Seeing the Bigger Picture: An Interview with Inger Loftheim | Women in Leadership Podcast Series

Posted on Sep 23rd 2014 by Kate Warnock

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Inger Loftheim is a woman leader who is as smart, kind and warm as her voice, traits that no doubt serve her well as Vice President and Chief of Staff to the Office of the CEO at Florida Blue. Her role demands that she be accessible, flexible, transparent and ninja-like in making order out of dozens of competing priorities. All that while still managing four key accounts from her former role of National Accounts senior director and being mother to three young sons. How does she do it? We explored this and many other questions in our latest episode of Florida Blue Radio’s “Women in Leadership” podcast series.   These are just some of the highlights you’ll find in our interview:
  1. Inger had to learn how to assimilate to many foreign cultures as a child of a military family, including growing up as a white-blond girl in Turkey, Egypt and Israel. Her ability to cultivate relationships and relevance with new communities started at a young age.
  2. Women tend to think they have to know everything about a role and often stress over the details they don’t. Inger has learned that not knowing everything is simply a chance to grow, and asking questions empowers your team – and earns their respect - when you honestly admit “you’re not tracking.”
  3. Manners and kindness are underestimated as business skills in today’s world. “Imagine how much you can get done in a day when you can have respectful conversations with your peers, every day.”
  4. Inger is working to ensure her sons understand the value of what her professional life means to them as a family. She also asks them to think how they’d want their young female cousin to be treated so they can relate their own behavior back to someone they love.
  5. Two things Inger would share with her younger self: It’s ok to say “no” and set boundaries, and cherish your circle of girlfriends. Women friends become even more important as you journey through life.
  Listen through the entire podcast to hear why Inger takes her sons along while shoe-shopping (for her shoes), and how her grandmother, one of the first women to be accepted to Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute, inspired Inger to take risks and learn the value of manners. These stories explain how Inger is able to step back and see the bigger picture no matter the challenge. What inspires leadership qualities in you? Leave us a comment below, and be sure to listen to all our Women Leaders podcasts for more wisdom from our female executives.   The complete transcript of the podcast recording begins here: Welcome to Florida Blue Radio, where we explore health care topics important to you. Whether you own business, are a health practitioner, or are an individual interested in how health care is evolving, experts from across Florida Blue will keep you in the know. In today's session, we feature Inger Loftheim in our Women in Leadership series. As vice president and chief of staff to the office of the CEO at Florida Blue, Inger shares how being raised around the world influenced her ability to be the leader she is today and why she believes kindness is one secret to her success. Our host is Kate Warnock, social business strategist at Florida Blue. Now here's Kate. Today I am here with Inger Loftheim. She is our vice president and chief of staff to the office of the CEO. And welcome Inger. Thank you. I'm excited to be here. So glad to have you, and thank you for making time in your very busy schedule. I was hoping that you could just open with telling us about your journey to and within the company. Sure. That sounds good. I started almost 19 years ago now in our Orlando office as an enrollment representative. It honestly was probably one of the best jobs I've ever had in this organization because I learned so much about our industry, our products, our plans, how we service. I was in front of the member, in front of agents. And then quickly after that, within six months I moved into small group sales, did some retention work, and then during that time period I had a lot of national account business, break-off business is what we called it at the time, within my inventory. And I was approached about starting the new National Alliance business area up in Jacksonville. And so a lot of my accounts were going to move into that area, and I began working for a wonderful woman that is no longer with us. But underneath her leadership, I just grew. I went through large account sales into account management into strategic account executive and then was approached about a year ago to start working underneath Pat's leadership as his chief of staff. And so it's been a great experience. I've had amazing opportunities to work with a lot of great people in this company. So it sounds to me like from a very early age you were recognized as a leader, and that must have been something very fulfilling. What do you think that you brought to the job that helped people identify that in you? It's a good question. I think a lot of it was flexibility, ability to see the bigger picture. I certainly can be tactical when I need to be tactical. And I do think about I am able to work with different people very well. I think that has to do my upbringing. We moved a lot as I was a child, We moved all over Europe and the Middle East. And I think those experiences about being able to cross into different areas of the company and recognize their importance and how those things integrate and you can leverage against each other, I think that's part of leadership. How do you work with other people in the organization? How do you communicate? Always recognizing that we're in it together. It's not about one person or another person and trying to move those things forward for our customer. I think those qualities, we all have them, and that makes a great leader. Well that's a fascinating background. So can you give us a little bit more about your childhood where you lived all across the world? Sure. I had a great childhood, although it was a lot of moving. But my dad was in the military. He was an intelligence