Lead(H)er: Shelia Anderson, SVP & CIO at Liberty Mutual Insurance
When your career is one long learning experience, you become a person who embraces change and seeks it out each day. Shelia Anderson has done just that throughout her career, choosing to work in technology largely because of the constant exposure to change.
“I love learning continuously, and I think in this career there’s that opportunity,” she said.
Anderson’s most significant change to date is her move from San Antonio, Texas, where she worked as USAA’s Vice President and CIO of Property and Casualty, to Boston, where she’s taken on the role of Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer of Corporate Functions at Liberty Mutual. For the past nine months, Anderson has been working on providing IP services to Liberty’s legal office, financial departments, and employee experience operations.
Before her time at Liberty and USAA, the Louisiana Tech University graduate worked her way through the ranks at Electronic Data Systems, where she gained solid technical skills before Hewlett Packard acquired the company.
“I had the opportunity to work with a lot of different companies, which was a fantastic way early in my career to gain exposure to a lot of different industries and develop my skills across all of those,” Anderson said.
She worked on her executive master’s degree through the company’s executive rotational program, then used her new knowledge to develop Grant Norton’s advisory consulting practice. She found her way to USAA after about three years at Grant Norton, then heard about the new opportunity at Liberty Mutual and decided that this was the next stop on her career journey.
Through hands-on technical roles and navigating the Internet boom, Anderson has continuously used her love of learning to guide her as she considers how to deal with the rapidly changing technology industry.
Anderson met with James McGlennon, Liberty’s Enterprise CIO, and felt that his leadership style and her skill set were a perfect match.
“After I had the opportunity to meet James and his vision and leadership style, it made me want to be a part of the team here,” Anderson said. “I think we have a great leadership team focused on a lot of change inside of Liberty.”
Though she’s only nine months into her tenure, Anderson has hit the ground running. She’s in the process of preparing her team to face the newest disruptors in the industry, from understanding how to handle autonomous vehicles to increased consumerization and how buying habits are changing based on the availability of technology.
“I think one of the biggest responsibilities of any senior leader, whether you be in technology or not, is to be sure that you establish the right environment and culture for your teams to be successful,” Anderson said.
To that end, she’s worked on building a leadership team full of people who she knows will be up to the challenges these new disruptors are presenting. Anderson has also overseen the transition of her team’s operating model to a full Agile model, which she hopes will foster a stronger relationship with the team’s business.
Anderson has also been doing her part to make the culture of technology as a whole a little bit better by working with Liberty’s Women in Technology group, which focuses on attracting, retaining, and mentoring women in technology roles throughout the company and beyond. The group’s activities include hosting a three-day summit for women tech students, panels within Liberty, and sponsorship of the Commonwealth Institute of Women’s Leadership and various impact studies. Women in Technology also participates in several conferences each year, from the Simmons Leadership Conference to the Grace Hopper Celebration conference.
To Anderson, this work is helping bring about necessary changes to both Liberty and the world of technology as a whole. Forbes recently named Liberty one of the best places to work for women and one of the most diverse places to work, and Anderson sees vast potential going forward.
“The numbers of women pursuing technical fields is less than 20 percent,” Anderson said. “While that’s great for that 20 percent, I think for organizations looking to have that diverse mindset and diversity of thought really, that’s going to be tough because we’re all competing for the same 20 percent. Programs like this encourage young women into looking at and continuing to pursue careers in technology.”
Change can be difficult, but Anderson is ready to face it and to lead her team into the future. She’s seen the other side of change throughout her career and knows that with change comes the opportunity to be better for both the employees and the customers of the companies she’s led through it.
What do you like to do in your free time?
Since I just moved to Boston and since it’s been summer, I’ve loved enjoying time on the beach. Any time to get away to the beach is something I love. Being less than one hour to the Cape is amazing. I didn’t have that – I moved here from Texas, so the closest beach was about five hours away, and the water was very, very hot.
How do you typically handle stress?
I try not to allow myself to get too stressed, but when I do, in the moment I like to decompress and take a time out and enjoy reading. I’ll try to read something that’s encouraging. When I have more time, I exercise a well. I try to get exercise in every day – I think that’s a huge stress reliever for me, and if I don’t get that exercise in, I can tell. That’s part of what I do.
How many cups of coffee do you drink in a day?
I’m trying to be better with this, so two. I am a big tea drinker, being from the South, so I’ll do one or two with caffeine, and beyond that I’ll do decaf or green tea.
What’s your favorite spot in the Boston area?
For me, being where we’re located in Back Bay, one of my favorite spots if I can get out at lunch for a minute to walk around is Boston Common. That’s an area that I enjoy. Back Bay is beautiful. Just getting out and walking around, there are so many interesting little spots along the way.
What do you consider one of your greatest accomplishments, unrelated to family?
When I completed my masters, just because of the situation at the time. I had two children in middle school, I was working full time, I was traveling internationally, and I was able to complete a masters in the two-year timeframe. I was the mom at the soccer field with the books on the weekends. I would say the thing that I’m proudest of is also keeping my sanity while doing that. It was honestly my second or third try to get through my masters, just because life and work had gotten in the way previous times, so I was very focused on getting that done. I had a very supportive work environment also which made that possible for me. That’s why that’s something very important to me as a leader because I know that oftentimes people have all of these things going on, and it’s important to be able to support people through their personal goals, as well.
Is this where you saw yourself 10 years ago?
Absolutely, I would say yes. I have always seen myself progressing in leadership roles and seeking out challenging opportunities. I think I’ve been able to do that. I would say it’s not so much the status of the role and the level, but more being able to work in a company environment where I enjoy what I’m doing, where things are changing, and I’m able to keep learning. I definitely have been able to do that. It has at times required a move out of one company to another, but I think along with that it’s been pretty exciting.
I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to learn more and to move. Learning about a new company in itself is a challenge just because you do have things to learn about the culture and how things are done. I think for me at the same time, a move from Texas to New England couldn’t be any different. Those are all great opportunities.
What is your advice for recent college graduates?
My advice to recent college graduates would be focus on learning as much as you can. I think the earlier in your career you can work on building your personal toolkit the better. Focus on building those skills out, gaining a lot of different experiences, and I think in the long run that’ll help you in your career. I think sometimes early in your career you may not understand how some of those skills will develop and help you for that job that may be the next two or three out. Focus on building your skills, don’t be afraid to try new things. At the same time, start developing skills around your personal brand and building out true people in your network that you can use as confidants or mentors or coaches as you go forward.