Teaching, Leading and Innovating: The Mary Kotch Leadership Styles

Mary Kotch
Mary Kotch

The tech-driven domain of the insurance sector is in flux. Leaders must navigate an unambiguous space where data analytics revolutionizes risk assessment and AI streamlines claims processing. This digital transformation demands agility and vision. Leaders adept at embracing new technologies while prioritizing human expertise are best positioned to guide their organizations towards a future of secure and efficient insurance solutions. Concurrent with this transformational shift, leaders like Mary Kotch—Executive Vice President (EVP) of the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) at Core Specialty Insurance Holdings, Inc.—bring a wealth of experience and expertise to the table.

From an early age, Mary’s fascination with technology was evident. Following her tenure at Penn State University, where she delved into the intricacies of programming, statistics and data management, Mary continued her educational journey at Temple University, honing her technical skills and solidifying her foundation in software development and networks.

Mary’s career trajectory led her to the robust domain of technology consulting, where she gained invaluable insights into delivering scalable solutions. However, it was her transition to the insurance sector that ignited her passion for applying technology to address industry-specific challenges.

Embracing leadership roles, Mary has been instrumental in spearheading complex IT projects and driving digital innovation within her organization. Her commitment to continuous education—exemplified by her pursuit of AI and ML courses at MIT—emphasizes her dedication to staying abreast of emerging technologies.

As an aspiring CIO/CTO, Mary’s vision extends past technological advancements where she envisions a future where the insurance industry is customer-centric, resilient and efficient. Guided by her belief in fostering diversity and inclusion, Mary has dedicated herself to mentoring women in IT further empowering them to navigate the challenges of leadership roles with confidence and compassion.

Join in the tale of Mary’s leadership which exemplifies agility, vision and a relentless search for innovation, propelling her organization towards a future of transformative growth and success!

Balancing Innovation and Security

As the EVP CTO/CISO, Mary shoulders a range of critical responsibilities. These encompass strategic planning, cybersecurity leadership, technological innovation, IT governance, risk management, and team leadership. “My role is to provide leadership so my team can be successful,” Mary emphasizes.

Mary confronts multifaceted challenges daily including the delicate balance between innovation and security, compliance with regulations, evolving cyber threats, resource limitations, and the technological landscape. “Navigating these challenges requires a keen eye for innovation while maintaining robust security measures,” she notes.

Over the past five years, Mary has grappled with the rise of cyber threats and ransomware attacks. To address the persistent skills gap in the workforce, she champions a team-led approach that encourages every member to contribute and make decisions. Mary also emphasizes continuous learning and development implementing robust training programs and internship initiatives to nurture the next generation of talent.

“Innovation is key to staying ahead in the technology landscape,” Mary asserts. She takes pride in spearheading projects like the Next Generation Insurance platform leveraging cloud-based infrastructure with a zero-trust model.

Remaining current in technology trends is paramount for Mary. She dedicates time to teaching at universities and colleges ensuring she stays abreast of the latest advancements while imparting knowledge to future technologists.

Communication is integral to Mary’s leadership style. She adeptly communicates with stakeholders at all levels including the Board of Directors and emphasizes the importance of documentation, strategy papers and budget justifications.

Mary’s technical prowess is evident in her ability to conduct cyber tests and perform cloud scans to ensure robust incident management controls.

“I love to teach and help my team improve,” she says, highlighting the importance of being hands-on in the rapidly evolving tech landscape.

Building Strong Defenses

“At the heart of my responsibilities is cybersecurity expertise,” Mary emphasizes. As the CTO/CISO, she navigates the complex realm of cyber threats by constantly updating her knowledge through certifications to fortify the company’s defenses.

Risk management is crucial, especially in sensitive industries like insurance. Mary’s proficiency in regulations, audits and risk assessment ensures the company’s technological infrastructure remains secure. Strategic planning drives digital transformation under Mary’s leadership. She aligns technology strategies with business objectives, staying open to innovation to keep the company competitive.

