Lisa Guertin grew up in the greater Hartford, Conn., area, the nation’s insurance capital and “America’s filing cabinet.” She never envisioned a future in the industry and credits her rise through the executive ranks to her current job as president of Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in New Hampshire to serendipity and managers who spotted her talent and took the trouble to develop her into a manager.

Guertin’s story is a tale of upward mobility. She was the first in her family to attend college. Her mother was a homemaker who worked briefly for an insurer and her father, a steamfitter.

“I’ve never had a specific career plan or career goal in mind. I was first-generation college, didn’t really have a clue how to go about the process of choosing a college or figuring out what to major in. And, somehow, I wound up deciding to be a speech pathologist,” she said.

After graduating in 1983 from Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven, she had planned to earn a graduate degree in that field. Instead, she took an entry-level job in the home office of the Travelers in Hartford. She worked in sales, underwriting, marketing, and communication in various field offices around the country. Guertin transferred to Travelers’ Atlanta office. But she decided to return to New England in 1990 and landed a job as a part-time health educator with Matthew Thornton Health Plan in Manchester, N.H., the state’s first health maintenance organization.

She grew in her role as her employers were gobbled up. Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Hampshire bought Thornton in 1997 and then Anthem acquired the New Hampshire plan in 1999. Guertin served as president of the New Hampshire market from 2004–2008, spent three years leading marketing and product for the parent company, and returned as president of Anthem Blue New Hampshire in 2011.

A focus on talent

She now runs a company with 400,000 subscribers, which is about a third of New Hampshire’s population, and more than 500 employees. Anthem, the parent, does not disclose revenues for individual regions.

“How did I end up as president of Anthem New Hampshire?” asked Guertin. “I’ll give a lot of the credit to the company because there is a very strong focus on identifying talent and developing that talent and succession planning that I benefited from, as well some development programs and both formal and informal mentors along the way.”

Guertin said her experience in the insurance industry has been free of any kind of discrimination. “Sometimes I get asked to speak at different colleges in the area. And I always get a question about what my experience has been with the glass ceiling. And I have to say to them, ‘I’m not in any way suggesting that it doesn’t exist in the world somewhere. I can only tell you what’s been true for me. And I’ve never felt that. I’ve never felt that it was a limitation or a constraint.’” She said her leadership team at Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Hampshire is equally divided between women and men. She gets asked about how to get a job like hers running a company. Her recommendation doesn’t change with the gender of the questioner, although she says, “I always feel like I sound like their mothers because it’s so basic. My … answer is, ‘Hit the ball out of the park in the job you’re in now. Worry less about your next job and more about just really making a contribution in what you’re tasked with today.’”