For she’s a jolly good fellow

April 16, 2019
By Mary Alice Sherman

The Lutine Bell is rung and the Last Post is sounded by trumpeters before the building falls into a thick silence. The only sound that can be heard is the flutter of thousands of paper poppies tumbling slowly to the ground. It is Remembrance Day, 9 November 2018. I stand on one of Lloyd's several undulating escalators, surrounded by hundreds of other brokers and underwriters. I am overcome with gratitude for the London insurance community, for this beautiful city, for the relationship my country shares with this country, and for the opportunity to be in this place, at this formative time in my professional life.

As a senior at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee in 2015, I never could have imagined that I would one day work in London. Due to my studies in corporate strategy and organizational development, I intended to pursue a career in organizational consulting. However, my interest was sparked when a close friend told me about The Walter C. Wattles Fellowship at Lloyd's of London, a program that annually enables three female graduates of Vanderbilt University to work in the London insurance market for a year. The program was founded in 1969 with the original purpose of providing an opportunity for young women to experience the international insurance industry, which was not otherwise available to women at that time. In the early years of the program, the available positions were mostly clerical in nature, but now the fellowship is the only program of its kind offering a one-year, fully integrated position in the London insurance market.

Each year about 75 to 100 females in their senior year at Vanderbilt University apply for the Wattles Fellowship. Applicants are interviewed by Former Fellows and the Fellowship Board and then three applicants are selected based on their academic performance, student leadership, internship experience, community service, essay content, and personal qualifications. I was lucky enough to be selected as one of the three women sent to London through the fellowship in 2016.

The biggest draw for me was admittedly not the insurance industry, but rather the cultural experience of working in an international marketplace right after university. Upon my arrival in London, I was placed on the North American Property broking team at Willis Towers Watson. It quickly became clear that the insurance market offered an extraordinary opportunity to develop my skills in negotiation and interpersonal communication under the tutelage of the world's most knowledgeable brokers and underwriters. I was immediately thrown into the marketplace and broking contracts face-to-face with underwriters with a wide variety of personality types who had been in the marketplace for decades. To be successful in these negotiations I not only had to navigate the British dry sense of humour, but also learn about Willis Towers Watson's clients, which offered an opportunity to study about a broad range of businesses, occupancies, and risk management styles.

I was lucky to be hired as a full-time employee of Willis Towers Watson after my year as a Wattles Fellow. My two years as a full-time employee have been filled with more dealings with underwriters in Lloyd's, as well as an increased responsibility to build relationships with Willis Towers Watson's clients and retail brokers in the States. Through countless client meetings, dinners and corporate days out with underwriters, I developed professional relationships and personal friendships with incredible mentors from all areas of the business, which I know will last a lifetime. My experience in the London Insurance Market while working for Willis Towers Watson has provided the foundation to be a more culturally aware and internationally rounded business professional. I am grateful to The Walter C. Wattles Fellowship, and my many Willis Towers Watson and Lloyd's colleagues and mentors, for the opportunity to begin my professional career in such an enriching and rewarding environment.

To learn more about The Walter C. Wattles Fellowship, please visit the program's website.