
Hear more about Danielle’s approach to being bold and resilient both in your career and at home on August 31 at the Women in Insurance Chicago event.