Follow this leader.

Author:Westfall, Christopher
Position:Cover story

Dalynn Hoch, chief financial officer of Zurich North America, talks about her career path and the people that helped it find direction--which has lead to her becoming one of the top financial executives at a major global insurer.

Whether it was a childhood acquaintance that focused Hoch on international business, co-workers that encouraged her to become a partner at a Big Four accounting firm or a client that challenged her to move into the corporate C-suite, Hoch easily cites "people that have taken me under their wing and given me every opportunity to succeed."

But for the 42-year old Hoch, an FEI member, the foundation of her success was shaped as a child by her father and his emphasis on making a difference in people's lives. "He sat me down--I still remember it--and he said, 'You know, Dalynn, success is not measured by who you are or what you have, but by where you've been and who you've touched," she says. "I often go back to my father's definition of success in my role as CFO. We have an opportunity to touch and impact many people's lives."

Leading by example, and encouraging others to do the same, is more important than ever for today's financial executives as they now play a more strategic role in any company's success or failure, Hoch says.

"There is an opportunity to transform the financial processes; to develop our people and to take them up to the next level so they are not simply reporting the numbers but also providing insight," Hoch says. "We want to truly have our financial staff to be strategic advisers to serve the businesses."

The Road to Insurance

A proud "farmer's daughter," Hoch says that her early years were built around hard work on her family's Minnesota farm and, as it happens, the insurance industry. She explains that though most of her father's time was working the farm, like many in the farming community he supplemented the family income with additional work. Her father sold insurance as an independent agent through a small local agency. "I used to go to county fairs with him, sit in his little booth and I would listen and watch him sell insurance," she says.

It was during a journey with her all-state band camp in Minnesota while in high school where Hoch met students from Japan and developed a taste for international business. "I came home from that 'trip] and declared that I wanted to be an international business major with a focus in Japanese."

At Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minn., Hoch enrolled in the international business program while also taking a number of accounting courses. "I didn't plan to be an accountant and I think my friends in school would have been surprised that I ended up being in accounting." But as I took classes, they really clicked and it brought out my passion.

"I could see how finance can make things come together and how it can truly tell a story of where a company has been, where a company is at and where a company is going," she says.

Hoch eventually got the opportunity to work internationally when she took part in a Northwestern College program funded through a grant from 3M Co. that focused on doing business in Japan and the Japanese language. Japan was also the site of her internship with Cargill Inc.

"My experience in Japan--and really for anyone working overseas--helps you find your own strength...

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