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An Interview With Pattie Gillette

It may be difficult to picture the vivacious Pattie Gillette, with her wide smile and long auburn hair as a prison guard. Until an on-the-job injury called a halt to such activities, she was a correctional officer at the California Medical Facility preceding her career in insurance. “The best day I had as a correctional officer was worse than the worst day I’ve had as an insurance adjuster” Pattie explains. “But I learned a lot from the experience and I think it prepared me for challenges I’ve faced in every situation I’ve found myself in since then.” Pattie continued “The conditions are harsh, when an officer is on duty its an 8- hour shift- no breaks, no lunch and the stress of being constantly alert is wearing. When there is an emergency, the shift goes to a 12-hour stint without a break. I was lucky because in my time there no riots happened and no officer was killed.”

Feeling safer and less stressed managing the office at a Harmon Auto Glass office, Pattie learned about insurance processes and was happy to be able to help people through a stressful time. When Liberty Mutual ran an ad for a customer service representative in the auto sector, Pattie and 300 others applied for the 2 open positions. Her work background was helpful but it was her thirst for knowledge and her love of people that made her a natural fit for processing claims.

Pattie relates that she had only one customer complaint through the years stemming from an illegible submission- she didn’t deny the claim, only asked for more information. The customer felt put upon and protested to the President of the company which reverberated right down the line to Pattie’s desk. Ironically a few years later Pattie handled a claim for the same customer who had a car stolen and this time the policyholder wrote a glowing letter complimenting her professionalism. She shrugs her slender shoulders at the nature of people.

Liberty Mutual, like all insurance carriers, had many changes through the years and with the right attitude the changes can lead to new opportunities. The floods in the Sacramento Valley were an opportunity to work with Homeowner Policyholders but the Northridge Earthquake provided the certainty that Pattie wanted to work with homeowner property claims. Even so, she moved around in the claims department and worked with the Bodily Injury unit and SIU for a year while the company separated Homeowners and Auto claims handling. She became a Team Director who was responsible for assigning claims to their team, managing the claims volume and identified educational needs among the adjusters while fielding coverage questions. When the position of Team Director was eliminated, Pattie went to the field and continued working toward her degree to with an eye to her goal to work in management.

When the opportune moment arrived, it was Safeco Insurance that was holding the key to the executive suite. After years with Liberty Mutual she found the move to another company hard to do, but her goal beckoned. While she was managing field adjusters in Northern California and Arizona, she fought hard to maintain a balance between work and personal life. Traveling constantly, she found that she missed a great deal of her daughter’s life, not to mention her own. Pattie felt that she had to take control of her out-of-control work life so she became a manager of inside adjusters, a position that doesn’t require a life on the road. Since Safeco closed the office in Sacramento, she like many resident adjusters, finds it difficult to shut the door to her home office and not be obsessed with the siren call of the computer. The flexible schedule is a bonus, but she misses the camaraderie of her co-workers- a common situation with resident adjusters. When she can manage it, Pattie enjoys attending the SCA meetings to keep in touch with people that speak her language. Pattie says that her focus on education has become a CPCU designation which she finds to be more relevant than a business degree, so her academic goal has changed its face but education remains at the top of her list.

Now that Liberty Mutual and Safeco have merged, life is even better for Pattie. She loves being back under the Liberty Mutual umbrella- the company that gave her a start in the business that she loves. She feels that she is getting her life/work balance in tune and now that her knee surgery is over, she is looking forward to getting her energy level up by going to the gym regularly. She credits having wonderful backup at work with her easy transition after surgery back into the work routine.

In spite of recovering from the surgery on her knee, Pattie participated recently in a neighbor’s campaign to feed the hungry in a park downtown. She found it most gratifying and heartwarming to see the gratitude of the homeless people and with typical aplomb says she ‘just took a couple more Advil’ to compensate for the hours on her feet.

Her three children have produced grandchildren to warm Pattie’s heart and life is good.

by Joan Barrett -

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