Sonya Stark – Gore Mutual Insurance
When an organization is transforming, it needs people at the top who understand all the moving pieces. At Gore Mutual, one of those people is Sonya Stark. As a member of the executive team leading the digital transformation, she advises on governance, legal matters and compliance.
With over 25 years of in-house experience, including seven at Gore Mutual as the chief compliance officer and acting chief legal and governance officer, Stark says she enjoys the business side of law. Her perspective allows her to truly collaborate with the board and executive team, particularly during its transformation.
“I love that I’m able to provide strategic and operational value through my holistic perspective,” Stark says. “To get the full picture and provide that balanced advice, you really need to be part of the executive team and to have oversight over all three of these critical areas.”
Not slowing down
Gore Mutual Insurance, headquartered in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada, provides property and casualty insurance across Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta. Founded in 1839, the company has primarily been a regional insurance provider, but one of the goals of the transformation is to expand nationally.
The changes, which are part of a 10-year plan, began in early 2020, just prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. While some companies have downsized during the pandemic or put plans on hold, Gore Mutual pushed ahead with its transformation and increased its staff by 25 percent.
As the company grows geographically, so does the burden of regulations, so it continues to hire for specialized roles, such as compliance.
“It’s fairly common to wear a number of hats when a company is smaller in scope, but once the hats start expanding you need to grow internal resources and expertise,” Stark says.
Gore Mutual has also been outsourcing expertise, which she says has been “critical in supporting our transformation.” She’s worked with Torys LLP, a business law firm, for additional legal support; Global Investment Solutions for investments; Public Inc., to support the company’s “path to purpose”; Level5 Strategy, to support “the customer experience journey”; and Deloitte, to support the technology transformation.
Becoming more digital allows customers to engage with the company more efficiently, Stark says. For instance, the new interactive technology will allow brokers and customers to communicate and access services online, all while having a high level of privacy and protection for their personal data, she adds.
One of the things Stark likes most about Gore Mutual is its commitment to its customers as well as to the larger community. As she puts it, “We have a long history of giving back and leading by example … we’ve been doing this for over 180 years—it’s in our DNA.”
Over the years, Gore Mutual has provided financial support during wars and economic downturns. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s provided millions in relief to customers through rebates, premium reductions and payment deferrals. The Gore Mutual Foundation also partnered with CanadaHelps by donating a $2 million matching grant to directly support healthcare programs and workers.
As the company grows nationally, Stark says being “purpose-driven” is how the company will distinguish itself as a trusted provider. She helps to instill this mindset among legal, governance and compliance, as well as company-wide.
She also keeps this in mind as she provides oversight to the other executives and works with them on strategic visioning for the future of the company.
“It’s really exciting to be going down this path with such meaningful and impactful principles,” Stark says.
Advising for the future
Aside from its ongoing transformation, Gore Mutual is thinking about what its future will look like post-pandemic, she says.
The staff is almost entirely remote, and Stark and the executive team have been discussing how to bring everyone back safely when the time is right. As part of the committee developing safety protocols, she provides insights and advice to align the new procedures with national guidelines for employees and customers.
She’s looking forward to being with her colleagues again, especially since the company has added so many new faces during the pandemic. She also continues to build her own team to include people with expertise in legal, compliance and governance.
Having a bigger team means Stark gets to do more advising, which is what she loves. Being part of high-level decisions is fulfilling to her because she gets to draw on all her areas of expertise and help shape the company’s future.
“Being in a chief advisory role allows me to deliver significantly more value by providing well-balanced, holistic oversight and going beyond the traditional perspective,” Stark says. “This does not diminish each of the advisory areas, but rather highlights that each role is only one component of what I can do.”
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