Underwriting Supervisors – the Rest of the Story

Last week we introduced you to three of our underwriting supervisors—key staff members that make huge contributions to our success. This week, we’d like you to meet the rest of the team, our final three underwriting supervisors.

Change of pace
Having previously worked for a crop insurance company run by a bank, Valerie Meland describes her move to ProAg as, “Refreshing. Now I’m back to the real world of crop insurance.”

Crop insurance has been Valerie’s professional world for more than 22 years, starting with a data entry position in 1991. “I had just graduated from Great Falls Vo-Tech in Great Falls, MT, and Job Service sent me over to Crop Hail Management,” she recalls. “Turned out that the manager was good friends with my younger sister and one of the underwriters used to be a roommate. I didn’t even know they worked there. That’s where I got my start.”

Insurance wasn’t her first career, however, as Valerie had already served her country as part of a military police unit, earning the Humanitarian Award for her work with Cuban detainees in Ft. Chaffee, AR. Lessons learned there in managing difficult situations continue to bear fruit in her work today as the underwriting supervisor for the Des Moines region.

“To be successful in this position, you need to listen to what is being said—don’t jump to conclusions,” she says. “Be patient and do the research in order to understand the situation. Maybe most important, be willing to go with the flow as this business is constantly changing.”

Valerie and her husband, Doug, have two children, Kayla, 28, and Jeffrey, 21. Lately, a lot of their attention is directed at granddaughter Tatum Rose (almost 2). “She keeps us going,” Valerie states. “We’re also a golfing family and hit the course as much as we can when the weather cooperates. I just started about a year ago, so I am not very good at all.” As residents of Baltic, a small South Dakota town, the Melands are also active in a wide variety of church and community activities.

Having seen a bit of the world in her military days, Valerie has found a home in Baltic and a good working environment at ProAg. “I love working with the farmers, agents, and my co-workers,” she states. “It is also a very challenging job that keeps you on your toes, as crop insurance is constantly changing. ProAg is a good place to work because everyone seems to get along, and we’re willing to help each other in order to get the work done.”

Nonstop student
Clearly, Sheryl Sutton has the perfect educational background for a career in crop insurance—a bachelor’s degree in social work and a minor in family court counseling from East Carolina University. Well, maybe not textbook.

“More to the point, prior to entering the crop insurance business, I was co-owner and operator of a farm and a poultry business with my husband, Joseph,” Sheryl elaborates. “When he decided he wanted to part ways with being a self-employed farmer. I needed a job and started looking everywhere. One day I responded to an ad from an insurance company, and the owner hired me because he knew I was smart and I could learn the business. I started immediately and the learning has never stopped.”

Starting as an underwriter, Sheryl continued to grow, eventually supervising other underwriters and overseeing operations. She also obtained her property and casualty agent’s license. Her career did take a new direction for a few years, as she took a position as a case manager at a medical facility. “Then about a year and a half ago, Terri Sell blessed me with a phone call,” she says. “Now I’m at ProAg with my friends and learning something every day.”

Learning is a consistent theme in Sheryl’s story, and the best part of her job as underwriting supervisor for the Lexington region.

“The learning and challenges presented in this job never cease,” she stresses. “You’re forced to study and pull out facts and updates if you want to be proficient in the business. It is stressful but stimulating in that no two days are ever the same. I thrive on the challenge.”

Her husband, Joseph, is now an adjuster for ProAg, “So we never really entirely leave work at the office,” Sheryl says. The Suttons have two daughters, one married and the other a recent college graduate with a master of arts in arts and teaching. “She is looking for a job and a husband,” Sheryl adds. In her spare time, Sheryl enjoys “… working in my yard and garden and watching the birds that entertain us – particularly the blue jays and hummingbirds. Church, friends, and family are very important, especially as our parents age.”

As a person who equates learning with growth, Sheryl considers ProAg the perfect workplace. “It is a great working environment for anyone who truly likes to excel,” she states. “My regional office is blessed with young people who desire to grow in knowledge and proficiency. They push me to be my best. Truly, ProAg provides me with opportunities to continue to grow in knowledge and expertise in a manner that I thought no longer existed.”

Committed to quality
It’s a good idea to take your phone everywhere—even to the pool. That’s how Amarillo region underwriting supervisor Shelly Harrison got connected to ProAg in 2009.

“I was at the pool, and my friend and co-worker Misty Wilkins called and told me that ProAg had an opening in quality assurance,” Shelly recalls. “My contract had ended with the school district, and I was between jobs, so the timing was right. I applied, interviewed, and got the job.”

Shelly brought a strong background in quality assurance to her new position as a ProAg quality assurance analyst. A graduate of West Texas A&M with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and computer information systems, she had worked for nine years with CS Stars, an Amarillo-based risk management organization, as a software quality assurance manager.

In January 2011, Shelly transitioned to the position of business analyst supervisor, where she wrote requirements for OASIS and ProMobile. This April she was named underwriting supervisor.

Her attention to detail and emphasis on quality serve her well in her new position as underwriting supervisor. “This business is challenging and you learn something new every day,” Shelly comments. “Since I enjoy researching problems until I can solve them, this is a good fit for me. It feels great when you get premium to clear or make an agent happy.”

Away from the office, Shelly, husband Mike, and children Sheldon and Micalynn enjoy taking trips “just about anywhere to spend time together.”

That family focus extends to her work life as well, according to Shelly. “I love working for ProAg because it feels like family,” she concludes. “I like that it’s fast-paced and always changing, but the people make it a great place to work.”

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Ninety-six percent of the corn that farmers intend to plant this year -- on those acres that were still farmable -- was planted as of Sunday, June 23....
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