Laura Drabik: A Prominent Name in the Insurance Industry

Laura Drabik, Chief Evangelist of Guidewire

Women have made significant strides down the road, changing the face of almost every industry. And the insurance industry is not devoid of their contributions.

Today, many women are at the top of their game in the insurance industry. One such woman we, at CIO Look, came across is Laura Drabik, the Chief Evangelist of Guidewire. Through her role, Laura keeps her finger on the pulse of insurance industry disruption to coach insurers on ways to innovate their business and achieve a competitive advantage.

In an interview with CIO Look, Laura talks about her journey and how she has earned industry-wide acclaim for turning savvy insights gained in the field into category-leading solutions for Guidewire and its customers.

Below are the highlights of the interview:

Give us a brief overview of your position at Guidewire and its journey since the inception of the company.

Guidewire was still in startup mode when I joined the company back in 2006. I think I was employee number 93. Today we have over 3,000.

One of the best things about joining an organization at such an embryonic stage is that you get to help shape the company it will become. Over the last 15 years, I’ve been fortunate to play a central role in helping the company grow from an ambitious startup with just 10 customers to an industry-leading, post-IPO success story with nearly 450.

Today, I serve as Guidewire’s brand ambassador in the field, elevating the company’s profile while acting as a catalyst between insurers and Guidewire. To accomplish that, I am at the center of a cross-functional team leading the development of industry thought leadership through podcasts, blogs, articles, videos, events, press interviews, and other content that showcases the technologies and expertise that make Guidewire the leader in its category. See https://evangelist.guidewire.com/ to review my thought leadership.

A critical component of my role is working with insurers to understand their evolving needs and strategic objectives. This not only helps unearth emerging trends, but it also enables me to provide guidance to our internal development teams about new product capabilities that can help meet insurer business challenges and drive new sales growth. Given the pace of change in the industry, another increasingly important part of my portfolio is identifying insurtech investment and partnership opportunities that can help Guidewire customers get ahead of pack—and stay there.

What people, what books, what life factors have influenced and impacted you?

For me, any list of contemporary influencers has to include the likes of Michelle Obama, and the respectful public discourse she and her husband have always modeled—a rarity in presidential politics of late. Any mindset that includes the phrase “when they go low, we go high” is one that’s coming from a place of strength and equanimity.

Moving beyond current influences, one of my favorite books is Jane Eyre. It’s a story about female individualism at a time when that was nothing short of radical. For me, Charlotte Brontë is like a female version of Horatio Alger.

The top of my list of “life factors” that have meant the most to me would be that little checkbox on the adoption form where it asks, “Will you accept an emergency pick-up of a baby from the hospital?” and then clicking “yes”—which I did. My emergency pick-up was my daughter. No advanced notice, no formula, no car seat, no diapers? No problem. It was a leap of faith that nine years later continues to fill my heart with joy every single day.

As a business leader, what is your opinion on the impact of the current pandemic on the Computer Software Industry?

A lot of people describe the pandemic as a Black Swan event—something nobody could have been predicted. But I disagree, both in terms of the nature of the pandemic as well as its impact. By this point, it’s clear that the pandemic hasn’t really created new trends as much as it accelerated them. To say the importance of cloud technology, SaaS solutions, and globally distributed development teams has grown significantly during this time would obviously be quite an understatement. And cramming a decade’s worth of adoption and deployment into one year is nothing to sneeze at, either. But the precipitating factor wasn’t a Black Swan event at all. It was more like a Gray Rhino—sky-high probabilities long predicted but summarily ignored.

What is your thought on the necessity of a positive work culture? In what ways do you implement it at your organization?

Positive or negative, company culture has a bottom-line impact. You can choose to foster a culture that attracts and retains the best talent, or you can try in vain to buy it. To me, a truly positive work culture has an inclusive, diverse workforce and recognizes and rewards hard work, respects everyone regardless of title, and is fun. According to McKinsey, companies that are able to attract and retain a diverse workforce are 21% more likely to achieve above-average profitability compared to category peers.

But it doesn’t just happen—you have to work for it. You need leaders at every level who can establish clear divisions of labor so everyone knows what they are responsible for—and then give them ownership of it. Support and promote a wide diversity of thoughts and ideas. Praise people publicly and only criticize them directly and privately. Never give safe harbor to disrespectful statements or behavior between employees.

