Calm Amid the Storm
By Tim Hyland
January 19, 2018
As hurricane Irma barreled toward south Florida in early September, Kathleen Reardon gathered her staff to give them something akin to a pep talk.
The situation in the Caribbean looked truly frightening that morning, with Irma devastating island chain after island chain with a ferocity that left meteorologists astounded. There was talk, too, that the just-developing Hurricane Jose might turn northward and put Bermuda — the headquarters for Reardon and her team at global reinsurance firm Hamilton Re — in harm’s way as well.
For Reardon and her staff, it was an understandably stressful time. But in that pep talk, she reminded her team they had a job to do.
She recalls: “We called a town hall, and I told them, 'This is what we do for a living. This is how we make a mark. Let’s go do this.'"
That ability to maintain laser focus, even in a time of serious crisis, is a big reason why Reardon ’96 has made such a name for herself in the high-stakes, high-pressure reinsurance industry — essentially, the industry from which the insurance industry buys its insurance. As CEO for Hamilton Re for the past three years, Reardon has overseen a company charged with nothing less than helping to make the entire insurance industry — and, by extension, the entire business world — work.
Without firms like Hamilton Re providing the financial backstop for insurers, the world could not manage or recover from catastrophes such as Irma.
It’s a huge responsibility, and one that Reardon takes seriously.
“As much as the news can be focused on the devastation, what we need to be focused on is the recovery,” she says. “Unfortunately, a lot of what we cover in the reinsurance industry is catastrophic events like these. But at those moments, we as a company have to be able to immediately say, ‘OK, what do we need to do to keep businesses moving forward?’’’
Pursuing that next step forward is something that Reardon has always been able to do, as she’s leveraged her intellect, work ethic and willingness to learn to become one of the most influential women in her field.
It was as early as high school that Reardon was identified as a future insurance-industry star. A college counselor called her in one day and said Reardon believed she had the right kind of mind — and the right kind of mindset — to succeed as an actuary, the critically important, behind-the-scenes insurance professionals who help their firms evaluate and mitigate risk. Her interest piqued, Reardon found a career guide and read about the field’s supposed perks — great job security, high earnings and, allegedly, low stress.
“I still need to write to those people and ask about the ‘low stress’ part,” she jokes.
By the time she enrolled at Drexel University, she knew enough about the field to know that she was interested. But to keep her options open, she decided to major not in actuarial science, but in mathematics. That focus in mathematics expanded her intellectual footprint, while her co-op opportunities allowed her to gain a deeper understanding of the day-to-day realities of working at a big-time insurance firm. She landed at Cigna in Philadelphia, and it wasn’t long before her superiors took note of her potential.
Importantly, though, Reardon says that her bosses weren’t just supportive; they were honest. And though Reardon may not have always liked what they had to say, she realized the important of listening to – and acting upon – their input.
“During one of my co-ops, I remember that my manager gave me some feedback about my communications skills,” she says. “Look, I grew up in Philly. I used a lot of colloquialisms. And she basically said, ‘Hey, this could be an area of improvement for you.’ I went home that evening a bit annoyed, but then I went in the next morning and immediately decided I would make some changes.”
The years that followed would see Reardon steadily climb that ladder and take on a series of increasingly challenging roles. She continued with Cigna for five years in Philadelphia, and when the company’s property and casualty business was acquired by ACE Group, she seized the opportunity to relocate to the island of Bermuda, one of the world’s premier reinsurance industry hubs. Working for ACE Financial Solutions International, she moved from assistant vice president to vice president of underwriting, and in 2005 was named chief underwriting officer for international property and senior vice president at ACE Tempest Re.
From there, Reardon was poised to make her next big move. In 2012, she joined a start-up reinsurance company, which became Hamilton Re, as the firm’s founding chief underwriting officer for property. Less than two years later, she was promoted to CEO by Hamilton Insurance Group’s then-CEO Brian Duperreault, who lauded Reardon as “a consummate professional who has earned the respect and admiration of our clients, shareholders and employees for her astute business acumen, deep industry knowledge and collegial working style.”
In the years since, Reardon has focused her efforts on growing her firm’s reputation and expanding its client base. She keeps a keen focus not just on the occasional crises that are a hallmark of the industry, but also on the bigger-picture approach to the company culture. It’s a perspective she gained through her own experiences.
As a woman working in a STEM field, Reardon is open about the fact that she, like many other young female professionals, faced ‘roadblocks’ as she advanced up the corporate ladder. But she also says she takes pride in the fact that she viewed each of those roadblocks as a learning opportunity.
She advises young women to take the same approach – even as she acknowledges that doing so is often easier said than done.
“The starting point is deciding whether this is where your passion lies,” she says. “If it is, then don’t let anything deter you. The lessons you will learn in navigating what is currently a male-dominated terrain, and the confidence you will build, are invaluable.”
She adds: “As a result of having to try harder, I learned more. I developed my capability of stepping up to the challenge.”
Her belief in the importance of helping women succeed in STEM is not where her commitment to diversity ends, however/ Diversity and inclusion are a major focus of her efforts, and she believes strongly that every business in every field stands to benefit from welcoming a broad variety of perspectives from a staff who may have wildly different backgrounds.
At Hamilton Re, she says, she seeks out diversity in all of its forms – not only in ethnicity and gender, but also in professional background, personal experience, global understanding and generational view. Through focused and international recruiting efforts, many of which are aimed at getting young people and early-career professionals excited about an industry that is often perceived as a stodgy, she strives to create a culture in which, for instance, millennials and baby boomers can learn from each other.
Building a diverse workforce just makes good business sense, she says; after all, the world is more complex and more global than ever before, and companies need multiple and varied perspectives to solve their problems.
“This isn’t a kind of token approach where we say, ‘Look, we have diversity!” she says. “Here, I want to have a culture that says, ‘You have a voice at my table, and it’s going to be heard. If you have the best idea here, we’re behind you, and we’re implementing it and moving forward.’ It’s a culture that is open to ideas and willing to change.”
Reardon is committed to making her firm one of the leaders in its industry. Though still relatively young at just five years old, Hamilton Re is poised for a breakthrough, she believes.
She looks forward to leading the charge and seeing where the future takes her.
“I have put in place several initiatives to take us to the next level,” she says. “It’s a natural development for our company. We’re out of the startup phase, but now we have a great opportunity for growth.
“I have plenty yet to achieve, to execute and to grow into.”