Andrea Brunk

Andrea Brunk | Vice President of Strategic Experience

The Strategic Experience division was created in mid-2019. It includes the Project Management Office (PMO), Marketing and Customer Experience, and Strategic Insights teams. Andrea Brunk has worked for Grinnell Mutual since 2016, and before that, built her project and portfolio management career in health insurance.

What brought you to Grinnell Mutual? 

Early in my career, I realized that project management was a career path. I thought, “Well, for goodness sakes, I’ve been doing this my whole life!” When I was in college and we had a project, I would say, “OK, what does success look like? Let’s look at the rubric and find out what it takes to get an A, and let’s break up this work.” I’d manage it like a project. 

Before Grinnell Mutual, I was at Wellmark for eight years. I was pleased as peaches at Wellmark, but at some point, I told my husband Brian, that “I feel like I’m ready for a new canvas. I’ve been painting on this one for a while, and I think I’m ready to do something different and update my resume.” 

So I updated it, and two months later I got a message from Roby Shay, [the vice president of Enterprise Solutions (IT) and CIO] on LinkedIn. He had a cool opportunity at Grinnell Mutual to build a PMO and said that I came highly recommended from someone he trusted. When Grinnell Mutual made the offer, I thought it was the right thing for me. 

What do you like best about working here? 

Our size. We’re right outside that Top 100, so we are a player in the P&C space. But we’re small enough to be nimble and, more importantly, have a close-knit culture. If anyone has an idea that Jeff Menary would be interested in, and if there’s time on his calendar, he’ll say, “Come on in. I’m interested in hearing what you have to say about this.” That’s not always the case at other companies. I loved the opportunity to build the PMO here, and to see that things people do here are impactful. Even small things are appreciated. 

What challenges have you faced as a woman in a leadership position?

Trying to strike that right balance between being open and transparent, and choosing your battles. Here, specifically, I’ve erred on the side of transparency. The few times that I’ve sat down and said, ”When you said this or did this in the meeting, it made me feel this way,” it’s almost always been met with self-reflection: “Huh. I didn’t realize that. I’m sorry. How can I fix it?” 

What’s one piece of advice has served you well? (or hasn’t?)

Well, I enjoy feedback quite a bit. Most of the ‘advice’ I get is in the form of others telling me what they need to be successful, which l consider “managing up,” a concept I love. It’s especially important for my staff to be able to do that. A leader on my team once called me and said, “I know that you’ve taken an interest in this team’s work, but it’s not helpful. We’ll keep you updated on the status report, but no more digging in.” I said, “I thought I was being helpful!” She said, “We all realize that was your intent, but just to let you know, it’s creating noise for the team. All the questions from you make it harder to concentrate on the work.” I appreciated that advice. It was meaningful in that scenario but also translates well to other scenarios.

A bad piece of advice I received is, "You should be less positive." I can be positive and pragmatic at the same time. They’re not mutually exclusive. Being positive is part of what I like about me. 

What is your leadership philosophy? 

I want to lead by example and I complement that with a focus on individuality. I really think about people, who they are, and what strengths they bring to the table. If we work together in the right way, we can be more valuable as a team than we are individually.

Tell me about your life outside of work. What hobbies or interests do you have?

Andrea with familyI met Brian right out of college, when Kai was 6. It was a good fit for me as a wife and mom. Then when Kai was 15, we had Cameron. So now Kai is 23 and Cameron is 8. Two years ago we added Cosmo, our cat.

I have an anti-green thumb, but I love cut flowers, because they’re going to die anyway so I don’t feel bad about it. I love buying a big bundle of flowers from Sam’s Club and making a bunch of arrangements. It’s such a fun and creative outlet that makes your house beautiful. I also like to scrapbook. And I’m really involved in Cameron’s sports, Cub Scouts, and the Parents and Friends group at his elementary school.

Have you had any challenges juggling your professional and home life? How did you handle that? 

At Wellmark, I had 60-hour work weeks. It got to the point that when Cameron was little, we’d put him to bed at 8, and I would head back downstairs and work, work, work on stuff. When you work that way, you set an unreasonable standard for yourself. If you demonstrate to others that you are cranking through 60 hours a week of work regularly, that’s how much will start to come your way. 

One early-summer night, Brian came downstairs and said, “I’ve got the fire pit going. Come sit with me.” I looked down at my computer and said, “I can probably come out between 10 and 10:30.” He said, “I don’t want to have to schedule time to sit at the fire pit. You’ll have to figure out what work boundaries you can set.” That was one of my big realizations: Of all the hats that I wear, the hats that I most want to wear most are of wife and mom.

There’s always ebbs and flows but setting a standard of balance is paramount for being your best self at work. You need to find where that balance is for yourself. How do you know where the edge is unless you’ve pushed up against it? Even in this current position, I rely a lot on my peers, and that relationship with them has been very helpful to me. It takes being vulnerable enough to ask for help shaping things. 

Who inspires you and why?

I’m inspired by any number of sources. My dad has a good work ethic, so I aim to be a hard worker. My mom is often my inspiration to speak up. Together it’s a great combination, hard work earns a good reputation and that builds my confidence in speaking my mind.

Here’s my funny inspiration: Dolly Parton. She’s a talented artist and a fierce businesswoman, she’s given back to the Appalachians, she built a book-gifting program that gives over a million free books a month, and she still has a smile on her face. She’s built an empire with her talent and positivity.

What advice would you offer other women who would like to advance? Any strategies? 

Never be afraid of your strength. Be confident in having conversations. Even more, be confident in not knowing an answer so you’re comfortable being vulnerable and asking questions. 

On hard days, what motivates you to get up and start your day? 

Breakfast! An English muffin with peanut butter is my favorite.

What keeps you up at night? 

Very little. The only exception is if I’m sick. I love sleep, and I’m a good sleeper. Even if I’m startled awake, I can always fall right back asleep.

What’s one word that perfectly explains who you are? 

Happy. Even on the worst days, I still have so many other awesome things in my life. I have so much happiness. I try to collect moments of joy. 

OK, that’s it. The end of the questions.

Yay! (Is that how the article on me is going to end, with me saying, “Yay?”)

 

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