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NAIFA CEO Waters will be Remembered for her Thoughtful Leadership

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By Linda Koco

People who didn’t know the late Susan B. Waters or have the opportunity to hear her speak really missed out on one of the leading lights of the insurance industry. She was the widely revered CEO of the National Association of Insurance Agents and Advisors (NAIFA).

When she gave her reports at the NAIFA annual meeting, people would hang on to her every word. They knew that she knew what she was talking about. They knew that she was working diligently on the organization’s behalf. And they knew she persisted until the goal was accomplished. She was dignified, persuasive and measured.

Is it any wonder then that, when she spoke, she never failed to get heartfelt, intense rounds of applause? The NAIFA members just loved her.

My last contact with her may actually be her last words to the press. She was among a few select women leaders to whom I had sent a short poll a few weeks ago about the opportunities and challenges for women in the insurance industry. As busy as she was, she made the time to respond to my inquiry.

I had asked for a listing of key points in response to a few questions, but Waters went beyond listing. She sent cogent reflections. No surprise there. That was what Susan B. Waters was all about. Listening, thinking, responding.

The article in which she is quoted will appear in the January issue of InsuranceNewsNet Magazine. Since the piece covers a lot of ground, it includes only brief snippets from various poll responses. Now, in view of Waters’ untimely death, I’ve decided to include some more of what she said right here. One question I asked was about leadership opportunities that lay ahead for women in insurance and financial services in the next three years. She wrote this:

“There is greater acceptance of women in the insurance and financial services industry, but those are still largely male dominated. However, a large number of women have risen to leadership positions in industry organizations in the past several years, so the face of the industry is changing faster than the industry itself. The generational change now underway is changing the demographics somewhat, but not dramatically, as far as I can tell.”

As you can see, Waters called it like she saw it. She acknowledged the greater acceptance of women in the industry but she also pointed out that the business is still largely male dominated. That could be sobering news for women on the leadership track, but it is also the eyes-wide-open approach to the business for which she was well known.

At the NAIFA annual meeting in San Diego in September, the crowd broke out into sustained clapping and “woo-hoos!” even before she started speaking. As she reviewed the many issues on NAIFA’s plate, the crowed interrupted with applause nearly 10 times. Here are only a few examples:

  • On the importance of collaborating to get things done: “Thanks for collaborating throughout the year.” That brought “woo-hoos” and clapping all around.
  • “We need to maintain the current tax rules … and thanks to you, that message is getting through to elected officials.” Major clapping.
  • “The strength of our numbers was apparent when 780 of our members flew to Washington this year to visit with members of Congress in every state.” More clapping and cheering.
  • On the bill that would create the National Association of Registered Agents and Brokers, also known as NARAB II: “We look forward to the day when it is enacted into law. The time has come to make it easier to practice in multiple states.” Burst of applause.

This blog has been difficult to write. Dr. Walters was only age 63 when she died. That seems so young. Too young. Her family, friends and coworkers must be grieving mightily.

But may those who loved her take inspiration from her life well lived and from the knowledge that she was valued and esteemed all around. NAIFA said that, in 2013, Waters received the American Society of Association Executives’ Key Award for the association CEO who demonstrates exceptional qualities of leadership and displays a deep commitment to voluntary membership organizations. Woo-hoo to that legacy!

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Linda Koco, MBA, is a contributing editor to InsuranceNewsNet, specializing in life insurance, annuities and income planning. Connect with Linda →

  • Douglas Harmelink, CLU, ChFC

    Very nice tribute Linda

  • Juli McNeely

    Linda — THANK YOU! I appreciate your words here so much! Susan was an amazing woman and impacted so many lives. Her legacy will live on among all who knew her and were touched by her kindness and empowered by her words of encouragement. It is a difficult time and I will greatly miss my friend. Juli McNeely, NAIFA President

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