officer, and his specialty was the Middle East. So the first half of my life we lived in the Middle East-- Turkey, Egypt, Israel. And then my second half of my life where I graduated high school was in Belgium, and it was an amazing experience. I got to travel the world, went to school with international kids. So I think it does bring a different perspective from two fronts. First of all, I had to learn how to be the new kid, and means you have to be able to go into different situations and different people, and they'd already had formed relationships, and how do you bring yourself into those places? And then also being able to recognize everybody has something unique about them, and so adjusting to culture, adjusting to those pieces did drive some of those pieces out of me. I had to learn how to be more of an extrovert because you had to walk into any situation. And honestly it's the best experience I had because it made me grow. Every time we moved, you had to grow. And I think that looking back, even though I gave my parents a hard time about moving all the time, looking back was the best thing for me to grow from a personal perspective. So of all the countries you lived in, were any more difficult to assimilate than others? Yes, there were. In Turkey at the time when we lived there, they had a lot of uprising, and so there were times in which we would have to go and stay in our house and not come out. My dad was allowed to come out, but as a family, we were not allowed to come out. And so those kind of situations certainly make you appreciate, number one, being an American, certainly appreciate our military and what they were doing. But I'd say that when we lived there and in the Middle East, I think those, in Israel and Egypt, certainly made it a little bit more challenging for us to integrate into the community. But I have warm memories, and we certainly, my dad always believed we lived in the community. We never lived on a base. And that gives you a different perspective and appreciation. Our history is so young compared to the rest of the world, so it gives you a different appreciation for those cultures. But I'd say Turkey certainly was probably the one that was a little bit difficult to adjust to compared to Europe, which was just a different experience altogether. So you were probably a younger girl when you were living in the Middle East. Did you encounter any of the typical stereotypes that we hear about how they treat women? Yes. And were you expected to follow suit even though you were an international-- Probably-- I was younger. The one thing that always sticks in mind is that we have blonde hair, so they used to pull our hair because it was extremely different to have-- and we were white blonde. And so we would walk in a marketplace, and people would pull at our hair. It was scary as a child, but come to find out, it's different to them. So they were fascinated by it. It wasn't coming out of a mean place. They just were fascinated by it. I think for my mom probably, she was in her early 30s, and certainly the dress had to be different. You have to respect the culture in which you're in. It may not have been what we would have wanted for ourselves as a female, but you have to be respectful. And I think that there's nothing the matter with that. You need to be respectful of other people's culture and where they've come from. And doesn't mean that you can't still be a strong woman just because you're respectful of other people. Right. What an interesting challenge for your mom to be raising a family abroad. And obviously your father had his professional network to depend on. Right. But it sounds like you all had to establish a new network every time you moved. We did. So I'm sure that translated into your current role, which I was hoping you could tell us. The role of the chief of staff to the office of CEO is still relatively new within the company. Could you kind of give us a snapshot of a day in the life of Inger Loftheim? No day is ever the same. Well, that's a good start. I remember asking Pat, well, so tell me what this day, what will it look like? And he said, it's gray. It's what you make it every day. And that is true. So I'm very fortunate that not only do I get to do things for Pat directly, whether it's coordinating his activities, getting his background information. But it's also working closely with the other EMT members when were working on certain strategic imperatives. And some days it involves if he asks me to step into a role to help them assist, I could be working on certain projects for him to bring them to completion. I did retain a lot of my national account business, so I have four accounts that I'm still working on. So I have days that I revert back into my old role in managing account business. So it varies. And then there's events that we attend, so it could be doing community work. So it runs the gamut every day, and I'm always figuring out which hat am I playing or which space am I playing in hour to hour. But it makes the job extremely exciting. I think it reminds me of almost being back in the enrollment rep position certainly at a different level, but I get exposed to so many different people within our organization. I am learning every day. And it's the most exciting position I've ever held at this company. Well, so Inger, with this exposure and all the different accountabilities that it sounds like you're flipping through on a weekly basis practically, this is not in our script, but I think that you can answer probably really well. What do you think is the biggest challenge that we're facing now in the health care industry? And how are you personally working to help solve for it? That's a good question. You know, I think it's education because we are changing so rapidly. We're bringing in new customers into the industry that have never experienced health care. So I think that the education piece not only from the perspective of, what is health care? What does that mean to you as an individual? What does it mean to us as an organization? Because we're evolving to meet the new health care, so to speak, out in the environment. How are we diversifying? And it's also educating. So it's educating internally how we're changing, and