Talent development is the foundation of Mary’s approach. By investing in her team’s skills, she ensures they can tackle any technological challenge. “I am a hands-on leader,” Mary emphasizes. Conducting cyber tests and troubleshooting technology issues, she leads by example. Mary’s commitment extends outside the workplace. She mentors and coaches her team members, fostering their growth. “I want to be remembered as a leader who took time for her employees,” she reflects.

Outside work, Mary also dedicates herself to teaching. As an adjunct professor and STEM educator, she contributes to shaping the next generation of technologists. Her impact resonates in classrooms and communities where she inspires future leaders in technology.

Navigating Career Paths

“For the last 20 years, I have seen a wave of strategies companies have led, but my approach is practical and requires a hands-on approach,” Mary affirms. As a leader, she recognizes the importance of mentorship programs in fostering diversity and inclusion within the workforce. Mary emphasizes the significance of personalized mentorship especially for under-represented groups. “I put personal time aside to help develop careers,” she notes. She empowers her team members to reach their full potential by offering guidance on career advancement, promoting self-confidence and encouraging risk-taking.

Career development opportunities play a pivotal role in maintaining a diverse work culture. Mary ensures equal access to training and advancement opportunities for all employees. “By actively engaging in mentorship, I am demonstrating a commitment to the growth and development of my team,” she states. Over her extensive career, Mary’s mentorship has inspired countless professionals further leading to increased job satisfaction and loyalty. By nurturing diverse perspectives within her team, she fosters a strong, cohesive work environment where everyone feels valued.

Mary’s dedication to mentoring extends past her immediate team. She has mentored over 100 IT professionals by assisting them with career goals and certifications. Her impact is evident in the numerous professionals who have ascended to leadership positions or launched their own ventures.

At AIG, Mary’s commitment to championing women in technology earned her recognition and accolades. Through initiatives like the Women in Technology forum, she paved the way for greater diversity and inclusion in the tech industry. “The time I spent has helped so many,” Mary reflects stressing the lasting impact of her efforts in fostering inclusive workplaces.

Strategies from the Field

“I have the titles and credentials for the roles, but I divide tasks and accountability among my management team,” Mary explains. Drawing from her experience coaching sports teams, she applies similar strategies to managing IT. Her IT organization prioritizes defense. She has dedicated heads for compliance, risk management and cloud security operations. “My extended teams are designed around our platforms,” she emphasizes specialization over generalization.

In cybersecurity, Mary adopts a multi-layered approach. She layers defenses by utilizing tools like Microsoft Defender and Proofpoint backed by AI. This approach ensures robust protection for critical IT services and talent. Mary’s proactive management style is informed by her diverse experiences and therefore fosters resilience and innovation within her IT organization. By prioritizing specialization and implementing layered defenses, she ensures her team remains prepared to tackle evolving threats in the digital landscape.

Practical Learning for Future Technologists

“Out of the last 15 years teaching as an adjunct, I have spent 8 with Penn State University,” Mary shares while conversing on involvement with educational institutions and industry consortiums to enhance technology curriculum and foster talent development. She emphasizes the value of hands-on learning through internship programs she developed which helps provide students with practical experience shadowing technologists and gaining skills in coding and cybersecurity.

She has served as an advisory board member for various industry consortiums and startups, contributing to the development of innovative business models in data exchange and analytics. Reflecting on her time at universities, Mary acknowledges the challenges of navigating academic politics but remains passionate about teaching. She emphasizes the importance of integrating real-life experiences into academic curriculums to better prepare students for the workforce.

Mary applauds institutions like Drexel University for their co-op program which seamlessly integrates classroom theory with practical experience through internships. She believes such initiatives are essential for bridging the gap between academia and industry, ensuring students are well-equipped for the demands of the modern workforce.

Innovating Insurance

“As a frequent keynote speaker, I often focus on leveraging advanced technologies to enhance security, improve efficiency and make more informed decisions,” Mary explains. She emphasizes the importance of agility and efficiency in delivering IT projects urging technology partners to adapt to changing practices.

