This article is part of a series of posts from National Life’s Women’s Inclusion Network. WIN is a concentration of bright and forward-thinking women (and men!) who collaborate on the leadership development, diversification, and empowerment of National Life’s female field affiliates and home office employees.
Elizabeth has had a front row seat to National Life’s growth and success over the past three decades, and her leadership has greatly contributed to the National Life Group success we celebrate today.
After 33 years with National Life Group, Elizabeth MacGowan will be retiring at the end of the year. During her time with the company, Elizabeth spent much of her career in life and annuity product development including serving as the company’s Vice President & Chief Product Officer. In this role, Elizabeth led a team responsible for life product development and strategy, including product design, pricing, filing, illustrations and reinsurance. In addition to product development Elizabeth has also led teams responsible for the execution of strategic and operational technology projects, distribution finance and sales reporting. In 2018 Elizabeth was named Vice President of Strategy and Business Development where she led the Strategy & Business Transformation and Project Management Office teams responsible for company strategy, identifying and assessing new market and distribution opportunities, mergers and acquisitions, process improvement and innovation. Elizabeth, thank you for these last 33 years — you will be missed, and have earned this new chapter of life.
What did you want to be when you “grew up”?
I wanted to be an orthodontist — seriously! I had a part-time job in high school working for my friend’s dad, an orthodontist. I have no idea why he let me take impressions and assist him by passing wires, rubber bands and tiny sharp pliers. I’m pretty sure you need training and certification to do that today!
Is there a particular woman who has inspired you in your life?
I’ll stick close to home for this one. My mother. She was a full-time mom of three AND a full-time school, church, and community volunteer up until I was a junior in high school. At that point she went to work to help pay for our college; she took her first job as an adult education teacher. Her career was much shorter than mine, but she ended her career as the President of a technical college in Silicon Valley.
What have you liked most about working with the National Life Group?
Because of National Life, I’ve had the privilege of getting to meet so many people in the home office and field, and travel to see places that I otherwise would not have. It’s fun to reminisce with long time coworkers about some of the people who have come and gone through the years, and times together when we were at our best, at our worst, or the ridiculous situations that bring back laughter.
What would you tell someone who is considering joining or doing business with National Life Group?
If you are considering doing business with or joining National Life, just do it.
Do you have a cause or a favorite “Do Good” passion?
Doing something about hunger most resonates with me. In a world of abundant wealth and resources, where enough food is produced to feed everyone on the planet, it just makes no sense that people suffer from hunger. I like National Life’s approach to solving it on a local level so it doesn’t seem so daunting. I haven’t done enough to claim it as a “passion,” but I’m about to have more time. 😊
What’s your career pathway been like to bring you to where you are today?
Not knowing exactly what to do with my math major, I sort of fell into my first job as an actuarial analyst working for a P&C company in New Jersey. A few years later, David and I were planning to get married and wanted to move back to Vermont where we met in college. The day he got a teaching job in Vermont, one of my co-workers in New Jersey told me he had just been on the phone with a recruiter looking for an actuary to work in Montpelier, Vermont, and the rest was history.
I was fortunate to have a pretty defined career path as an actuary at National Life. It was up to me to apply myself, but I had (perhaps) an overdeveloped desire not to disappoint myself, my parents or anyone else. I started as an actuarial analyst, gained experience in different parts of the business through actuarial rotations, took exams to get my professional actuarial designation, and gradually earned additional levels of responsibility along the way.
I spent most of my time in product development working on product innovation, pricing, and implementation and eventually leading that team. Through that work, I got exposure to all parts of the company — distribution, operations, finance, investments, marketing, and legal and compliance. About five years ago I got the opportunity to apply that broad company exposure to building out a corporate strategy team and leading the company’s project management office.
How has the industry landscape changed during your career? What have you seen?
The industry has changed a lot! But mostly I’m thinking about how National Life’s position in the industry has changed. There were some very lean years for National Life in the first half of my career. We were not diversified, we were not growing, and we were not very profitable. In my view, the biggest decisions for National Life that helped set the course for our success today were: acquiring Life Insurance Company of the Southwest (diversifying our markets and lines of business); adding independent distribution (diversifying our distribution and solidifying our strategy in the middle market); and being one of the first companies to enter the indexed product market, positioning us to be a leader just as indexed products were about to experience explosive growth. These decisions, along with the leadership to make these decisions payoff, were game-changing for the company.
Looking back on your career, what moments are you most proud of?
Simple. I found my passion in product development. I’m proud of my role as the leader of product development and working with the team building the products that represent the promise we make.
What leadership quality do you most admire and aspire to?
Humility – people who are wrong or don’t know, say so. And when they are right, are quiet.
What advice would you give to young women who are just beginning their careers?
I can say this with hindsight, acknowledging that I didn’t necessarily follow this advice. Growth and comfort don’t usually coexist. Always take on new challenges even if you are not sure you are completely ready.
What are you looking forward to most in retirement?
I’ve never “not worked” since 2 weeks after finishing school. Initially, I’m just looking forward to being with the dog and watching my husband go off to work. 😊 Longer term, I look forward to pursuing hobbies, traveling, and spending time with my family and friends.
And, finally, any words of wisdom you’d like to share?
Try to be yourself as much as you can, because that is good enough.