The Feature is Female: Melissa Mann

“I think that as a mom, a wife, a boss, and even as an insurance agency, it is my job to lead people everyday.” – Melissa Mann

Think back to your early twenties. For many of us, it’s a time riddled with anxiety, a lot of self discovery, and many, many mistakes. The thing about your early twenties is they’re some of the most critical years of our lives. For Melissa Mann, her early twenties saw her become a mother, a wife, and the thing she least imagined: one of the area’s most successful insurance agents. 

Melissa Mann’s path to becoming a State Farm agent was anything but linear. In the early days of her career, Mann worked in the medical field, but when her then husband took a job in Springfield, Illinois, Melissa knew it was time for her to make a change as well. “When we moved, I decided I wanted to try something new, so I went into retail. It felt like a natural fit. I loved talking to people, and at that point, I was working at Buckle…and within a year I had worked my way through the ranks and got recruited to work for the high-end jewelry store Helzberg Diamonds, and I loved it,” recalls Melissa. 

Unbeknownst to Melissa, her stint at Helzberg Diamonds was what helped to lead her down the path of becoming the insurance agent she is now. As a people person, Mann enjoyed being able to talk to various customers and create a special experience for them. The experience she created for one customer, would help shape the rest of her life. “There was this woman who came in, and at the time, she was looking at a ring and we talked a little bit, and after that I began sending her little cards. I’d cut out a little picture in the magazine and tape it with a note that said just thinking about you or cute little things like that. After a while, her husband came in, and he said ‘Look, I’ve been getting mail from you for months, and I’m going to buy the ring, but have you ever considered a career in insurance?’, and I immediately thought no! ,” recalls Mann with a laugh. “At that point I was a manager at Helzberg, I was making my own schedule, and I was successful. I was in the top 15% of sales within my territory, and I found it to be an easy fit for me, so initially I wasn’t interested in anything else. But I was pregnant at the time with my first child, and the insurance job was 9 to 5, and that’s what got me interested in applying.”

After deciding to give the insurance industry a shot, Melissa wasn’t quite sure what to expect, and after a lengthy interview process, she was certain she was not the one they’d choose. “I went through their entire hiring process. At that point, he was making us do personality assessments, so I did a two hour personality assessment that was a must pass. There were a lot of other people interviewing, I was so new, and I was 8 months pregnant, so not for a second did I think I would be the one he hired. I had no prior experience, no licensing, so it all felt a little crazy, but he offered me the job the day of my final interview,” states Melissa. “I got in there, finished out my pregnancy, got my license while on maternity leave, and then started in the office fully licensed once the maternity leave was over. I was really able to flourish in that office. Within two months, my boss got promoted and was leaving, and Helzberg was begging me to come back and offering me more money and flexible hours, so I started to feel conflicted. I was really considering going back. When I expressed that, my boss brought in some corporate managers, and they spoke to me about getting into agency, which seemed like a pipe dream at the time.” At just 24, that pipe dream started to become a reality.

Melissa was eager to start down the exciting path of agency work, but with that path came a whole new set of learning opportunities and obstacles. “I had to interview to get into what’s called the agency pool, and with each step I grew more and more confident that there was no way I was going to get the green light because I was young and inexperienced, so I truly believed there was no chance. When I did get the call that I’d been accepted, I remember thinking holy cow, how in the world did that happen?” states Melissa with a laugh. “The agency that I interviewed with was here in Quincy, and it’s the one I wanted, but there were 12 other people interviewing, and I was the least experienced. At that point I had maybe 3 months of real experience in an office, but I did have the experience from my internship which was 26 weeks of extensive, extensive training.”

With the new opportunity arising in her professional life, Melissa had to make the tough decision to say goodbye to a large part of her personal life. “We bought a home in Springfield, and we are happy there. I did not think for a second that I would end up getting the agency position in Quincy, but low and behold they chose me, and from there it was a whirlwind. I had to test out of all the training in Bloomington, and if you couldn’t test out, you couldn’t open your business. After the internship and tests, there was a final interview where you had to show you had bought a building or signed a lease, some sort of proof that you were ready to open your business, and if they didn’t think you were ready, they wouldn’t let you launch. So all of that felt super serious and chaotic, but I was able to come out on the other end of it all,” states Mann.

Since opening her doors, Melissa has been able to put her own stamp on things and run her office in the only way she sees fit. “When it comes to insurance and my office, we don’t do things the same. In my office, we advise. That’s our job. We don’t sell insurance. We give you options that are going to best fit you, and then it is completely up to you. My job is to be your advisor and to be a specialist on something that requires a lot of speciality.”

Since her launch, Melissa has learned a lot about herself and how she leads those around her. “I think that as a mom, a wife, a boss, and even as an insurance agency, it is my job to lead people everyday. It would be easy for me to take advantage of that, but at the end of the day, people are putting so much stock into what I’m saying, so I try to be absolutely accurate in how I’m leading them,” says Mann. “The way I like to manage is by asking a lot of questions and giving a lot of encouragement. 3 of the 4 women who work for me are in their twenties. Being in your twenties as a young female is such a pivotal time, so I do take that very seriously as a boss. I want to encourage them and help show them what they’re capable of on a much bigger level. I think I lead them the way I would have wanted to lead in my early twenties.”

