Gracemarie Mende

Claims Manager Arch Reinsurance Company

While providing some insight about her day to RISE Director, Katerina, Gracemarie states, “The best way to find productivity in my day is to make a to-do list of even the littlest things.” We spoke beyond her day and more in depth about the positives of pursuing a career in insurance in the following Q &A.

What time do you wake up?

If I had to pick a specific time, I’d say around 6:45 am however, with my husband’s work schedule, I tend to fluctuate depending on the time he gets home at night. Most days lately he’s been working from 1 PM to 9 PM which results in my stay up closer to midnight.

How do you get to work?

My morning consists of about a 45 minute drive to work. Throughout my career thus far, I’ve experienced the worst and the best commutes from as short as a 20 minute drive to as long as an hour and a half train and car ride one way on unreliable mass transportation.

What is the first thing you do when you get to the office?

They say your first few agenda items upon getting in the office would be to get yourself situated, get your coffee, straighten up your desk, etc. However, as my career has developed, I find myself dropping my coat in the same spot, logging on and immediately jumping into emails. Half the time it’s over an hour or so later when I pick my head up and realize I need water, breakfast, and a bathroom break. It’s probably not the most productive way to start the day, however, when your mind has been racing the entire way to your desk, you don’t want to lose your train of thought or momentum.

Who do you work most closely with at work?

In this role, I work closest with a number of TPA firms and adjusters. My job requires supervision and oversight of the firms, programs handled, and individual assigned adjusters. However, part of my job is collaborating with the other departments like Operations, Compliance, Legal, Finance and Underwriting.

What does 9-12 look like in your day?

99% of the time, my day begins well before 9 am. From those morning hours through mid-day, most of my time is spent diffusing situations, resolving questions and concerns, and dealing with the last-minute emails not addressed from the night before. If I’m lucky, that will consume the first hour and a half of my morning allowing me to begin my to-do list for the day. The best way to find productivity in my day is to make a to-do list of even the littlest things. It can become daunting if you sit down and realize all the things you still have spilling over that can never get accomplished. Once my morning emails are done though, I find myself able to actually supervise and monitor the claim files being handled. Of course, all of this only applies IF there are no meetings scheduled. Let’s not even begin to address the monkey wrench that throws into the day.


I’m lucky, or unlucky, enough to work for a company who is obsessed with food. At least once a week, there is some sort of lunch being ordered, however, it’s important not only for your health but, wallet to plan your meals. This enables me to not only work through lunch when necessary, but, step away from my desk to accomplish those little things I may not have time for after work, get a manicure and other beauty maintenance, stop at the cleaners, make a doctor’s appointment, etc. At least 2-3 times a week, I step away from my desk for at least a half an hour to sit and socialize with a number of co-workers, but, the rest of the time, I take the opportunity to accomplish personal things. That time is what I make of it. I sure won’t be leaving any earlier if I don’t step away which drags out the little tasks needed to get done in life. Theoretically, it sounds like my lunch time enables me to get it all done, realistically, it never works out according to plan.

What does 1-5 look like in your day?

The second half of my day I try to break up into setting aside time to accomplish tasks and diffusing more problems that arise. Upon returning from whatever I do during that lunchtime hour, I take some time to answer a few emails and calls. By mid-afternoon though, I’ve tried to set that time for meetings, projects, and closing out the needs of others, unless that’s the project I’m working on. By closer to 4/4:30, I circle back to the outside world and begin closing out emails and calls for the rest of the day.

Who is home waiting for you at the end of your day?

I’m blessed to be married for the last almost 2 years to my husband, although after living together for the last 4, the honeymoon stage has long passed. Our children consist of 2 fluffy big brown dogs and a bossy cat. All of whom require an excessive amount of attention when I get home.

What is your biggest motivation in getting up every morning to do it again?

I actually enjoy the work I do and what I’ve learned. When asked what my job is like, I’ve related it to law and order. There’s a claim behind almost every action nowadays. Think of a horrific car crash, hurricane, #MeToo, product recall or the infamous McDonald’s hot coffee complaint. All of these breaking new stories result in some sort of claim regardless of the carrier or who handled the claim. Whether news worthy or not, the claims department of an insurance company is tasked with investigating a complaint and allocating responsibility. It not only provides dinner conversation but, always keeps your day interesting.

When you were 18 did you envision your life to be like this?

At 18 years old, I still envisioned myself as a Special Education teacher working a set work day, lesson planning, summers off, and hoping to have started a family by now. I never wanted to be in the industry nor high powered as I grew up an only child of a successful single parent in the industry. I never appreciated the demands and work. At 18 you’re still jaded by decisions that you may not have appreciated growing up.

What advice would you give to any 18-22 year old making decisions about their career goals?

Try not to pigeon hole yourself. Appreciate the ability to learn and challenge yourself to new skills and career options. As much as you want to believe you’re not trying to live up to expectations from movies, TV shows, social media, etc. Your future and career can be much more enjoyable without having to be some version of TV glamorous. Don’t close off a possible career path because you don’t know what it is or it may sound boring.  There’s a cheesy fortune cookie saying I keep on my desk. It doesn’t always work on the daily, but, every once in a while, it keeps me grounded, “Aim for the sky, because even if you miss, you’ll still be among the stars.” Like I said, cheesy, but, if you think about it, if you keep trying and open yourself up to anything, you’ll still find joy and success at the end of the tunnel regardless of whether it’s part of your initial plan.