it's educating externally what does health care mean. What's an insurance company. I think that at times insurance companies have been given different definitions. And so it behooves us to get out there and talk about our health solutions company, what we do for the community, what we do for the members, how we partner with our providers. So to me it's education. I think that is the piece that is going to have to be continual, will not change. So we have to keep educating, educating, educating to be successful, regardless of what the end game looks like. It's not going to be like it is today. I can't predict what the future's going to look like, but if we can keep those communication channels open with our customers-- and customers can be defined broadly. It's our membership. It's our providers. It's the government. It's across the spectrum. It's our own employee base-- I think that that's to me the piece that has to continue to have work towards. And I would imagine given your depth of experience, 19 years and especially where you started in the enrollment side that you have such a profound understanding of what those are that you are in a unique position to be able to translate that for someone because you have worked with so many different audiences. So we're lucky to have you in that role. I wonder too, you say that you almost have a blank slate every day and you have to paint your own picture of what that's going to be. When you are tapped to take on a new accountability, and maybe you once you've learned what that area is and you understand or you identify that there needs to be change, how do you introduce that change and try to help manage through the disruption that might cause? Another very good question. I think for me it's transparency. So the first thing is bringing in the team and being very transparent that we're getting ready to go through change. I think what causes uneasiness is when there is not full disclosure as to what's going to happen next. Everybody wants to understand where they fit in, how it impacts them. There are times when as a leader we don't have all the answers to all the questions. And that can be challenging as a leader because you want to be able to provide that security for everybody that you're working with. But I do think there has to be transparency, and hopefully transparency and being candid will help build trust. Because the reality is if you don't have trust amongst your team and they don't trust you, you're not going to be able to move ahead. You're not going to be able to effectively begin the change. And change is hard. There's no doubt about it. Change can be uneasy for people. Some people are more willing to adapt to change than others, but I think that that's part of a leader. You've got to be able to recognize that not everybody's going to change at the same pace. And you have to figure out how to manage that, and you have to figure out which team members can change maybe in a more rapid pace and help them leverage back within the team to help you build that effort. But for me that's the biggest place. I mean, I know I want my leaders to be transparent and candid with me as to where I stand and what this means not only for myself but for the team and the bigger enterprise. All those things build onto trust. It's simple, but it's not an easy task to do. Well, the other thing that I think you didn't say but I have observed and been a beneficiary of is your accessibility. You are more than willing-- you do more than just put it in an email. You share your voice mail, your direct cell phone line. You truly do have an open door. How is it though that you, with all the roles that you're playing, how do you balance that accessibility with the fact that people are going to take you up on that? It's a very good question. Some days I balance it very well, and other days I don't. It's funny. I just view it as that's the way it should be. And so I think that it doesn't become a challenge because I want to be open. I think that as we are evolving as an enterprise, you have a right to reach out to me at any time, regardless of what the issue is. And sometimes I get reached out to on a personal issue. Sometimes it's on a professional issue. And we all need somebody. And so it can be a balance. Sometimes it is because you've got other things going on. But somebody needs to know that if I can't answer you right now, I will get back to you. That builds trust, and I think trust is such a core value for us to have amongst each other as we go through all the change that we're going through. So I don't know. It's sort of how I am. I've always had an open door policy. I've always felt that people should be able to come to me. I don't always have the right answers. I may not even give the best direction. But I feel everybody's voice is important, and there's no reason I shouldn't be able to listen to your voice. So it's good and bad. And I think honestly anybody appreciates face time. And anybody can understand that you may not have the perfect responsible or all the information, but just the willingness to sit across the table from someone, that's really powerful. You know, relationships are key. That's the reality, whether it's your personal relationships or your professional relationships. Your network's key, and all those different things create, I think, a successful environment to be in. So whether you're talking about your home life or you're talking about a professional life, you have to build relationships. And those happen face to face. And so you can start them on an email. You can start them on a telephone conversation, but eventually you've got to build that. And to be honest, I think that's part of my success with my clients. We've all had challenges with our clients, whether it's internal or external. But you get through those rough patches by building that relationship, and then they know that if I call Inger or if I call somebody on Inger's team, they're going to respond. And they're going to figure out a way to resolve. And so I think that comes from some of that face to face time. It makes it critical. That's a great investment, though, in making those relationships last. Yeah. So you had already referenced that you still