RGAX Innovation Studio Director talks about finding your passion and the importance of personal relationships at work.Kelle Bub is the Executive Director for RGAX’s Innovation Studio. A CPA with a master’s degree in accounting, she’s spent most of her career working in the financial services industry before joining RGAX to help insurtech starts-ups and carriers accelerate innovation to transform their businesses.
Kelle took a few minutes out of her hectic schedule to talk to us about how she went from being a career accountant to a role focused on innovation. The path she took is full of twists and turns and offers valuable insights for other professionals looking to find fulfillment in the work they do.
Kelle, I don’t think most people immediately think ‘innovator’ when they hear someone is a CPA. How did you make the jump from doing traditional accounting work to your role leading Innovation Studio at RGAX?
Kelle: I may not be your traditional accounting type. I took a class in high school. I thought it was interesting, and it made sense to me. So, without thinking about it much, I decided to focus on accounting in college and even got my master’s degree.
I worked as an accountant for years. Tactically, I was good at it. But when I finally took a step back and really looked at where my interests lay, it wasn’t in the behind-the-scenes accounting function. I realized I was trapped in a profession where I wasn’t maximizing my skill set. My brain understood the numbers, but my passion just wasn’t there.
Eventually, I left Edward Jones to work for a small start-up. It was there that I realized how much I enjoyed working with start-ups and helping them build their organizations. At Edward Jones, I had worked a lot with insurance, so when a friend – now a colleague – told me about the opportunity at RGAX, I jumped on it.
No doubt, your career path hasn’t always been a cakewalk, but are there any challenges that left you thinking, ‘I did not see that one coming’?
Kelle: I recently had some pretty significant medical issues I had to deal with. I’m still dealing with them every day. One moment you’re on your train track. You’re living life. You’re headed toward your goals. The next moment your health comes into question, and it makes you reassess what and who is really important to you and how you’re prioritizing the things in your life. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that recovering from a serious illness would be one of my life’s goals.
How would you say battling these challenges has affected your outlook on work and your career?
Kelle: Everyone is struggling with something, and I think we need to remember that. I mean, you can look at people and have no idea what they’re going through. Scars are hidden. Challenges are hidden.
When I talk with a client or a co-worker, I usually find it helpful to ask them how they’re doing and let them lead the conversation. If they start by telling me they have water in the basement or their mom fell over the weekend and is in the hospital, I know this is where their head is. To some extent, you need to let people tell you what’s most important to them at that moment.
But before you can do that, you need to form personal relationships that make them feel valued as a person. The personal and the professional overlap. Some people are more reserved and less willing to share, but you can’t ignore that everyone has challenges they’re going through. You need to engage people with compassion and empathy, whether you’re talking about work or talking about personal things. It can’t be all business all the time.
Have you had a good support system at RGAX?
Kelle: Yes, and this goes back to finding your passion and finding a place where you can maximize your potential. We spend 40+ hours a week on the job. If you don’t think of your co-workers as friends, it can make your day quite daunting and your role feel like ‘just a job.’ In terms of work satisfaction and happiness in a role, I think 80% is the group of people you work with and 20% is the tactical work you perform.
I’ve been on panels talking about what it’s like to work at RGAX and why I would recommend it. I’d absolutely have to say it’s the people. This is a core group of really compassionate and caring human beings. They are exceptional and at the top of the field in their areas of expertise. That goes without saying. But the caliber of the people here as people is what makes this a really cohesive working group and a meaningful place for me to be.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other women in tech who are just starting their careers but have big dreams?
Kelle: I’d tell them not to define success by a job title or an org hierarchy. Early on in your career, this may be the only thing you have that shows progress and upward mobility. But, in the long run, being able to tie yourself back to a meaningful mission or purpose is so much more fulfilling than whatever job title you have on LinkedIn.
When you’re so focused on moving up, you can get really myopic and develop your skills in just one specific area. That can make it kind of hard for you to feel the connection to that larger mission. So, don’t be afraid to make more lateral moves. A broad base is really important to success. It doesn’t always have to be a climb up the ladder.
This interview has been conducted in support of Quesnay’s 2019 Competition for Female Founders in InsurTech. The Quesnay community already has over 250 women-led startups as members, and the award showcases technology startups from around the world that have women founders, co-founders, or C-Suite leaders and a tested product. RGAX is honored to be a member of this community, and we encourage other women-led starts-ups to learn more.