• Laura Hay, Leadership |

Professional women can face a realization after they’ve reached a hard-won career feat. After a celebratory period, they might exhale and wonder ‘What’s next for me, or is this my big finale?’

That’s why I so enjoyed my conversation with Geneviève Fortier, CEO of Promutuel Assurance, the fourth largest Quebec property and casualty insurer. Not only was I delighted to discover that Geneviève shares my own passion for empowering women, but I was intrigued how she pushes herself forward after each career milestone, by entrusting a career coach in her journey.

Finding that next risk to take:

It might surprise you that a power-house performer like Geneviève would ever consider a coach. After all, she exudes confidence when she explains how she worked alongside pharmaceutical CEOs, accepting stretch assignments beyond her formal education in industrial relations. “I like complex challenges, and I believe that if I put in the right effort, and I am listening properly, I can learn things quickly, and make it happen with my team,” she told me.

That said, as Geneviève reached the summit of her path within the pharma industry a few years ago, she confessed to me that, as she did when she turned 30-ish and had accomplished all of the goals she had set for herself personally and professionally, she thought ‘What’s next for the decade to come?... and repeated it again when she turned 40!!

So what did she do when her heart told her, “I know I can do more, maybe in new roles or in a new industry going through massive transformation”? Geneviève explained, “I’ve been very lucky to have a coach by my side for the last 20 years, to help me accelerate my potential and prepare for the next opportunity.”

Geneviève credits her coach for guiding her through tough decisions, first when she applied for the CEO role at her pharmaceutical employer (she lost out to another female candidate), and six months later when she quit her job to seek her CEO ambitions elsewhere.

Recalls Geneviève, “I made the decision to leave the organization with no other job waiting for me. My coach reminded me that I can’t wait around for the perfect opportunity. When you have those ambitions growing inside you, you just have to go for it.”

Within months, her ‘Capital R’ risk paid off, and Geneviève was juggling five great opportunities, including two CEO posts. At this point, her coach helped her make the surprising decision to accept a “Carry the Bag, Executive Vice President role”, since she could gain experience and credibility for a future run at a top insurance sector job. “That’s exactly what I did for the next 20 months. I knew exactly what I was going to do next, thanks to my coach who challenged me to consider what I was trying to accomplish,” says Geneviève. Soon after she became the first woman CEO of 170-year-old Promutuel Assurance.

Make no mistake, Geneviève isn’t talking about finding a coach to give her pep talks or fine-tune specific behaviors. “I know myself, and I need to be challenged,” she says. “If I’m going to pay a coach, they better challenge my beliefs, question the direction I’m heading, and suggest different options. I need them to really listen, and not be complacent with me. They have to be a committed ‘actor’ in my journey, not just an ‘observer’.”

She adds that, whatever type of coach or mentor you select at your career stage, they can inspire invaluable, continuous learning: “Your coach can be a safe space to talk about how you did today and how you can change things for tomorrow. The key is to measure the outcomes of these coaching sessions, to ensure they are helping you make real progress.”

The next-tier challenge: Supporting others

Even today, Geneviève is pushing herself into new challenges. “Now it’s about others. I believe that my success will be the success of others,” she says, describing how she has volunteered to teach more than 3,000 women self-confidence and embrace their ambitions through the A-effect, a Quebec group that helps individuals and companies propel female ambition.

“Sometimes I meet people who have attained great success, but they are struggling with what to do next. One of the greatest things my coach helped me see is that, you can choose to cross ‘the bridge’, from the side that is about you, to the side that is about others. The moment you cross that bridge, that’s when you really start to multiply your impact.”

Geneviève is definitely making an impact, as she tells the hard-working women and young professionals she mentors: “Don’t fixate on being perfect, or on your next promotion. Think more broadly about where you want to go and enjoy the journey along the way. Remember that you must equally build your people/team skills and deliver business results if you want to rise to the top. Nothing is free. That’s where a good coach can help you reach each step, and learn from those steps to develop the ‘super powers’ you need.”

By doing so, successful women can help ensure that their current success is just their latest ‘box office hit’, and not their ‘last picture show’.

More about Geneviève Fortier: As Chief Executive Officer of Promutuel Assurance, the Quebec-based property and casualty insurer, Geneviève arrived in the world of insurance in 2018 after a successful career in the pharmaceutical industry. She is the first woman to occupy the highest position in this company since its creation, 170 years ago. Geneviève is Chair of the Board of Directors of Investissement Québec (IQ) and sat on numerous boards of directors before joining that of IQ. She is Vice-Chair of the Board of Directors of the Canadian Association of Mutual Insurance Companies and Chair of the Insurance Bureau of Canada – Quebec Chapter. A philanthropist at heart and soul, she embraces the causes of youth, hope and leadership, including promoting female ambition, particularly through A-Effect/L’effet A and FitSpirit. A CHRP Fellow, she has a bachelor's and a master's degree in industrial relations from Université Laval.

*The views and opinions of external contributors expressed herein are those of the interviewees and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of KPMG International Limited or any KPMG member firm.

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