Michelle Hutchinson

Michelle Hutchinson | Vice President and Chief Audit Executive Assurance, Advisory, and Accounting Services

Michelle Hutchinson is vice president of Assurance, Advisory, and Accounting Services and chief audit executive. She oversees the division, including the internal auditing team, the annual statement preparation, and tax advisory services for Grinnell Mutual members.

Hutchinson joined Grinnell Mutual in 2013 and most recently served as chief audit executive. Prior to joining Grinnell Mutual, Hutchinson served as financial accounting analyst for Principal Financial Group and senior financial analyst for Aviva USA.

What brought you to Grinnell Mutual?

We lived in Panora, Iowa, and then my husband moved back to Montezuma to farm with his dad. I had previously worked at Principal and Aviva, so staying with the insurance industry seemed like a good fit. I have accounting and MIS degrees, and I wanted a job that could mix the two. I came here originally as an IT auditor. I feel like the whole time I’ve been here, I’ve built upon where I started, so I’m still doing a lot of things that I did in the beginning — just at a higher level.

What do you like best about working here?

The friendly atmosphere. You walk down the halls and everyone says hi to you, and the work-life balance is good here. I think that carries over from being so friendly — people genuinely care about you, and they want you to spend time with your family as well as work hard. It’s a good place to be. There are people walking around the pond or playing cards — you don’t see that a lot at other companies.

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

Truthfully, here, I don’t feel like I’ve faced difficulties specifically related to being a woman. I have at other careers. I had one job where we were writing out depreciation schedules, and I was told to rewrite mine because the handwriting looked too "girly." I had to make the letters more block-like instead of curvy. That was maybe 10 years ago. I think those attitudes are still out there, obviously, but I see it less and less. And it’s not just about women — as leaders, we all need to keep open minds to those we perceive as different from us.

What’s one piece of advice has served you well?

One that’s served me well is encouraging positivity and saying, “OK, if you want to bring forward a problem, let’s brainstorm solutions together.” Making someone part of their own solution helps a lot as a leader.

What is your leadership philosophy?

Show people that you genuinely care about them and respect them like you want to be respected. If they feel that way, they’ll work 10 times harder for you. Our whole team is that way. We’re so close-knit, and everyone knows about everyone’s family, and for that reason I just feel like we’re all more likely to jump in and help each other out and be a better team. 

Everyone on the team came up with the idea to take down our center walls, remove the middle of the cubicles, and put tables in the center, so we can get together now and have group sessions. That has worked so well. I feel like we just have a good atmosphere here.

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

I always say we should have our own reality show. My husband farms corn and soybeans, but also owns and works part-time at a tattoo studio. We also have five ponies. I love them and I go out and see them all the time.  We love to travel and ride bikes. It’s hard to go biking where we are now, but we try to get out as much as possible. We have an octagonal barn, so if you’re ever going that way, you know what to look for.

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

Since my husband farms, he has a lot more flexibility than I do, so he helps me out a ton. Our parents are incredibly close to our kids, and they’re very involved. So, I have a good support system. That helps a lot. Also, if there’s bad weather, or I need to work overtime, it’s been nice being able to take my laptop home. It’s been part of the plan — I’ve always tried to work for companies that support a strong work-life balance. I think that’s always something you should ask about in interviews.

Who inspires you and why?

My parents and my husband. My parents are the kindest people you’ll meet. I joke that if they ask you if you want something to eat or drink you should just say yes, because they’ll just keep offering different options until you finally give in. They’re good people with a good work ethic.

And my husband is a comedian. He keeps everyone laughing and everything light-hearted, and he encourages me a lot.

Professionally, my mom worked as an executive assistant for one of Casey’s founders, Don Lamberti, so when I’d go in and visit her, he would talk to me and give me advice, and help with college papers. He gave me my first job reference. I know he was incredibly busy, but he always made time for me. He was a good guy.

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

Make sure you’re working for people who believe in you. I think that’s incredibly important. Work as hard as you possibly can, and if you have a new opportunity, jump at it. Even if it’s scary, even if you’re not sure you want to say yes, go for it and see what happens. That’s where I’ve made the biggest strides in my career.

What can others do to support women?

Not all women, but a lot of women, have the tendency to sit back. Maybe a man would speak up a little quicker than a woman would. So, as a leader, making sure you’re giving people opportunities to speak, and asking, “What do you think about this,” and offering to hear what they have to say … that’s a big deal: Being open to new ideas.

What’s one leadership lesson you’ve learned?

I actually have three: Work as hard as you expect other people to work. Show people that you care about them. And encourage team members to be part of the solution when they bring up a problem.

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

My team. We’re incredibly close, and they’re my friends, so I don’t want to let them down. Plus, I enjoy what I do. I like coming here every day. And my family motivates me.

What keeps you up at night?

Nothing. I love sleep. I’m a good sleeper and I’m exhausted by the time I go to bed. I put the kids to bed and I’m done.

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

I would say persistent. If you think about it in terms of career advice, too, you’re going to meet a lot of people who are a lot smarter. But I’ve always maybe worked harder than what was expected, and in the end that gets you further than having natural talent. I’ve always been willing to put in the time and do the work.


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