Paying It Forward

On our 15th anniversary, CLM’s past Professionals of the Year discuss what winning the award meant to their careers and beyond

August 02, 2022 Photo

There is no better time than a milestone anniversary to reflect on an amazing relationship. As we celebrate 15 years of CLM this month, we are thankful to have such a close-knit, active, intelligent, and accomplished membership.

While we greatly appreciate all of our members and fellows, one way that CLM has highlighted and recognized those who have gone above and beyond for the association, their organizations, and the industry in general is through the annual CLM Professional of the Year awards. For CLM, the awards demonstrate the passion, commitment, and achievements of those in our community who inspire and innovate to develop their peers and advance the profession of claims and litigation management.

But what do these awards truly mean to those who win them? How does it impact their careers? What does it say about their professional accomplishments? We reached out to past award winners to weigh in on these questions and share some advice with younger and new CLM members and fellows who want to become more involved and reach the same heights within the association and in their careers.

Career Impact

Speaking to what winning a CLM Professional of the Year award has meant to their careers, members and fellows talked about the award’s prestige within the industry and the resulting benefits to their reputations, as well as the confidence that winning the award instilled in them.

Robert Bowers, 2018’s Claims Professional of the Year, says, “I was honored to be recognized by my friends and peers in the industry, and those relationships were strengthened. At my company, I believe the award contributed to solidifying my reputation in my current role and my impact in the organization.”

Ken Carter, 2012’s Insurance/TPA Professional of the Year, also discussed the recognition that the award brought him within his organization. “I believe winning the award impacted my career by increasing my visibility and credibility with senior leadership and our board of directors. Since receiving the award, I was fortunate to be asked to assume a senior officer role in my organization.”

As a very recent award winner, Julie Buonocore, 2022’s Young Outside Counsel Professional of the Year, says she has already seen benefits. “The biggest impact that winning the award has had on my career is that it elevated my profile. While that is great for my ego, the most important advantage of this boost is that I get invited to connect with more members. In turn, those new connections allow me to participate in more events.”

For Richard E. King, 2015’s Outside Counsel Professional of the Year, the organizational impact was significant because his firm was new at the time he won the award. “The impact on my career can be defined in one word: immense!” says King. “We had just opened our new firm, Melchiode Marks King LLC, and I couldn’t have been more honored or appreciative. However, I definitely underestimated how impactful this award also was to my clients, friends, and family.”

Caryn Siebert, 2017’s Litigation Management Professional of the Year, notes how the award affirmed her belief in the work she was doing and inspired her to use her influence to help launch the careers of the next generation of professionals.

“The award motivated me to continue to enjoy a great career in our industry, and to ‘pay it forward,’ so to speak,” she says. “I love developing business for Gallagher Bassett and being an award winner who brings solutions to prospects via a wonderful company fuels my success. But my joy is also possible because I’ve now been inspiring others as a thought leader, expert resource, mentor, coach, caring daughter, and friend. I make it a point to nominate a few people annually for a CLM award—especially since there are now five categories—to give back and let them shine.”

Before, During, and After

Professional of the Year award winners also weighed in on when they felt the award was most significant to them: was it the nomination, when they stepped up to the stage to receive the award, or afterward with the impact the award had on their careers?

For some, the answer is “all of the above.” Kirsten L. Kaiser Kus, 2021’s Outside Counsel Professional of the Year, says, “The entire process is beneficial to a successful career. There is no higher honor than being recognized and nominated by your peers and then chosen to win this award. The CLM network is so expansive, so when your name is thrown into this ring, you benefit from the recognition and your brand being promoted by CLM for all to see. This is a major milestone in a successful career, and I’m forever grateful for the opportunity.”

Likewise, Ebony Morris, 2021’s Young Outside Counsel Professional of the Year, adds, “To be named as a finalist and then to win the award was such an outstanding surprise and honor. Receiving this award has definitely strengthened my commitment to the legal profession and to my clients.”

Scott Schafer, 2020’s Litigation Management Professional of the Year, adds, “I think the benefits of this award, and other CLM awards, is that they have meaningful impact before and after the award designation. I think, for the award recipient, the benefits are more immediate and tangible after receiving it—to both the winners and their companies. However, I feel the impact is broader than just that. When CLM colleagues see nominees and award winners, I believe they are inspired. This inspiration pushes at least a subset of the community to press forward and make their own marks. In my view, it is the set of collective advances and improvements these colleagues make that provides the greatest benefit of the awards.”

For Kevin O’Toole, 2014’s Outside Counsel Professional of the Year, there is a clear answer on which part was most significant: “I was a runner-up the year before, and winning was definitely better,” he says. He adds, “The most significant benefit of this award is how it sets the bar higher and higher every year to provide outstanding service in this industry. In this business, you cannot ever rest on your laurels.”

Other award winners discussed the honor of just being nominated, let alone winning. Michael L. Young, 2022’s Outside Counsel Professional of the Year, says, “To me, the biggest benefit of the award was just being nominated for it in the first place. When you see the other nominees and remember the prior award winners, you really appreciate the talent, skill, and experience of those who work in the insurance industry. Being included in that group of people is humbling.”