Mary’s goals for the future of technology in the insurance industry include harnessing AI to combat cyber threats and employing machine learning to streamline processes. She aims to place data analytics at the forefront of risk selection and utilize it to manage risk and exposures effectively.

Reflecting on her company’s success with Duck Creek’s platform, Mary highlights the importance of swift adaptation and implementation. She envisions a future where the insurance industry is better equipped to navigate challenges and capitalize on opportunities by embracing cutting-edge technologies and innovative solutions.

Work Hard, Live Fully

“I’m a mom, wife, sister, aunt, coach, best friend to many, educator, mountain biker, 5k runner, spartan race warrior. First and second, I’m a boss,” Mary proudly declares. Despite her achievements, she emphasizes the importance of finding the balance between work and life.

Mary’s advice on achieving balance is simple yet effective. “Document everything about who you are, what you love to do and how you spend your time,” she advises. Individuals can achieve greater balance and fulfillment by allocating time to various aspects of life and assessing priorities.

Mary underscores the significance of work-life balance in leadership as a frequent speaker at conferences. By leading by example and prioritizing personal well-being, individuals can excel both professionally and personally. Her holistic approach to life serves as an inspiration for others to find harmony amidst the demands of work and personal life.

Supporting Success

“The educational fund started at St. Joseph the Worker early childhood development program,” Mary explains. Her close friend Kathleen Ferrizzi initiated the program to prepare students for kindergarten. Mary’s personal connection to the school led her to establish a fund to support students in need inspired by her own son’s experience with occupational therapy.

Together with her husband, Dr. Kotch, they ensure the fund provides resources like classroom aides and technology. Apart from financial support, Mary actively engages with the school by contributing to STEM education initiatives for the students. Through her dedication to education and philanthropy, Mary creates opportunities for children to thrive and succeed in their academic journey.

Tech-Forward Insurance

Mary’s vision for the future of technology in the insurance industry is clear—to leverage advanced technologies for enhanced security, efficiency and informed decision-making. “I like to ‘rock’ my technology partners to be more agile and nimble,” she emphasizes the importance of collaboration in delivering efficient IT projects.

In 2020, Mary’s company embraced Duck Creek’s Next Generation platform by achieving remarkable success in migrating products swiftly. This strategic move bolstered operational efficiency and speed to market. She advocates for utilizing AI to combat cyber threats by employing machine learning to streamline insurance submissions and placing data analytics at the forefront of risk selection. She aims to proactively identify and mitigate risks by harnessing these technologies to increase accuracy and gain deeper insights into emerging trends.

Mary’s commitment to employing data analytics to manage risk and exposures is untiring. Through continuous monitoring and analysis, she seeks to identify vulnerabilities and implement proactive risk management strategies. Mary’s innovative approach to technology promises to revolutionize the insurance industry ensuring resilience and competitiveness in the realm.

Paving the Way

Mary’s advice to aspiring technology leaders, especially women, is well-defined—focus on building industry knowledge, developing leadership skills and updating technical expertise continuously. “Taking risks, embracing opportunities and promoting achievements are essential for gaining visibility and recognition,” she emphasizes.

Networking and seeking mentorship play pivotal roles in career advancement. Mary credits her mentor—whom she admires deeply—for guiding her through challenges and teaching her the importance of compassion and kindness in leadership. Mary quotes Madeleine Albright, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” She underscores the importance of women supporting each other in their professional journeys.

Despite progress, gender disparity remains a challenge in the technology sector. Mary acknowledges the under-representation of women in technology degrees and senior roles. She encourages women to dream big and take risks. Drawing inspiration from her own upbringing by a strong mother who instilled in her the values of resilience and self-advocacy.

An article by Margaret O’Mara in the MIT Technology Review highlights the gender imbalance in technology and the challenges women face in finding leadership roles. Mary’s firsthand experience in a male-dominated field accentuates the need for greater diversity and inclusion initiatives to bridge this gap.

Mary’s journey exemplifies resilience, determination and the power of mentorship in navigating the challenges of the technology industry. Her words serve as an inspiration for aspiring leaders urging them to forge their paths with courage and compassion.