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Name: Susan L Combs, PPACA
Business: Combs & Company, LLC
Industry: Professional Services – Insurance Brokerage
Location: New York, New York, U.S.
Reason for starting: If I’m to be 100% honest with you, it was a complete leap of faith, not in myself, in my mentor, Jim Cosaras. At 26 years old, he told me that I could do it when I was unsure of myself. He told me that my tenacious spirit and “fixer” personality would shake things up in the insurance industry and I trusted him and went for it! My company is a full service insurance brokerage firm with an expertise in the “weird & unusual.” Leveraging a knack for solving difficult circumstances, we have become a go-to resource for those companies that don’t fit an insurance carriers’ typical profile, such as entertainment, food, and international companies setting up their first U.S. operations.
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How do you define success? Happiness. And then it is up to you to decide what that means for you. For me, it’s the ability to choose the clients I take on at this point, it’s the ability to have enough money that I don’t have to worry, it’s the ability to publicly speak and know that my business is still running like a fine oiled machine because I have an amazing team in place, it’s the ability to know that I do right by people and it comes back to me tenfold.
My father always told me there are three major aspects to your life – you have the person you are with, the place where you live, and the thing you do for a living. If you’re happy with 3 out of 3 then you are living a golden life, so for today, I’m golden and that to me is success.
Biggest Success: I currently serve as the youngest National President (2015) in the 79-year history of Women in Insurance & Financial Services (WIFS). This organization mission is to attract, develop and advance women in my industry. This year I have learned so much about positioning, politics, leadership, working with people with different backgrounds and more importantly about myself. I have grown a tremendous amount and am very fortunate that I had amazing women role models and mentors that believed in me enough to bestow this great honor on me to serve this incredible organization.
Related: Read about another female entrepreneur here.
What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it? Not having enough hours in the day. Some days between my board work and my company it feels like I have 2 full time jobs! So about 3 years ago I started taking only scheduled calls, and this has helped tremendously! Not only has it given me more time in my day, but I no longer have the word “phonetag” in my vocabulary and it has elevated my rock star status. The other thing I have started doing since, many times, my staff members are on emails is that when I get back into the office, I go through emails backwards. I know that this means that someone that emailed most recently will get a response sooner than one that did say an hour ago, but I found that it cut down on confusion and double work. When I would start at the oldest and work my way to the newest I found myself responding to things that my staff had already handled. By reversing the process it makes the office more efficient.
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Who is your most important role model? I have several in my life, but if I was to pick just one, I’d have to say my father, Major General USAF (ret) Roger E. Combs, who not only was a General, but a County Judge too! He was a shining example of hard work paying off. He came from a very meager beginnings where he was literally born on the farm and grew to great success in his career but always stayed true to his roots. He and my mother still live in the town of 1013 people that I grew up in, King City, MO. My parents exposed us to the world and showed us that there was more to life than our backyard, but if at the end of the day we decided that, the “backyard” was where we were happiest, that was ok too. He taught me that people were people no matter what their title and to just find a connection. I remember him telling me, “Susan, beware that the toes you step on today, may be connected to the ass you have to kiss tomorrow.” I learned from my father that if you were a nice person and did right be people, that if there ever came a time you needed some help, others would be there with a helping hand. The foundation that he and my mother provided equipped me with the skills to not be afraid to move to NYC and make my own path. And even though I have built a life in NYC, I’ll never forget where I’m from, and that’s probably one of the best things my father taught me.
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Edited by The Story Exchange