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Women to Watch Inspiration Award: Pamela J. Newman

Pamela J. Newman was reluctant to enter the insurance industry at first but on closer inspection found it intriguing, and over the past 35 years she has become one of the most successful executives in the sector.

As one of the top producers in the business — starting at Marsh & McLennan Cos. Inc. before moving to Aon PLC — she handles a wide variety of clients and risks as chairman of the Newman Team at Aon.

In recognition of her extraordinary accomplishments in the brokerage world, Ms. Newman is the first recipient of the Business Insurance Women to Watch Inspiration Award.

“She is truly one of the most effective brokers I’ve worked with in my history in the insurance industry,” said Patrick G. Ryan, chairman and CEO of Ryan Specialty Group LLC in Chicago, who recruited Ms. Newman to join Aon.

Her ability to quickly bond with people and win their trust sets her apart, he said, relating a story about how Ms. Newman secured a meeting with The Washington Post after a chance encounter with the late Katharine Graham, former publisher of the paper, in an elevator. “When Pamela gets an appointment, she gets the business,” Mr. Ryan said.

After growing up in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and graduating from the University of Michigan as an English major, Ms. Newman says she knew she wanted to go into the business world but, on the advice of the college dean, first took a master’s degree and then a doctorate in communications.

On obtaining her Ph.D., she joined Peat, Marwick, Mitchell & Co. in New York, consulting for clients that varied from railroads to federal government programs to real estate firms.

After about six years, she was approached about a job in insurance. Initially rejecting the offer, after several conversations with the late Harold H. Hines Jr., who held senior executive positions at both Marsh and Aon, “I thought to myself, ‘This sounds interesting. I think I’d like to do it,’” she said.

Ms. Newman joined Marsh in 1979 to start a professional development program for the brokerage, but after about three years she moved over to the account executive side of the business on the encouragement of the late Robert Clements, a longtime senior executive at Marsh. “Bob Clements kept saying, ‘We want you doing the work,’ and he moved me over to an account executive role.”

“I made the objective to really learn — and I think this goes back to the academic side of the premise — just to learn as much as I could and find it interesting, whether it was workers comp or D&O or property or business interruption and extra expense,” she said.

After becoming a producer at Marsh, she joined Aon in 1993, rising to executive vice president of the brokerage.

Her relationships with clients is a key part of her success. “I like what I do; I think that’s really important. I like clients, I really genuinely like them, and I like the problems that clients have, and I like finding a way to mitigate that problem.” On retiring from Aon last year, she was rehired as an independent adviser to the brokerage as president and CEO of PJN Strategies LLC.

Her advice to younger women begins with the basics: “I think ‘one day at a time’ is a good place to begin. Concentrate on what you are doing that day and doing it well.”