Angela C. Kopet, 2017’s Outside Counsel Professional of the Year, also talks about the honor of being nominated. For her, there was something extra special about winning the award when and where she did. “I was truly honored to be nominated,” says Kopet, “but winning the award in Tennessee where I practice law, and then fully understanding I was just recognized for my accomplishments by some amazing and talented professionals in the claims industry—individuals I respect and admire—was overwhelming.”

Kopet’s last point—the honor of being recognized by peers—resonated with many other award winners.

Shay Gilmore, 2015’s Litigation Management Professional of the Year, says, “The biggest benefit of the award is the knowledge that my peers in the space thought favorably enough of me and of my contributions to recognize me in this way.”

Stephen Henning, 2019’s Outside Counsel Professional of the Year, says, “What makes this award so meaningful is the fact that it is bestowed by some of the most brilliant minds in the industry, thought leaders who have their fingers on the pulse on emerging trends nationally. Being singled out for such an incredible honor was humbling.”

And Alycen Moss, 2022’s Litigation Management Professional of the Year, notes, “It has been absolutely wonderful to be recognized by other amazing claims professionals. You always hope that you are providing good insight, advice, and support to clients, and the award has provided the validation that I was providing clients with what they needed. The award has also allowed me to connect with other claims and litigation professionals who have helped me grow and advance even more.”

Paying It Forward

Previous award winners are also in an ideal position to help guide the next generation along the path to a successful career, and they shared some advice they have picked up along the way.

Avery Barrett, 2020’s Young Industry Professional of the Year, sums up what was by far the most popular advice: “Get involved! I have met amazing people at CLM events who are always a call away for professional advice.”

Brenda Radmacher, 2016’s Outside Counsel Professional of the Year, concurs. “Get active with CLM through your company/firm, and find ways to give back and participate in various activities—meeting people, learning, and growing as you proceed along your career path.”

Matthew Morrison, 2013’s Insurance/TPA Professional of the Year, adds, “Don’t sit on the sidelines. Get involved in any way you can. Volunteer for opportunities that arise. Don’t hesitate to join a CLM community or committee. Look for opportunities within your local chapters to help organize events, or propose a topic for a conference or an article for a CLM publication. In my experience, the benefits in terms of professional development and networking within the industry through my involvement with CLM cannot be beat, and the friendships created along the way are the icing on the cake.”

Teresa Beck, 2018’s Outside Counsel Professional of the Year, offers her own experiences as a guide to others, explaining, “I got involved with groups in CLM that I was interested in and had a passion for, like the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee and the Retail, Restaurant, and Hospitality Community. I also enjoyed writing ‘The Blame Game’ series for CLM Magazine, and I enjoyed doing webinars about interesting topics. There are so many opportunities with CLM to write, speak, and collaborate with other industry professionals, and this is a great way to advance one’s career. I don’t think you can go wrong being your authentic self and letting that lead you into CLM groups and activities that interest you.” 

Felicia McDonnell, 2021’s Litigation Management Professional of the Year, reminds newer members to take advantage of the professional development opportunities CLM offers. “Advice that I would give to newer professionals and CLM members who are looking to advance their careers is to look no further than CLM and all of the opportunities it affords you as a member,” she says. “There is education, networking, and incredible events that provide you the opportunity to meet new people in the industry and collaborate on ideas and strategies. And there are many educational opportunities. Whether it is Claims College or Litigation Management Institute, there are so many choices. Then, volunteer to help within the CLM. Present a session, join a committee; whatever fits your personality and strengths.”

Rusty Goudelock, 2020’s Outside Counsel Professional of the Year, sums up what many other award winners touched on: It’s all about the community. “Our industry is made up of an extraordinary group of professional individuals and their teams,” Goudelock says. “Take the time to get to know people personally. Through them, you will learn so much about the work we all do, and you will undoubtedly engage with so many of them who will teach, support, and assist you throughout your career.”

Finally, Pamela Carter, 2013’s Outside Counsel of the Year, offers a seven-point plan for newer CLM members and fellows looking to boost their profiles:

•    “Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and sign up for CLM opportunities.”

•    “Put your hand up. You won’t get an opportunity if you don’t ask to be considered for it.”

•     “Don’t worry about ‘someday.’ Make decisions for your career based on the life you have now; you can figure out the rest down the road.”

•    “Say yes to invitations.”

•    “Think bigger on LinkedIn.”

•    “Join a committee.”

•    “Be the best version of you—your authentic self—that you can be.”

CLM’s first 15 years saw many great relationships forged and many careers that soared to new heights. The dedication and leadership demonstrated by CLM’s professionals of the year, and their willingness to pass their knowledge on and guide future generations of professionals, guarantees that the next 15 years will see even brighter days.

About The Authors
Phil Gusman

Phil Gusman is CLM's director of content.

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