maintain and in this current role you still have some of the work from your old job, which was you were the senior director for national accounts for the company. And you have some really stellar statistics to speak to how well you managed that area. I wonder though, what was it as you evolved in your career, if you ever did encounter those times where you perceived or you were even told flat out that a woman couldn't be as successful in a sales position where it is certainly a male-dominated area. It's funny. I never felt that I couldn't be as successful as a man. I don't know if it was my upbringing or what that may have been. And I've been very fortunate. I have worked with some amazing male and female leaders in this company. But I've never felt that I couldn't be as successful. But what I did realize is that I had to figure out how to play the game like a man. And so I needed to figure out how to be at the table with them. I needed to, in fairness, maybe sometimes think differently as well. So it was not necessarily that I felt I couldn't be as successful. I never felt that anybody in this organization either told me that I couldn't be as successful because I was a female. I do think there's advantages to being a female in the sales world too. But I did have to figure how to play the game a little bit differently so that I could make sure I was part of that table. And it's simple things that you have to figure out, but I think that that's part of just being a strategic thinker. How do I engage? So what did you add to your toolkit? What is it that made you think differently or that you said you earned a place at the table. What is it that you brought? Some of it, some of this is simple stuff. But you had to learn what's going on in the sports industry. I learned how to-- not a great golfer, but I can certainly get out there and drive a cart. And they sound simple, but a lot of networking is done in those social situations. And I needed to figure out, how do I get invited? Many people would say, Inger, you need to come. And I'm thinking, I don't know how. What am I going to talk about? And so what I found out too on top of it was I actually really enjoyed sports, so that's the great thing. I enjoyed a lot of these games. So pieces like that get you networked in. And I don't think that that is a bad thing. I think that we need to look at it as opportunity. How do I engage? It's no different than any client, whether they're female or male. What are their likes and interests, and how do I figure out how to become relevant in what they think is important? And so I think that's probably really more the key message is how do you become relevant to your customer? And becoming relevant to your customer, if their big thing is golf, then I need to figure out how I get invited to the golf game. I've got to be there with them at that situation. If they happen to like food, how do I become relevant in what's important to them? Because part of developing strong relationships and being successful in sales is establishing that relationship. And it's not just-- you certainly have to establish credibility first and foremost. You've got to establish credibility. And you establish credibility by delivering really good quality work. And so that's first. The second piece is building the relationship, and that comes once they know, she's going to deliver the quality of work that I'm looking for. And then you build the personal side of it, and that just strengthens the entire relationship. But like I said, I have been fortunate in this company. I have not worked for people that have ever made me feel inferior. I just had to figure out how I was going to make sure I was invited to all those various things. So really, to me it really hearkens back to how you were raised. You had to figure out how to assimilate into a new culture, how to start with no connections and build that rapport and understand what the cultures were and be respectful of that. So in a very similar way, here you are as an adult doing the same thing. Right. That's actually a good way to look at it. I never really thought about it that way, but it is true. And I don't feel that as a female I have to be a male. I don't think that there's any reason that I have to assimilate to that. I just have to figure how to play within the space and be relevant, stay relevant. And that's really why I insisted on keeping accounts. I mean. I had told Pat, so important, I think one of the reasons I was being considered for the position at the time was that I was so close to our membership. I was close to our accounts. In order to continue to stay relevant, even in my current position, I needed to hear the voice of the customer. And I hear that voice on a daily basis, and when I go into any meetings, I'm constantly thinking about, what do they need? What do they want? And what are we missing and they're challenged with? So the same concept. Yeah, great conduit obviously, right to the leadership that can actually act and help you respond to those needs and challenges. So fantastic. So you were named back in 2012 a Woman of Influence in Northeast Florida by the Jacksonville. Business Journal. Yes. Can you tell me how did that impact you personally and professionally? So personally, twofold. My team nominated me. I love it. And so, first of all, I had a fantastic team. They were really, probably from a professional place, almost all of them were my peers for many, many years. And so I transitioned into being their leader. And so to have them take the time to nominate me was huge honor, so certainly gratifying but it really was much more of an honor. And then also on a second piece of it, you, as you go through your professional career, it was an opportunity to thank so many people in my life that had encouraged me, supported me, were good listeners. And so that was an opportunity for me personally to thank some really key people in my life that I appreciate what you've done for me. Professionally I will say, which I didn't even realize the impact it would have professionally, is it did get me recognized in the community in a different way. There were certainly businesses there that had never heard of me before then. And so it was a great avenue