One of the things I make sure to do is to give employees shout-outs about their contributions. I don’t keep praise at a team level; I make sure to praise specific individuals for specific accomplishments. One of the things I’ve found to be effective in creating a positive work culture is through mentor programs that help employees take that next step to attaining their career objectives. And most important of all, you have to lead by example. If you want to cultivate a positive work culture, you have to be positive, approachable, and invested in each individual member of your team.

What is your thought on the necessity for businesses to align their offerings with newer technological developments, especially when it comes to AI, Cloud Platform, and Data management?

Remember what I just said about my drive-by baby pick up? Adoption of cloud platforms, AI, and data analytics technologies can help a business achieve its dreams. But that’s only if it’s done well—and for the right reasons.

“I want cloud” isn’t a strategy. When considering a migration to the cloud or AI or any other technology, the first question to ask isn’t “how.” It’s “why.” To be successful, it’s critical that technologies support the business’s objectives; and not other way around. Stakeholders should first define the business problem they’re seeking to solve—and then find the technologies that solve them.

But make no mistake. A failure to leverage these technologies where they’re needed can already impact a company’s competitive posture. In the not-too-distant future, they could call the entire viability of a company into question.

Using the insurance industry as an example, organizations that leverage our cloud platform are able to quickly deploy leading-edge technologies and easily connect multiple different platforms and applications using APIs to create competitive differentiation and fend off rivals. They can rapidly prototype, deploy, and manage new insurance products and services—and then scale capacity to meet changing needs—without crushing operational overhead and capital expense.

In what ways have you or the Guidewire contributed to the community?

We have a program called Guidewire Gives Back that makes donations of both money and employee time to local charities and non-profits. Beyond the financial support, providing opportunities for employees who want to donate their time to a good cause is emotionally rewarding and helps build camaraderie. We’ve also implemented a diversity and inclusiveness program to provide educational and career opportunities for underrepresented members of our workforce.

Personally, I sponsor and execute hackathons designed to encourage girls and young women to explore careers in technology. I can’t tell you how gratifying it is to see high school girls experience that “aha!” moment when they realize that coding is for everyone, and that boys shouldn’t have all the fun.

I’m also a board member of Girls in Tech (girlsintech.org), which is an incredible organization focused on the engagement, education, and empowerment of women in technology. I believe in this organization and its mission so much that I chose to become a board member of GIT over a paying board member position. And I can’t tell you how proud I am that Guidewire is a major sponsor.

In your opinion, what could be the future of core, predictive and risk analytics? And how are you strategizing Guidewire’s operations for that future?

I see a convergence of these business-critical technologies into a single, smart platform. After all, users shouldn’t have to flip between multiple systems to find and analyze data to understand the best path forward. It should be done for them—within a smart platform that leverages Internet-scale data sources and predictive analytics to instantly provide accurate risk scoring and other actionable intelligence—both proactively and on-demand, depending on the need.

Informed by real-time intelligence and orchestrated through AI and machine learning, this smart platform will automate the vast majority of low-level tasks so human underwriters and claims adjusters can focus on providing a concierge level of service. Like the cybernetic Cylon raiders from “Battlestar Galactica,” the smart platform will work symbiotically with the human, providing the exact right piece of information, at the exact time it’s needed.

At Guidewire, we’re bringing this vision to reality today. Our cloud platform integrates and analyzes first, second, and Internet-scale third-party data to instantly and accurately score risk. We’re embedding real-time, actionable insights gleaned from this data everywhere it’s needed within core system processes.

Our AI-powered claims management tools automate the majority of claims and route only those requiring empathy and expert judgment to human adjusters. And our business-friendly product development tools enable underwriters to launch exciting new products in weeks instead of months or years, and then leverage real-time data to refine those products in-market to maximize profitability. For us, the smart platform isn’t just a business system. The smart platform is the business itself.

How do you envision sustaining your company’s competency in a cutthroat and volatile world of business? Where do you see your company in the next five years?

In the most important ways, Guidewire is still the scrappy startup I joined back in 2006. You don’t become the industry leader by resting on your laurels once you have them. We say, ‘You think that’s cool? Hold my beer,” and proceed to outdo ourselves. We’ve built the industry’s largest R&D team, services team, and insurtech partner ecosystem precisely because our customers’ success is quite literally our success. And we play to win.

As an established businesswomen leader, what would be your advice to the budding women leaders and entrepreneurs?

Simple: Keep doing what you’re doing. Yes, only 2.3% of the total capital invested in venture-backed startups goes to companies started by women. But a study from Boston Consulting Group found that for every dollar of funding, women-founded startups generate 78-cents, while those founded by men eke out just 31-cents. It’s just a matter of time before the savvier end of the VC pool catches on.

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