Declaration of Independents: Denise Johnson

DOI-revisedDenise Johnson

President & CEO
Independent Insurance Agents of Oklahoma
Oklahoma City

Denise Johnson broke a 103-year-old trend when she served as the first woman chair of the 2010 Independent Insurance Agents of Oklahoma (IIAOK) board of directors. Three years later, friends urged her to apply for the open president & CEO position. But Johnson simply didn’t see herself as that person—she was focused on investing in those around her instead of herself.

Johnson has led IIAOK since June 2014, but knows occupational segregation is commonly accepted among her female counterparts. To combat that mindset, she co-founded a women’s network—MyNetwork—focused on empowering, encouraging and enhancing women’s leadership within the industry.

GENDER EQUALITY?

We have to start teaching our young women—and women that have the ability to step up into leadership positions—the confidence to go in and take the next step, because many times they don’t. How do we give them enough hope that they’re not going to be so fearful that it paralyzes them? This is part of the key to future.

PRIDE AND JOY?

My daughter added a third generation when she came into my family’s agency in her mid-20s. I handed her my book of business; she took it and ran with it. In the past two and a half years, she has nearly doubled the premium amount I had.

CHALLENGES?

My new question as a leader of a successful association is, “How do I keep it growing?” I see successful agencies that have been around for 50-100 years that are now involved in mergers & acquisitions. I suddenly see numbers shrinking in the association. As we have new agency startups, we have to relay to them the importance of being part of an association—a bigger organization that can assist them. The “old guys” understand the intrinsic value of an association where these new generations may not.

TOUGHEST DECISION?

When I left the family agency for the association. It ended up being a great decision, but it was very emotionally difficult. When you’re in your own agency and working with your own family, you don’t have a boss in the same way. But I do think I can make a difference on a larger scale than I could in the agency, so it’s worked out really well. 

Photo by Shevaun Williams