to be recognized outside of our own industry for some of the efforts I had done internally. So it was a fantastic experience. It's humbling. And note you're not successful on your own self. You're successful because of the people that surround you. So from the professional perspective the team was amazing. And personally between my family and friends and co-workers, it was twofold for me but great honor. So you had mentioned at the very beginning of our conversation that your tendency is towards introversion. You're maybe a little bit shy. Was it difficult for you to be up there on the podium? Or did you by that point you owned it? That's a good question. My father is an amazing public speaker. So over the years, I have watched my dad do that. And I will say that I'm comfortable in front of an audience. So I am comfortable doing that, but I still have nervous edge before I go up and do anything. But I think that that's a good thing. I think everybody should have a little bit of the butterflies before you stand up. It keeps you sharp. So I was definitely a little nervous, and I think I was nervous my parents were in the audience that day. And so I wasn't nervous from the perspective of getting up and thanking everybody, but I knew I'd be a little bit more vulnerable because I wanted to thank them for what they had done for me over the years. And so that opens up a whole different side of you when you have your family in the audience and you want to thank them. And I am a crier, so I did tear up that day. So I wanted to say thank you. So not nervous from the perspective of being in front of an audience but certainly nervous because I wanted to thank a couple key people. Right. Well, I want to know, too, a little bit more. You have been in these leadership roles for most of your professional career. But not every woman has the title of leadership. How would you advise that a woman who wants to demonstrate leadership ability, what can she do to make others aware of her ability to be a leader, even if it's not part of her title today? I actually think everybody is a leader. If it's in your title or not, you can be a leader. I think the way that you show your leadership is by being able, number one, to build rapport amongst your co-workers. If you can build that synergy, that's leadership. If you can build trust amongst your team but not have to be the one that's giving the direction, that's leadership. I think another way to do it is by being an expert in your area. Show them that you know your business. I think we underestimate the power of our voice. There is nothing the matter with speaking up and being brave or courageous enough to say your opinion and why you have that opinion and where it may make a difference. So know your business, and have a voice behind it. That shows leadership quality. And I think the last thing is being willing to be vulnerable and accept feedback. A lot of people struggle with that, and I think some of the greatest things I have ever learned are when people have given me candid feedback, not in a negative way but just opportunities for me, and then taking and acting on it. Didn't ever have a leadership title in it, but some of the greatest things I ever learned were before I was technically qualified as a leader. But because of feedback I was given and I took it and I acted on it. Those are leadership qualities. I think that what I really appreciate, it's not just the business acumen, but you're also suggesting that people have to trust in themselves to know that they can grow. Yes. So take that feedback and not see it as a challenge but as an opportunity to really improve where someone else has identified, hey, you're a rock star here, but perhaps you could stretch a little bit in another area. It's a great point, because I think about every job I've ever taken in this company, I've always been like, I don't know if I can do that. Do I have it in me to do it? And I've had so many conversations with people, and when I moved into senior director, I was following one of my mentors. And I thought, I don't know if I can do that. Do I have the strength to do that? And so I think you have to look within yourself saying, I may do it differently, but I can do it. And I may not know everything. You have to be able to be willing to ask questions and to learn. And I think that's leadership. You have to know that there's going to be people in your team that are probably better than you or more of an expert than you. Recognize that. Leverage it. Encourage it. Just know how to use their expertise to move forward the entire mission and not be intimidated by the fact that you're going to have people around you that know it better than you do. That's a great leader. And I think too, people like to know that they contribute to the bottom line. Absolutely. The ultimate decision to know that they were able to influence the direction that you as the leader took, I think that builds that rapport and that team strength as well. So another off-topic question for you, but I can't resist. You've taken many different roles, and you just suggested that there have been times that you've questioned whether you could do something. I had read something, or it actually may have been at the Gen W event, that women typically when they see a job posting believe that they have to have 100% of the qualifications, compared to a man who says, you know, I've got about 60% of what's listed there. I'm going to go for it. Has there been a time where you really had to stretch yourself and convince yourself to go for something? Or have you always just been willing to listen to that smaller voice that you just said, I might do it differently, but I'm going to give it a try? Oh yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think that when I took the senior director role over sales, I had always been sort of in this more the supportive role. I was a leader in this perspective of I was managing my accounts and I had an account manager but certainly not over a team of people. And I really struggled with the decision whether or not that was a job I wanted to take. I went through the interview process, but even through the interview process, I kept thinking, I don't know if I can do