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Something New

Denise Johnson, the association’s first woman to be chairman, has goals for this year that focus on technology, growth and quality service.

by Kathryn Jenson White Managing Editor of Policy - Fall 2010



While each previous year’s Policy discussion with the newly elected chairman introduced a unique individual with his own thoughts about the Independent Insurance Agents of Oklahoma, independent agents as businesspeople and the insurance industry in which they work, this iteration of that standard column is different in a different way: the chairman is, for the first time in the more than 100-year existence of IIAO, actually a chairwoman: Denise Johnson of Piedmont’s ECI Agency, which Earnie Cornelius, Johnson’s father, began 45 years ago. She and her brother, Scott Cornelius, are now the agency principals. Johnson talked with Policy about being the first woman to serve as chair of IIAO in its 103-year history and what she wants to focus on in her one-year tenure.

Q. First, welcome to your new position. Second, how does it feel to join the long list of women who are what we call, “first to’s,” as in first woman to swim the English Channel, first woman to be elected as a governor in the United States, first woman to serve as chair of the Independent Insurance Agents of Oklahoma? That’s a pretty exciting description to have attached to your name isn’t it?

A. It is exciting, and thank you. I’m excited about the year ahead. I’ve been giving the guys a hard time. I said, ‘It takes you men 103 years to figure this out?’ But honestly, they have all been just incredibly respectful. It’s been such a huge joy to undertake this. I was in another state at a conference, and someone asked me, ‘Did you feel as if you were scratching your way to the top?’ I started laughing. I have never felt like I’ve had to scratch my way to anything because I’ve felt that there was such incredible mutual respect with every person I have served with on the board from the beginning of this process. I do think that they felt it was time. I’ve jokingly asked, ‘This isn’t just the girl factor, is it?’ The board took that seriously. They seemed shocked I would even say such a thing. The board members made it clear they thought I could do a good job in this position. But, that said, in 2010 it was time, and even past time, to  have a woman leading our association.

Click to read the full interview

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