From immigrant to executive, Yvonne Obeng-Curwood reflects on her career
Yvonne Obeng-Curwood, assistant vice president of claims who oversees more than 1,000 associates at GEICO's Houston–area office, credits her deep determination and keeping her eye on the bigger picture for helping her rise to an executive role. After coming to the United States from Ghana at the age of 15, Yvonne knew she'd have to work twice as hard to fully seize the opportunity laid out before her.
"Like most immigrants, my parents had very little growing up, so education was paramount in our household," Yvonne said. "I knew having the opportunity to study in America was an opportunity to not only support myself but also several family members back home—not working hard was not an option."
After earning her college degree, Yvonne saw her studies quickly pay off when she landed at GEICO. Yvonne admits that GEICO wasn't originally part of her career plan when looking for full-time employment—in fact, her first interaction with the company was a fortunate stroke of serendipity.
"My friend scheduled an interview at GEICO's Woodbury office, and since I was the only one with a car, she asked if I could drive her there on the interview day," Yvonne said. "Since it was a hot summer day, I didn't want to sit in the car with the A/C running and burn valuable gas, so I decided to apply for a job at GEICO while I was waiting."
To Yvonne's surprise, that application she filled out to kill time quickly turned into an offer. Six weeks later, Yvonne began her GEICO career as a claims service representative at GEICO's Woodbury, New York, office. After several months, she was promoted to the role of claims service representative coach. "This gave me the desire to take on more leadership roles," Yvonne said.
As her career developed, Yvonne rose through several levels of management in GEICO's claims division. She was elected assistant vice president of claims by GEICO's board of directors two years ago.
Finding your "all"
Yvonne has spoken with dozens of other women also looking to grow into leadership roles. During these conversations, Yvonne noted she often gets asked whether upcoming women associates can have it all—as in taking on positions of increasing responsibility at work while also supporting a family and being a present partner.
"My response is generally that yes they can have it all, but we need to work together on identifying what 'ALL' looks like for each individual," Yvonne said. "Working through those definitions and how to effectively identify a win (their win) may look different."
Yvonne stressed the importance of building a supportive village with family members, managers, friends and peers, and it's something she currently practices as an executive. She deliberately goes out of her way to share details about her life outside of work to build a stronger rapport with her team. "I find many women are afraid to speak up about family life for fear it might hold them back professionally," Yvonne said. "I actually over–share that portion so my team recognizes how important it is to me and other members of the team."
Yvonne added this level of personal conversation helps build trust among all her team members, and they respect each other's needs to build balance. "If I need to leave early so I can attend a school event for my daughter, I know I can trust one of my teammates to cover for me in a meeting," Yvonne said. "And likewise, I'm there to support any of them when they need to get to a soccer game or another school event."
In addition to mentoring up and coming leaders, Yvonne said she was lucky enough to find several incredible mentors to support her on her own journey. "I would say the best advice I've ever received was value your time and do the things ONLY you can do, and ask for help often," Yvonne said.
She encourages those who have goals to rise into a leadership role to always look for opportunities where their talents can add the most value and stay focused on following through with those critical tasks.
GEICO (Government Employees Insurance Company), the second-largest auto insurer in the U.S., was founded in 1936 and insures more than 28 million vehicles in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. A member of the Berkshire Hathaway family of companies, GEICO employs more than 43,000 associates countrywide. GEICO constantly strives to make lives better by protecting people against unexpected events while saving them money and providing an outstanding customer experience. Along with personal auto insurance, commercial auto and personal umbrella coverages are also available. Homeowners, renters, condo, flood, identity theft, term life, and more coverages are written through non-affiliated insurance companies and are secured through the GEICO Insurance Agency, Inc. Visit geico.com for a quote or to learn more.