Teresa White is a 26-year veteran in the financial services industry who currently serves as president of Aflac U.S. She is a visionary leader with a proven track record of optimizing operations, driving revenues, decreasing expenses, and building high-performing, diverse teams. She has driven business and leadership strategies across multiple organizations to achieve corporate targets and has extensive experience driving operational efficiency, enhancing customer experience and utilizing technology to enable growth.
Teresa is recognized as the expert in her field. Her current responsibilities include oversight of the company’s extensive distribution network of individual agents and brokers across the country. She is responsible for creating the vision for Aflac U.S. and driving execution of the long-term strategy while strengthening the low-cost model.
Under Teresa’s leadership, Aflac U.S. is reshaping its internal processes to respond to the changing dynamics in the marketplace. She is using technology innovation, strategic partnerships, and corporate development to bring solutions, tools, and services that consumers, employers and brokers need.
Leadership development is one of Teresa’s passions and is demonstrated by her development of the Aflac Career Success Center, which was so successful that it spread to multiple Aflac campuses. Working with all divisions of the company, the Center was established to coach, empower, consult and assist employees as they prepare for career opportunities, enhancing Aflac’s position to grow and retain talent to support a high-performance-driven culture.
Teresa is the recipient of a number of awards, including Black Enterprise’s 2017 lists of the Most Powerful Women in Business for two consecutive years and the Most Powerful Executives in Corporate America; American Business Awards’ 2017 Bronze Stevie award; the 2017 Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Texas at Arlington; Girls Inc. of Columbus’ 2017 Strong, Smart and Bold Award; Atlanta Business Chronicle’s 2016 Women Who Mean Business list; Bizwomen’s 2016 Women to Watch list; and the American Business Awards’ 2016 Stevie Award for Women in four categories: Gold Stevie in the Female Executive of the Year category, Silver Stevie in the Communications or PR Campaign of the Year-Social Media Focused category, and two Bronze Stevies in the Mentor or Coach of the Year and Women Helping Women – business categories.
Teresa holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Texas at Arlington and a master’s degree in management from Troy University. She is a Fellow of the Life Management Institute (FLMI) and an alumna of Leadership Columbus, and she was recently elected to the board of directors of America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP).
- How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
Life has taught me 2 key things:
- The world is constantly transforming, and you must as well.
What I learned years ago, I can build upon today. Life can be a great classroom. I am who I am today because of the many experiences I’ve had along the way. The journey of experiencing wonderful and difficult lessons gives me a great opportunity to build on my leadership skills.
- Fear can be a dream killer.
It can be the ultimate roadblock to your dreams and aspirations. Success is never guaranteed, but it is impossible if you don’t try.
- How has your previous employment experience aided your current role?
My previous experiences have prepared me in three primary ways. Specifically, my journey has taught me to…
- Embrace change. It’s more fun to engage in development of solutions versus fighting the inevitable. Change will happen with you or without you.
- There are so many ways to solve problems and innovate. Coding taught me that. Be open to seeing things through the eyes of others.
- Last, it’s important to understand that transformation is a process, not an event. Every role I’ve had has involved improving customer satisfaction, efficiency and growth.
- What have the highlights and challenges been during your current role?
I have had wins in various areas, but I’ll focus on two.
- Operations – We are a 64-year-old company, and our brand continues to be more relevant than ever. Last year we set all-time records for sales achievements, persistency and overall profitability.
- Philanthropy – At the same time, we introduced a very special project called My Special Aflac Duck, which is a robotic duck that is designed to help children cope with cancer. Aflac has sponsored the treatment and research of childhood cancer since 1995, and we have contributed more than $133 million to the cause. But this special duck is an absolute highlight because of the tangible impact it has on the kids when they receive their own duck, free of charge.
Our biggest challenge was developing new muscles around agility in this new marketplace (like changing the tires on the car while driving it). It’s hard to promote change when we continue to see success with our current platform. People don’t readily see the WHY. We have always been innovators, but today, consumers are looking for more and faster engagement when, where and how they want to do business. This 64-year-old company had to learn how to respond quickly to this new consumer. As technology drives more change in how consumers interact with businesses, we’ve been working hard to respond to how new consumers want to interact with Aflac. Our One Digital Aflac platform is the foundation of our digital strategy.
- What advice can you offer women who want a career in your industry?
