In part two of a three-part series, Janelle Hazell shares how focusing on her strengths was a turning point, the power of mentorship, and the one thing she would change for women in the industry.
Chief Operating Officer
Hamilton, New Jersey
Janelle Hazell joined Rue Insurance in 2021 as the chief operating officer. She is a proven leader and was included by Insurance Business America in 2019 on their Elite Women in Insurance list and Legacy Magazine's 40 Under 40 Black Leaders of Today & Tomorrow in 2013. Hazell got her start in insurance at a carrier, typing up accidental death and dismemberment riders on a typewriter in New York City. Transitioning to work at an independent agency, she found her niche.
“Throughout my career—first as a team leader, then a manager, and now in operations—I have always had teams that were very welcoming and eager to share ideas," Hazell says. “Becoming a leader does take work though. There have been times when I've been in environments where I'm like, 'How did I get here? Am I ready to be here?' But I have been blessed to work with people who listen, share and lift me up along the way."
Hazell carries that spirit of leadership into her community, serving on the board of directors of her county's Big Brothers Big Sisters chapter.
What's your favorite hobby?
I love to read. It's always been a passion of mine since I was a child, but for many years I just didn't do any reading for fun. I just got back into it a couple of years ago. I love to pick up a good autobiography, a romance or even something educational—I like to mix it up.
If you could have lunch with any person who has ever existed, who would it be?
All four of my grandparents, who are now deceased. One I never met, one I only knew for a couple of years before they passed, and the other two I knew into my early teen years and then my adult years. I wish I could just sit down and know them even better as people, pick their brain and hear their opinions. They were such great people—I know because they raised my parents, who are great people.
How has your experience been as a woman in agency leadership?
As a woman, I've never felt held back. I've been fortunate to be in environments where there were always a lot of other women, especially on the agency side and in service and operations. When they saw I was interested in something, or I said, 'Hey, I'd like to run with this project,' they definitely encouraged and supported me.
What's the biggest thing you've learned as a leader?
A turning point for me and my career was when I learned to focus on my strengths. I went to the Insurance Women in Leadership program at West Point to participate in their three-day leadership workshop, where I did the Gallup StrengthsFinders exercise. It was a game-changer for me. I had been going through my career trying to figure out, 'What do I need to get better at?' But this put what I was really good at into focus and helped me stop worrying about those things that don't come naturally. That helped me transform my leadership style.
What's your favorite thing about working in insurance?
Definitely the people. It's what attracted me to the industry and what's kept me here. I find that the people who work within the industry are curious and geeky and like to learn and ask questions. But they like to have fun, too. Most importantly, they're people who care about others. We're here to make sure that people and businesses are protected and the people in this industry have a very clear understanding of that. It shows in the effort they put into their work every day. The flexibility, growth potential, ability to transition into new areas and the stability the industry offers keeps me here, and also motivates me to encourage people to join the industry as well.
What's the value of mentorship for women in the industry?
Invaluable. I don't even know where I'd be without it. Looking back, knowing that I had people who were willing to give me advice, pour into me, and essentially had nothing to gain from it, I'm eternally grateful. My mentors came in the form of my managers. I can remember my first manager—when I would make a mistake, he would never hold back. He would just tell me, 'Yeah, no, that is wrong.' No sugarcoating there, but it helped me know it was OK to be wrong and go back to the drawing board. My next manager was a woman who literally shared everything she knew with me. She was a walking encyclopedia.
I definitely believe in mentorship whether formal or informal and have tried to pour into people at every opportunity, especially if I am working closely with them. It's the only way that we succeed in the industry and life. We have to help one another. I really feel strongly that that's what everyone needs.
If you could change one thing for women in the industry, what would it be?
I would love to see even more women in all the different aspects. We're definitely on the agency side, you see us in the service ranks, you see us in the operations ranks. I would love to see more women in sales. I would love to see more women in loss control. I would love to see more women actuaries.
And I'd love to see more men in service and in operations! On this side, we like to dig deep and get down and dirty. That diversity of thought and different opinions in different spaces will only help the industry grow and thrive.
What's your biggest piece of advice for other women in the insurance industry?
I found myself taking bits and pieces of what I liked about other people's leadership style, but that's not always the best. You really just need to get comfortable with who you are, your strengths, and make sure that you're operating authentically every day.
What do you love most about serving your community as an independent agent?
Helping people understand the value of what we do. Insurance is truly a noble career. We need to shout it from the rooftops about how the industry really does affect the lives of people every day. I love interacting with the community, whether it's through local chambers or our small business owners. I've seen everything from people in tears because of a loss to their great satisfaction and joy after we have assisted them.
AnneMarie McPherson Spears is IA news editor.