this. But I have great people in my life who happen, several of them happen to be male. And they said, you can't underestimate it. And you're not going to know everything. And I do think that's one thing as females we sometimes do. We think it's a fault because we don't know everything, and so we try to make ourselves experts in everything. As I've gotten older, one of the things I said to myself, you're not going to know everything. And that's the great thing about life is that you get to keep learning. And then it just helps you to continue to grow. So at that particular point, that was a position that I knew I wasn't probably 100% qualified for. I knew I was an expert in certain areas, but I just trusted in myself that I would learn it quickly. That tactical side of me would delve into it, understand it at the level it needed to be understanded, and then it would flow from there. And it did. And I was fortunate once again. I had an amazing team that I worked with that between all of us together made a great team. And they helped me become a great leader. So we had, in a previous conversation with Dr. Elana Schrader, she mentioned that she typically gives herself 90 days to, if she's tasked with a new challenge or a new role or whatever, 90 days to really just be lost. And then she said and then slowly it coalesces, and she begins to really hit her stride. She encountered challenges when she moved into a product role. It took her more like five months instead of three. And she said that really knocked her for a loop. But she understood it just was so different from anything she had managed. So what do you recommend for anyone, man or woman, moving into a new role where really they're really finding it a hard struggle to get the feet under them to really feel like, OK, I'm beginning to own this, and it's starting to come together. What can they draw on to help them along that path? I felt that way when I joined as chief of staff because we were going through the major reorganization. I remember going into a couple meetings going, it's not connecting for me yet. And that's a struggle, especially for people like Elana and I who are type A personalities and want to own it and understand it. But what I would say that I had to, first of all, you have to admit. You have to admit to yourself I don't understand it and go ask for help. It is something that you have to be able to be willing to ask the questions so that you can gain that knowledge and that understanding. I think people respect you more for acknowledging, I'm not tracking, and I need some help. I need some guidance, than going in and pretending that you know it and making assumptions and being wrong. So it's one of those things that we probably all to a certain extent struggle because we all want to be the best in our field, and we want to deliver the best. But you have to, at times, say, I just don't get it. And I don't think that that makes you a less strong leader by recognizing at times you're not going to know it all. And to ask questions is not a bad thing. Asking questions is empowering for the people you're asking it of because it means you're seeking guidance from them. And that builds their strength. So I think there's no way everybody knows everything about everybody. You just can't. But it is a challenge sometimes when you want to and you want to get there quickly. Right. So it's patience with yourself too. Patience with yourself, pace, and then being able to be strong enough to recognize, I don't know it all and let me ask somebody for help. And you've mentioned several times that you've had wonderful mentors and people in your life. Let's talk about that a little bit. Who are the people that you've really been able to draw on through your life? So many. I really have been very fortunate. I've had some really great people in my life. And I still have them in my life today, but from a professional perspective, I worked for a great woman, Lynn Vanwagenen for years. She's the one that brought me up to Jacksonville. And it changed my career path, to be quite honest. She had met me one time. We were going through my accounts, and she called me I think it was a week later. I was on vacation, and she said, you have to come up here and work with me. And I was not sure because we hadn't formally established national accounts. And I commuted for a year. My husband stayed in Orlando, and I went back and forth for a year. But the best experience, and she allowed me to do things and expose me to things that I know I wouldn't have gotten with a lot of other people. And she allowed me to own it. She said, you be accountable for it. You take it. Whether you succeed or fail, you own it. And it taught me truly accountability. Everything I did, it was on me. I never pointed fingers. It was my responsibility, the whole thing. At the end of the day, if the group failed, regardless of who else I was working with, it was my accountability. So she certainly was a mentor, and she showed me with grace how you could try to manage personal and professional life as best you could. She sometimes had to push me to make sure I was managing my personal life well. But she was a wonderful, wonderful influence to me. And my dad, he's such an amazing man, whether it's my personal life or my professional life, has always encouraged me. And it's interesting coming from a military background, he never, never saw any reason why I couldn't be as successful as any other male. And he didn't think-- he wasn't there to define my success. My success would be defined by me. So regardless if I wanted to, whatever my career path was going to be, he encouraged. Now, I will say he probably pushed me a little bit too because he could see the times when maybe I thought, I'm not sure if I can do this. He was definitely the man behind me saying, you definitely can do this if you believe in yourself. If you decide not to do it, though, we support it. But you can do it. So my dad, he's an amazing man, and certainly with the support of my mom. She's probably my biggest cheerleader. But the combination of amazing parents, amazing parents that nothing could stop. And the last person that I would say is definitely an influence in my life, and she's no longer here