Coaching, mentoring and giving people autonomy: Kemper's Wendy Mager

Coaching, mentoring and giving people autonomy: Kemper's Wendy Mager

Wendy Mager

Wendy Mager takes an approach to management you could call “do unto others”: She wouldn’t want to be micromanaged, so she gives people runway to do their job in the way that works for them.

“I try to give people a lot of autonomy and delegate,” unless there is a performance issue, Mager, who is vice president of operations and systems shared solutions at Kemper, said in an interview. “If they’re performing, I won’t get very involved. If you need help, I’m all for it. But for the most part, I just let them do whatever they’re going to do, because that’s what I would want.” 

Mager oversees technology and services that are shared across Kemper, including policyholder printing, telephony, mail capabilities and related services. It’s her job to coordinate and improve existing capabilities and vendor responsibilities and to identify, address, and improve core capabilities for Kemper. The company, which is based in Chicago, has 10,000 employees and 15 locations. It offers auto, home and life insurance and has 5.3 million policies in force. Mager is one of Digital Insurance’s Women in Insurance Leadership honorees for 2023.

People who work with her say Mager is an excellent coach and mentor.

“Ultimately, Wendy is one of the largest reasons that I love my job,” said Eric Griffin, director of operational effectiveness at Kemper. “She is challenging yet supportive and a great voice of reason for me and others when working to build an optimal strategy. Her experience has been invaluable in the growth of my career as well as my peers and business partners. She can take on the workload of multiple people at her level while still making time to assist and advise others across our enterprise to improve the way they contribute to our company’s success.”

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If people on her team want to take on something new, she’s for it.

“I’ve seen people do this thing where they know a person’s really interested in going to another area and learning and they keep them — ‘they can’t leave, I need them,'” she said. “But in the end, the person is going to leave anyway because obviously they want to do something different. I like to help them get there, even if it leaves me a big hole.” 

When Mager comes to a new company or workgroup, she does what she calls “the walkabout.”

“That’s a little harder now, because you’re meeting with people mostly on video, but I used to go visit all the officers and sit with people and get some nuggets,” she said. “You’d meet with some people that really knew a lot and you’d be like, wow, this person could really help us in other ways. They might be a phone service person, but they know so much they could be good at testing, or something like that.” She would then help the high performers get promoted. 

Most of Kemper is staying remote. It has closed some contact centers, but still maintains centers in Texas, in Macallan and Dallas, and a technology hub in Jacksonville.

Mager recently helped integrate five business units, the results of several acquisitions Kemper had made, and migrate their contact centers and interactive voice response systems to Amazon Connect. 

Getting all customer service reps on the same system has led to cost savings and fewer systems for IT people to maintain, she said.

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“Between less staff, less technical debt and fewer contracts, it was a big win for the company,” Mager said. 

Now she and her team are developing more self-service features, such as interactive voice response for payments and a two-way texting tool.