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Wednesday, Jun 19, 2024

Jessica Word: Learned to Love Family Business at Young Age

Leads digital push at Orange brokage

When Jessica Word was about 7 years old, she started working at the insurance brokerage co-founded by her father.

She would dust cabinets, sort mail or help staple together paperwork.

“Right then and there, I knew she going to do something with it,” said her father, John M. Word III, who founded the company along with Edward J. “Rusty” Brown Jr.

“If I wanted something done, I asked Jessica. It always got done.”

Jessica Word eventually worked in every department of Word & Brown General Agency, an Orange-based health insurance agency that has grown to 300 employees. It is the oldest division among the Word & Brown Family of Companies, which includes Choice Administrator and California PX Card.

On Oct. 20, Word was one of the honorees at the Business Journal’s 28th annual Women in Business Awards.

Inspiring Christmases

Word & Brown was founded in 1985, starting with a system called “Quot-O-Matic,” a platform that gave brokers the ability to consolidate health insurance quotes from multiple carriers into one-easy-to-understand presentation for their small business clients.

Besides helping in the office, Jessica Word remembers attending Christmas parties where her father would talk about how his company helped others, including one time where an employee worked late to make sure a family that just had a premature baby had adequate insurance.

“I remember my father acknowledging the staff, saying that what we do matters, and he had tears in his eyes,” recalled Jessica Word.

“Seeing my father and Russ have such gratitude for the staff, it was truly a family.

“It wasn’t just like an 8 to 5 job. I fell in love with Word & Brown, not just this insurance company.”

While in high school and college, she worked in several departments. She said her father “always told me I could do whatever I wanted to.”

After earning her bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from California State University, Fullerton, she began her professional career as a renewal specialist with a Word & Brown unit called Choice Administrators, which develops private health insurance exchanges.

After becoming president in 2013, she used her love of technology to lead a digital transformation, such as insisting that the company make a cellphone app for brokers, even though many health insurance professionals manage their business on desktop computers.

In 2013, the company was printing an average of 25,000 marketplace presentation quotes per year, or about 1.2 million pages. In the last two years, Word & Brown has eliminated printing marketplace presentation quotes and instead relies on the company’s technology.

Last year, the company named her CEO.

“I couldn’t be prouder of my daughter,” John Word said after the ceremony. “She’s very hard to say no to.”

Mentor Fan

Jessica Word is a fan of mentoring young women and has quips like “If you’re not failing, you’re not trying.”

In 2019, Word joined the Titan Women’s Collective as part of an inaugural group of professional women recruited for a mentoring program for students at CSUF. She introduced a new event, CultivateHER, which targets junior and senior female students with the goal of helping them prepare for their upcoming careers, particularly less common, but still prospering, industries such as health insurance.

Nowadays, Word & Brown is on track to a record-breaking year for new Orange County accounts and membership, both for small and large business policy sales.

The company represents every high-profile carrier available in California and Nevada, including Aetna, Blue Shield of California and Kaiser Permanente. It also provides access to dental, vision, chiropractic, life, disability, and other ancillary options.

The company has a 95% policy renewal rate, higher than the industry average of 84%.

The fun part of becoming CEO is the low turnover, said Word, adding that 58% of its employees have been with the firm more than five years, including 14% more than 20 years. Word is proud that 60% of her company’s leadership is female.

“I’ve known these employees for a long time. It’s nice to be on a team that you trust,” she said. “Things are changing and we’re doing this together. If you’re not changing, you are not evolving.”

She says the most difficult part of her job is knowing when to avoid the deep dive into the business.

“I’ve worked in every department, starting with the mail room,” she said. “I understand every part of the company. The hard part is not going too far in the weeds because I know so much.”

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Peter J. Brennan
Peter J. Brennan
Peter J. Brennan has been a journalist for 40 years. He spent a decade in Latin America covering wars, narcotic traffickers, earthquakes, and business. His resume includes 15 years at Bloomberg News where his headlines and articles sometimes moved the market caps of companies he covered by hundreds of millions of dollars. His articles have been published worldwide, including the New York Times and the Washington Post; he's appeared on CNN, CBC, BBC, and Bloomberg TV. He was awarded a Kiplinger Fellowship at The Ohio State University.

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