with us on Earth, was my grandmother. She was one of the first women accepted into Rensselaer as a female. Wow. And tell folks what Rensselaer is for those who are not familiar with it. It's a technical university. You're extremely educated, skill set in math, engineering, science. So what decade would that have been in? I mean she was, gosh, '40s, 1940s time period. That's phenomenal. Is that your father's mother? My mother's mother. Mother's mother, OK. Mother's mother, and anyway, so she was this amazing woman, and then the war happened. And so she ended up two years in going back to support from her family life, went back to that. But she always was a strong woman. She raised four children. A trailblazer, honestly She really is. And it's funny. In many ways, her life turned out to be more sort of defined by what the typical female at that time would have been. She raised her children. She was into the social activities, all those kind of things. But was a trailblazer because she was so extremely smart and was willing to take those risks. And basic stuff, I mean, when the war was going on, she drove a bus. Just basic things that seem simple but given her time, where she was in her life to do those things and step outside of really honestly even the way she was raised, I find her to be, I always did. I found her to be somebody that, if she can do it, why can't I? And she, even though she was the ultimately lady, extremely graceful, always dressed to the nines-- So she drove her bus with pearls on. She did, absolutely. And one thing she did teach me very well was the importance of manners. Every summer my brother and I would visit with her, and we certainly knew what every fork and spoon and glass meant. And it is an invaluable thing to learn if you're going to be in the business world. I think it's underestimated how important manners are. And I think that that's completely because of my grandmother. So you have all of these really strong people in your background. What are the attributes that they really helped to hone in you? What is it that you said your father pushed you. Your grandmother was this model for breaking the mold. How is it that you think you've changed as a person because of their influence? I think they definitely instilled courage. That does not mean that I was not fearful at times, but they instilled courage in me that you can do it even if you fail. So take the risk to certain things. I think that they also, it's such a good question, Kate. I'm trying to think through some of the other pieces of it. But I think they certainly instilled in me to be kind. And I know that sounds like an odd answer, but I do think that's part of what is about me that I like, to be kind to others. Because if you are, imagine how much you can get done in a day when you can have respectful conversations with your peers. So being courageous, being kind, making sure you take the time to learn. They all were great learners. It's not that you had to have your doctorate, but keep learning. Whether you were learning about your industry, whether you're learning about something in your personal life, you're learning about your co-workers, keep learning. So I think those are three things that they're basic things, but they have made me who I am today. And I wouldn't change it. And I think in combination are very potent. Those three things I'm sure helped to propel you where you are. Right. So simple, but-- All right, well, and in that, those are three very personal traits that you reference. So I know that you are mom to three boys that you are raising. And what is it that you're instilling in them, your sons. Here you are a professional woman. You're balancing a tremendous responsibility at work and the tremendous responsibility of raising three good kids. And I'm sure you are. So how is it that you both focus on instilling in them specific traits as well as letting them know that here there are, three boys, sure being boys, that they learn to be respectful to women and really anyone around them. Well, hard work. I do believe that you have to work hard in life. And it doesn't mean that you have to work long hours. What I'm saying is I expect them to give their best day in day out. And as long as you know that they're trying and they put that effort into it, that's one piece, because I do think that there's something in that. And I think that every day they need to wake up and figure out how they're going to give their best for that day. It may not be perfect, but just give your best. And I also believe in manners. I don't think that there is anything the matter with my boys growing up to be gentlemen. As a female, I don't think it makes me less strong by accepting a man to open up my door to allow me to walk ahead of them. I think that those are wonderful traits that should continue to be moved on as we move forward. But I do expect them to do those things. And I expect, there are other things. When you shake somebody's hand, you shake it firmly, and you look them in the eye. So those are important things to me, manners. You have to have manners. And I think the value that I'm bringing so that they respect women is that they get to see me day in day out balance my professional life with them. And that they need to understand that there are times in which I have to do the professional side. And it's important that I have sat all three of them down, even though the youngest is six, and explained to them the value of what I'm bringing home by having my professional life and what it affords us to do. And it's not a guilt thing. It's they need to understand that when you work hard, there are certain things that may come along with it and what I'm giving back. Because not all my work is involved in just the business side that we do. Some of it's the community side of it. And I want them to understand that there are others out there that are less fortune and by being in the role that I'm in, it affords me great opportunity to give back into the community. And that's an important trait that I'd like for them to continue on in their life. And that's not by being just a female. That just happens to be what I think should make a well-rounded young man. And it's funny having three boys