Adena Edwards

Assistant Vice President Environmental Claims
Starr Adjustment Services, Inc.

Ms. Edwards is based in New York and serves as an Assistant Vice President overseeing Environmental Claims for Starr Adjustment Services, Inc., a member of Starr Companies. Ms. Edwards joined Starr in January 2015. Ms. Edwards is an attorney licensed to practice law in New York and New Jersey and holds numerous adjuster licenses throughout the United States. Ms. Edwards has more than 22 years of experience handling and overseeing environmental, toxic tort and construction claims, both domestically and internationally. Prior to joining Starr, Ms. Edwards was a law clerk for 4 years before becoming a practicing attorney for 7 years specializing in environmental, toxic tort and mass litigation cases and has held environmental claims positions at AIG, AIU and Zurich for more than 8 years. Ms. Edwards also has approximately 12 years of experience handling and overseeing environmental emergency response and crisis management claims. Ms. Edwards holds a B.A. from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and a J.D. from Brooklyn Law School.

RISE founder, Amy Cooper spent some time with Adena to find out more about what a day in her life really looks like and this is what she said…

What is your morning routine?

I’m up at 5:30 am to workout. After my workout, I make a protein shake and a pot of coffee and start checking email until I get on the train.

What is your commute like?

I take the train in to the city which is about 40 minutes. My husband drops me off at the train station or, if it’s a nice day, I walk. Once I get to Grand Central Station, there it is only about a 5 block walk to the office.

What is the first thing you do when you start your work day?

I start reading and responding to emails from the second I wake up. 

How do you balance meetings, email, solving problems, and your own tasks?

I am very type A, so I’m guilty of trying to take on everything, which is not good.  I do realize I need to learn to delegate tasks better to my team and gain more balance between work and home. I find it hard to disconnect.  So much so that my husband and I specifically picked a place for our honeymoon where there is no cell service and minimal email service, to make sure that I disconnected. I keep up by being very good at multitasking.  I also have a crazy memory and remember details of almost every claim I’ve ever touched. It helps because I am able to recall things quickly during meetings and remember situations from the past that are applicable to current claims.  


I make myself go out to get lunch, so I can take a break from my desk and walk around the block. Otherwise, I’d never take a break the whole day.  

You never get through a day without ______.

My coffee in the morning.  I have a lot of natural energy but that one cup of coffee in the morning just gets me started.

Who do you work most closely with?

I work most closely with the person who is my underwriting counterpart. I sit right next to them, so I end up talking to the head of environmental underwriting 50 times a day. It’s actually the most effective set up of any company I’ve ever worked for.  Because he and I work so closely together, there is constant communication and very little in the way of surprises.  When we have a bad claim, he knows about it; if we don’t like the way something is worded due to claims experience, we discuss it and work on better language together. If we need a change endorsement on policy, we deal with it together right away.  I also work closely with my team.  I oversee two people in New York, one in Philadelphia, and one in Chicago. Most of my communication with my team outside of New York is email, phone, and Skype but I do travel to Philly and Chicago periodically for face-time with my team. Having my team spread out in other locations helps us to waste less time on travel to claim-related activities around the country but it is hard to oversee people who I don’t see every day in person.

Who is home waiting for you at the end of your day?

My husband and two dogs.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Helping people and teaching people.  When an insured has a claim, it’s basically their worst day.  We deal with claims every day but an insured may only have one claim ever in the history of their business. I like helping insured’s going through their worst day to make that day not so bad.  I try to help alleviate their fears and anxiety by taking things off their plate but also explaining things to them every step of the way. I enjoy taking time to coach my team and my adjusters.  When I see a mistake or an error, I take it as an opportunity for them to learn and pause to discuss and explain why what they did was wrong and how to incorporate this learning experience into their knowledge base to improve in the future.

What changes in the role of technology have you noticed in your department? Does this change the skills you hire for?

Communication is the biggest change – how to communicate not just internally but also with insureds. I’ve been doing this a long time, so I remember back when they had paper files 12 years ago to now being paperless, both in notes and files. We never print anymore. Also, as my team is spread out among 3 offices around the country, we hold team meetings mostly via conference call and Skype. It was hard to get used to at first and it is not without its issues. When someone works in an office where their boss is not, they tend to work more independently.  I do thing we lose something by not all being in one place – electronic communication feels less personal and there is a bit of a disconnect from those not located in New York.

I hire good people no matter what level.  Some are techy and some are not.  Most all of our admins are millennials, so when someone doesn’t know or I don’t know how to handle something technical, generally, they know and can help. Unfortunately, due to the claims technical nature of Environmental Claims, my team all has at least 15 years experience, which is necessary for what we do.  This makes it harder for millennials to break into Environmental claims. Back when I started, AIG had 7 or 8 Environmental claims departments and a formal training program.  They hired who departments of people without any experience and trained them from scratch.  That doesn’t exist anymore.  Environmental claims departments are shrinking so the hiring criteria is more stringent. Less jobs has caused many people with experience to no longer be able to stay within this specialty area. That makes it even harder to start if you don’t have any experience.

What advice would you give to other women who might be considering a career in insurance?

Do it! Not enough women are in insurance. We need more women leaders who are strong and won’t take any nonsense. The more women in this industry, there will be a greater chance for equality in the long term. There is so much opportunity in the industry for leaders and there is plenty of opportunity for those who want to rise, especially in claims! My advice is to work hard! You will stand out if you are creative, take initiative and think outside the box.