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.
Rebecca Dunne joined National Life in 2016 as a Vice President for the Affiliated Channel. Last week, she became the Senior Vice President for Affiliated Distribution and will lead the Channel into its next phase of strategic growth and market development.
Rebecca is a third-generation insurance and financial services professional. Prior to joining National Life Group, she worked for nearly three decades at Prudential Financial and Penn Mutual in various field and home office leadership positions with experience as an Agent, Manager, and as a General Agent. Rebecca lives in Bernardsville, New Jersey with her husband Michael and is the mother of four children.
What’s your career pathway been like? How did you get to where you are now?
I grew up in a small town in Western Pennsylvania in a large English-Lebanese family who clearly understood that “it takes a village.” My career started with a childhood understanding that success is not the purview of a single person — we need each other — and a leader is always the servant of the whole. If we take care of one another and inspire one another, success will follow. With two sisters and five brothers, I also learned to understand the necessity — and occasional frustrations — of working closely with other people toward a common goal.
I majored in communications but I found myself fascinated by finance and, following a “starter career” that was enormously instructive in clarifying my career ambitions, I became an Agent with Prudential. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to move within the organization. I acquired knowledge and experience in the field as well as in the legal department and various home office leadership positions including leading and developing Career Agency distribution and launching annuity distribution for the Bank Channel. In 2009 I accepted a new challenge with Penn Mutual and led their Career Channel. When National Life called in 2016 with an opportunity to be back in the field and help to develop some of the Channel’s largest, most diverse, and rapidly growing agencies, I jumped at the chance.
What did you want to be when you “grew up”?
My father, two brothers, and an uncle were all in the insurance industry. We are a large, joyful, and highly competitive family, and the very last thing I wanted as a young person was to become involved in financial services. I aspired to become an attorney and actually pursued the profession for a couple of years. My first “real” job was as a paralegal for complex trials with a firm that was the house counsel for Black and Decker. The surprise of this “starter job” was learning that I was much more interested in the financial side of structuring settlements than I was in the legal process and framework in which they were developed! That experience helped to launch my career; it was during that time that I landed a part-time contract as a financial advisor and agent in the insurance industry.
What do you like most about working at National Life Group?
National Life has a unique culture. I love the explicit and embedded understanding that we are mission driven and genuinely care about what we do here. “Do good. Be good. Make good.” and “Bringing Peace of Mind to Everyone We Touch” are authentic in ways that are not common across the industry. In a lot of ways, National Life feels like a highly productive family; close, caring, and achievement oriented. We are not a small organization, but neither are we so large that colleagues are not accessible to one another.
What does becoming the Senior Vice President of Affiliated Distribution mean to you?
Pam Blalock, a champion and guiding intellect for the Affiliated Channel, retired earlier this month. As SVP for the past eight years, Pam has developed and strengthened both the Agent and Agency communities as well as built a rock-star Home Office team. It will be an honor to step into the SVP role that she has helped to define. I look forward to continuing to build, grow, and develop the Affiliated Channel by leveraging our existing strengths and building new opportunities.
I am also excited about the future of women in our business and am focused on helping our leaders develop organizations and agencies that attract more people – of all genders and backgrounds — to our business. I want to recognize what seems more and more obvious: when we build organizations, we need to do more to build leadership that reflects the communities that we serve. We need to be deliberate about looking at our diversity through the lens of our communities.
Most of all, I am excited to have the opportunity to contribute to the success of both the Field and the Home Office and to continue to work in an industry that I am passionate about.
Has the industry landscape changed during your career? What have you seen?
I have been in the industry for more than thirty years and perhaps I should start with what hasn’t changed — the centering needs of clients remain. Products and services have evolved but, fundamentally, we are talking about the same thing. How we help and protect whole families and whole persons, often at the most vulnerable times of their lives, will always be what matters most. What we do has made a real difference in people’s lives this past century and I have every confidence that the same will hold true in the next century.
What has changed is who is now involved in this industry. It has been particularly gratifying and exciting to see the number of women agents and leaders increase each year, and to chart the growing understanding that the future of the industry will depend on leveraging the entire workforce as well as the communities they serve. When I joined the industry, there was very little support for women and an extremely thick skin was required for success. There is more openness now, more diversity. We still have a way to go, but progress has been made.
Is there a particular woman who has inspired you in life?
My Mom! In some ways she was the classic 1950s housewife; her career was her family and her home. And she was amazing! She raised her children to be independent, and remains the most kind, strong, and loving person I have ever met. A thoroughly English woman married to a Lebanese immigrant, she was well-read, self-educated, socially graceful, and gracious to all. There was only one word that she did not know the meaning of: “barrier.” She inspired all of my brothers, sisters, and me to develop a grounded self-confidence. She told us that we had obligations — to family and community, but also to self — to be the best in whatever we chose to do. She told us to be smart, to take risks, and to have trust — both in each other and in ourselves. She was a remarkable woman. It has been nine years since she passed and I still think of her every day.
What advice would you give to young women who are just beginning their careers?
I would start with the same questions that my mother asked me: what are the things that you care most deeply about? Where can you make an impact? Set your North Star there. When you are excited about what you do, when you trust yourself, barriers will fall and there are no limits.
What leadership quality do you most admire and aspire to?
In the long term, people follow inspiration, not direction. I know that I am most attracted to leaders with inspiration and passion, and who have both vision and the ability to communicate clearly.
Do you have a cause or a favorite “Do good” passion?
For many years I have been a CASA; a Court Appointed Special Advocate for children. CASAs are volunteers in the community who are appointed by judges to be the advocate and “voice“ of the voiceless — often neglected or abused children — in court. To be a CASA is both sad and intensely rewarding. My family is also passionate about St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the wonderful work that they do.
What attracted you to National Life and what would you tell someone who is considering an opportunity with us?
National Life has a culture that is unlike anything I have seen elsewhere in the industry. Culture is always a work in progress and it is something that needs continuous investment and stewardship, but what we have here is remarkable and real. Not just by how we do business, but also how we behave toward both our clients and each other. I encourage anyone looking at an opportunity with National Life to do their homework; learn about our values and mission driven focus. We are also diligent and deliberate in being good stewards for our company as evidenced by our strong balance sheet and company growth. Finally, I would encourage people to think about what you can bring, what is the value you can add? National Life is here for the long run.
Any other words of wisdom you’d like to share?
I am incredibly excited about the future and there is so much opportunity for all of us! Ambitious, sustainable, and smart growth is what we are all about in the Affiliated Channel. With the Field and the Home Office team working closely together, we can build a successful business that bring solutions — and Peace of Mind — to the communities we serve.