and no girls, it does make a difference. It can be challenging at times, but my brother has a little girl. And it's amazing how bringing a little girl into their life and using that reference of, how would you want your cousin to be treated? And it does give them pause. And so I think regardless if you were a single child and you're a male or if you have many children, having another female influence in their life similar age makes a huge difference in how I think men respect women. I'm fortunate enough to have a brother, and I think that I do take credit. I always tell him, I take credit for how wonderful you turned out, parts of it anyway. Because-- I'm just trying to [INAUDIBLE] that. I do. So does my mother. But I tell him all the time, you're so wonderful because of these things that I taught you. So I think that there's importance to have female influence in your life. Because if they can relate it back to somebody they love, they will think twice about what they're doing. And so from a personal perspective, that's it. But from a professional perspective, I think that, look, at the end of the day, the great thing about what my kids will learn is they've seen me try to balance both. Hopefully I will be able to open up some doors for them in the future. And I don't mean giving them handouts. I mean that they'll get exposed to different things that will allow them to recognize what I've done made a difference in their life. And it's the same thing my parents afforded me by allowing me to travel all over the Middle East and Europe because of what they did. And so hopefully I can pass that onto my children in the long run. That's the goal at the end of the day. A great goal to have. And I have to add a little shout out to my husband who was an only child but who is the most in tune to women. I mean, can sit in a-- he has to travel sometimes and is one of those people that he's just approachable. And people will strike up conversations with him, including 62-year-old women who are traveling to Mayo Clinic for a procedure. But they genuinely enjoy his company, and I absolutely attribute that to his mom. Yeah, absolutely. Who fostered that in him, and I am so fortunate to be the beneficiary. But again, a man's man, only child, grew up rough and tumble and surfing and all of that, but the influence of his mother was huge. It makes a huge difference. Huge, absolutely. It's all about what you expose your children to. So while we certainly do the sporting things too, I've exposed them to many of the wonderful things about being in a female's life, which include shoes. So-- Oh Inger. --my boys know all about great shoes. And this one day will come in great-- I keep telling them, one day this education that I'm giving you will pay off. Will so pay off, oh my gosh. Well, it will. I tell them all the time. Have you taken them shopping? Oh yes, they go shopping. And do they help you pick out? They help me pick out. Oh my gosh. They are in my closet. The help me organize. And sometimes it's not because they want to. I tell them the have to. But they will learn. And I tell them one day, you will think back about, if my mom had not told me about this, I would not be talking to this great lady. It's the reason they got the girl, I'm telling you. Exactly. Oh my gosh. That's a story and a half. I love it. And I'll go on record as saying Inger has a fantastic collection of shoes. So it's obviously worked. Hopefully. We'll see. All right, well I'm going to move into our final question. And if you could look back at your younger self at whatever age that would be, what are two things that you would like to tell the younger Inger? It's OK to say no. I am still working on that. But I do think, and I don't know if it's all females, but certainly for me, it's OK sometimes to set a boundary. I just can't do this right now. It's not a sign of weakness. It's a sign of understanding your own limitations and how you can be successful. And I think I struggle with it whether it's my personal life or my professional life. But that is definitely something I would tell my younger self. And I think the other piece, and this is probably more on the personal perspective, is cherish your circle of girlfriends. As I've gotten older, I have realized how important that network of girlfriends really is. And I have girlfriends from all different areas of my life. And really you go through your 20s and you're busy doing your career, and you're in your 30s and you're raising your family. And you get to my age, in your 40s, and you realize those are some of the most important relationships that I have. And some of them I may not talk to on a daily basis. But there's key moments in my life where I've had to rely on them, and it's as if we never stop talking. And you don't realize it when you're in 20s how important, how vital those relationships can be. And it can be female friends. It can be your mother, your sister, your aunts, your grandmothers. Those friendships are so critical as you get older. People who get you and who get you over a long period of time and a range of experiences. I'm sure that they feel the same way with you too. I'm sure you're as good friend to them as they've been to you. I hope so. I hope so. Well, Inger, thank you so much for your time. I think this has been a fantastic interview and just love all the wisdom that you've shared with us today. So I hope we get to catch up with you again in the future. Thank you. It was fantastic. My pleasure. You've been listening to Florida Blue Radio, recorded at our Jacksonville headquarters. For notes from today's program, visit our blog at Be sure to leave us a comment there with your ideas or suggestions for future programs. Until next time, here's to you in your pursuit of health.  

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Kate Warnock

Kate Warnock is a member of the Florida Blue social media team and has loved being at the forefront of the social wave @FLBlue. A marketer with ten years’ experience, Kate is also a wife and mom to two children. When not at work, you’ll find Kate listening to NPR, reading The New Yorker and Cooking Light, and arriving two minutes late to yoga class.

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