At Aflac, 67% of employees are women and 54% are in leadership roles. We are in an industry that provides wonderful opportunities for women. My advice is be clear on what you want out of a career opportunity, understand your worth and surround yourself with great mentors (friends).
In 2015, I started a program in Columbus, Georgia, where Aflac is headquartered, called Bold Moves. It is associated with Girls, Inc. At Bold Moves, we mentor young girls aged 13-17 for eight weeks every summer. We teach them the fundamental skills they will need as they enter the workforce, including interviewing skills, resume writing, finances, dressing for success, public speaking and business etiquette. Women in the workplace need mentors to help them navigate the often-complicated environment, so I definitely recommend that women find a mentor they can trust and believe in.
- What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career to date?
Make sure you look at feedback as a gift. One lesson I recall is when I was a young leader. I experienced my first 360-degree feedback report, and it wasn’t good. My direct reports felt I was unapproachable. This was completely out of character for what I believed myself to be. I actually called my mother, who asked me straight out, “Are you unapproachable?” I said that I didn’t believe that I was, to which she said, “Good, because that means it is only a perception and perceptions can be changed.”
That stuck with me. Sometimes feedback you receive can be hard to hear, but if you handle it the right way, it can be rewarding in the long run. I had some changes that I had to make because people saw me in a way that I didn’t see myself. That was a great lesson to learn.
- How do you maintain a work/life balance?
There’s a quote from the author and speaker Chris McChesney that says, “There will always be more good ideas there is capacity to execute.” It is so true.
Work life balance is a process. You will constantly have competing priorities and distractions. You must determine what you truly want and FOCUS and align all activities toward that end.
- What do you think is the biggest issue for women at the workplace?
The issue that we can own is one of self-worth. Women often put a lot of pressure on themselves to show their worth. Even with success, women can tend to draw on others in owning their success and talk about how others contribute to their success. We control our thoughts and how we feel about ourselves. We need to ensure that self-doubt and fear do not stop our success.
- How can we encourage more women to start their own business?
I like to encourage women to believe they can do anything they put their minds to. I’d like them to think about their opportunities as endless. If their interest is to start a business, then they need to do the research and understand what it takes to achieve that objective. Finding a mentor who is already an entrepreneur can provide great practical knowledge regarding expectations. Today we are seeing more females enter traditionally male-dominated fields. Many of these women have male mentors sharing their successes and failures. Many STEM or STEAM programs in our schools are fostering young women to dare to dream. In all cases, confidence is key. That is also what Bold Moves is all about.
- How has mentorship made a difference in your personal and professional life?
My mother gave me the confidence to explore and dream big. I’m not afraid to fail. As an example, I learned coding in school. Two women at my church who were coders helped me not only understand how to reach complex coding solutions, but gave me the confidence that there was a place for me in that world.
Fast forward to today, I have a CEO (Dan Amos) as a mentor. He is the second-longest tenured CEO in the Fortune 200, and he is a talented marketer. He is committed to the company and the people we employ. He is also committed to sharing his story and helping others to learn from his successes and failures.
- Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
One leader I admire is the late Maya Angelou. I saw her as a strong woman with an enduring spirit. Closer to home, I admire people like Audrey Tillman, Aflac’s general counsel. I also admire people like Kimberly Bryant, the founder of Black Girls Code. They provide girls with opportunities to learn in-demand computer programming skills at precisely the time in life that career directions can be set. As a coder, I admire that she is pushing for change in the field and shepherding in a new, more diverse generation.
- What do you want to professionally and personally accomplish in the next year?
Professionally I want to establish Aflac as the standard-bearer for true customer innovation in our industry. We believe we are on the right path through our training, our investments and our understanding of what our customers will need not just today, but well into the future. Our aim is to provide the best customer experience not only in the supplemental insurance industry, but the entire insurance industry.
Personally, I want to continue to build out programs like Bold Moves and share whatever knowledge I have gained throughout my career with the next generation of leaders. When we pass the baton to the next generation, it is bound to look a lot different from when my generation was rising to the top. And that is how it should be.
- What are the top three tips you can offer to an entrepreneur starting off?
I am going to steal this response from Dan Amos because he says this all the time and I agree 100%. It is the three principles of risk management, and I think entrepreneurs can learn a lot from them. Don’t risk a lot for a little. Don’t risk more than you can afford to lose. And finally, always consider the odds.
I think an entrepreneur can use these tips in his or her personal and professional lives when starting off and throughout his or her career, wherever it goes. These three principles ground you and force you to think things through when making important decisions.