Something Melissa takes a lot of pride in is the team that she has assembled under her. Because of that, Melissa chooses to lead them in a way that allows a freedom of creativity and opinions to flow. “Every single one of these women is so smart, so talented, and so incredible, so we do a lot of team building. They all have a voice and know that they have free reign to be creative and express themselves,” states Mann. “We had a situation recently where I felt like team morale may be a little low, so I ordered in pizza for lunch, we shut down the office for an hour and just hashed it all out, and in the end, I actually decided to change my mind on how I was going to do something. Historically, that wasn’t how I’d done things as a boss, so I think there is growth on my end, but these women are smart and I put a lot of stock into what they say, so why wouldn’t I take their opinions into consideration? It’s easy to be a prideful boss, and to think you know everything, but I don’t. I have a lot of room to grow. If we can all band together and work together, then I think that’s going to be the best route.” 

Arguably the most nuanced comparison Mann made to her own leadership style was one many women can relate to. “I lead this team, the way I lead my children. That’s not because my employees are young, that’s because it is so important to lead by example, and it is so important to let your children know that they have a voice, too. Just because there is someone in the house or in the office that is supposed to be the matriarch or patriarch, that doesn’t mean your voice goes away,” states Melissa. 

When it comes to how she leads versus her male counterparts, Melissa Mann sees the value in how both genders navigate the complexities surrounding successful leadership. “Men and women are such different leaders, but they’re both so valuable in how they approach different areas. Where men are really successful in leadership roles is that they don’t have to explain themselves. Women are raised to believe that we should be people pleasers and be servants on some levels, so whatever someone else says, goes,” says Melissa. “I really do think it all comes down to a difference of approach. Men have a very steel, solid approach to things; whereas females can finesse that a little bit more.”

As a leader, Melissa Mann works hard to put her best foot forward everyday. What helps with that, is a team of smart, ambitious, like-minded women in her office. “This is, ironically, the first time that I’ve had an all female group of employees working with me for a consistent amount of time, and it’s really served myself and our clients well. There was a point in time last year where I chose to let some people go for various reasons, and after that I had a very distinct vision for what I needed from each person that was going to fill those empty positions. It just so happened that the people that I saw and the people that I interviewed were women. I did take into consideration how that may be perceived, but at the end of the day, my office is run on the morals and values that these women possess and I know that they can and will do business the same way I do business. Whether they were male or female, that’s just how it worked out. And I am so very proud of these women. They take what we do very seriously,” proudly states Melissa. 

Being around a team of motivated individuals everyday may be inspiration enough for some, but for Melissa Mann, she finds the inspiration to be the leader she is from a dear friend. “One of my best friends in the world, Leah Heming, inspires me everyday. There has a certain level of fearlessness to her. She doesn’t abide by any form of guideline that’s been put in place, and I think that as a female business owner, that’s kind of incredible. It’s hard to be fearless when you have men in your same field who are incredibly successful, and it seems like everything they touch turns to gold. So when you’re trying to do your own thing and be fearless, it’s hard, but Leah isn’t that way, and I admire that more than she knows,” proudly states Melissa. “I also love looking at women throughout history like Lucille Ball, Stevie Nicks, and others that just really colored outside the box but found a way to be just as successful as their male counterparts.” 

When she looks back on her journey, Mann likes to think about the irony of why she took the job in the first place and how far she’s come since that moment. “I really did take this job because it was 9 to 5, and it felt like the right move for me as a mother. What I found though was a company that fulfills me. State Farm is genuinely incredible,” states Melissa. “I had always considered the path of entrepreneurship, but never in a million years did I think it’d be because of insurance. This career, however, is perfect for me. I’ve always loved taking care of people and helping in the community, so this job was able to mesh those things together.”

Ask any woman in any leadership role, and she will begrudgingly tell you that there are barriers to what she does. For Melissa Mann, although she sees barriers, she also sees a light at the end of the tunnel. “I think my answer now is a lot different then my answer when I started as an agent 10 years ago. Back then I would have said the biggest barrier was being taken seriously. There were many instances where people would check with male counterparts to make sure that what I was saying about their insurance was correct, and I struggled with that,” recalls Mann. “I’m not sure if it’s changes in our community or what, but I do feel a shift in that mentality. As a female, you have to be on your game all the time. You have to go the extra mile because if there is someone waiting for you to mess up, the first time you do, you will lose credibility.” 

After over a decade working in the insurance industry, it was no surprise that Melissa Mann had some advice for the next generation of women looking to lead. “I think the best advice I can give is to lead with your heart, and the only way you can do that is through passion. When you get into a job or you’re leading a team, there has to be a certain level of burning in your gut because life gets hard and you’re put through it,” Melissa says. “If I could go back and tell my 24 year old self to get thick skin right off the bat, I’d do it, because you’re going to be tested. I’d also say be confident in what you’re doing, and if you’re not confident, fake it. In order to be successful as a leader, you have to appear confident in what you’re doing, so it really boils down to getting that thick skin early and finding your confidence.” 

Motivation for Melissa comes down to the community she serves. “What motivates me really comes down to doing the right thing for people. It’s motivating to know that I can make a difference in people’s lives.”

Sometimes life throws something so unexpected at you, you can’t help but be intrigued. For 24 year old Melissa Mann, that something was the opportunity to completely change her life with one simple career change. Fast forward to today, and she truly is leading the way, one insurance claim at a time.

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