Gale V. King, Executive Vice President & Chief Administrative Officer of Columbus, Ohio-based Nationwide Insurance, recently visited the offices of BLACK ENTERPRISE for a special photo shoot. She will be among the innovative, groundbreaking business leaders who will be featured in our upcoming Women of Power issue – an editorial tie-in to our powerful Women of Power Summit that will be held in Boca Raton from Feb. 26 – March 1. For those who know King within and outside the corridors of the $30 billion insurer, you’ll discover that she is the chief champion for human resources strategy; talent management; leadership development; diversity and inclusion; and community outreach, among other key areas in her portfolio. Be clear: All play critical roles to the insurer’s competitive strength, revenue growth and profitability. (Nationwide was the title sponsor for the 2013 Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Conference and will host our event again in 2014.)
I took the opportunity to talk with King, who has worked at the company since she graduated from the University of Florida, about her take on a number on critical business issues, including how to beat the competition in the financial services industry; the value of corporate diversity; and what it takes to be a leader at Nationwide.
Below are excerpts from our conversation:
BLACK ENTERPRISE: Explain your role in helping Nationwide meet today’s competitive challenges?
GALE: In the financial services industry, some of the challenges facing us are training customer expectations. If you think about insurance, it’s a commodity. As the customers’ expectations change, the organization needs to be ready to respond with new products and services for them.
Certainly, you hear about big data and what that will mean to the financial service industry going forward. The majority- minority society…diversity and inclusion…what do we need to do to ensure that that works in our organization. You always have to be responsive to the economy.
When you think about those challenges as [our] organization prepares for the future, the only thing that can innovate and ensure success is people. One of my roles as the Chief Administrative Officer at Nationwide is around the human resources, the talent. It is ensuring that we have talent for today [and] tomorrow, and that we have a culture that will ensure that that talent can grow and contribute then we can retain that talent. In many ways in partnership with the CEO and the senior leadership team, I drive the people agenda for the organization.
BLACK ENTERPRISE: How do you apply diversity to maintain Nationwide’s competitive edge?
KING: We want to reflect the communities that we live and work in because again we’re trying to build brand awareness. We’re selling our product. We want people to identify with that product, to see themselves as a part of that company, of our company.
BLACK ENTERPRISE: How do you develop the leadership pipeline?
KING: At Nationwide, one of the things that we speak about is that leadership matters. We do not just allow an individual to move from a technical position to a leadership position. We require every one of our leaders to go through a “Leadership Matters” session where we on board them and train them around good leadership. During that first year, we assign a coach. Then we train them on our stated policies. One of the things that I love about Nationwide is that we have stated values about what’s important to our company. The most important one is that we value people and so that particular value permeates everything we do, we hold our managers accountable for it.
BLACK ENTERPRISE: How do you measure good leadership?
KING: One, leaders ensure that we will achieve financial results. Two, leaders ensure that we treat our associates in a manner that we want them to be treated. We certainly look at the financial metrics because you have to make money but the “what you do” is not as important as the “how you do it.”
BLACK ENTERPRISE: Please explain a bit further.
KING: So the ‘how’ is if you do it and you lead bodies. If you do it with a full respect to people that is in consistent with your culture we will manage and coach you to a place of understanding what’s important.
BLACK ENTERPRISE: A good leader for Nationwide is one who values their associates and obviously values the customers. Are there other elements that define the Nationwide leader?
KING: We have requirements at our company. We measure what’s important to us. We do an annual engagement survey and that engagement survey is really about how our associates feel about our managers. We measure diversity and inclusion. We measure whether or not you’re living our values. We ask those questions during your performance evaluation. [For example], under diversity and inclusion, we want to know what you are doing to create a diverse and inclusive environment.
BLACK ENTERPRISE: How do you make associates feel like they’re part of the team and encourage them to become a part of the innovation process?
KING: If you think about what I said are challenges facing our company and every company, you are going to have to have people who will see a different way of doing things. That’s the innovation piece. You get innovation when you have people who bring all of their different ideas and thoughts to the table in an environment that says “you can be wherever you are in our culture and make a difference.” Then I feel free to share my ideas with you.
BLACK ENTERPRISE: So how do you manage so many different personalities and still have them embrace the culture and perform at the highest level?
KING: You have to be a role model. As a manager, if you sit down and say, “Think about the fact that, one, you have been given this incredible responsibility you’ve been entrusted in that you have control over these individuals lives. You would want the same the other way around. You want somebody to treat you fairly. You want somebody to give you a chance. If you would simply do unto others how you want to be treated, you will treat each of your associates in a way that where they may not always agree with you, they cannot argue that you’re operating from a place of integrity and you’re operating from a place of fairness. That’s all people want.