Elena Edwards

This article/interview, appeared at the August issue of Lynchburg Business magazine that featured our parishioner Elena Edwards, nee Karras. Elena was born and raised in Pittsfield, MA and graduated from Pittsfield high school. She is now living in the Lynchburg, VA area but she and her family are still members of the St. George parish.

August LB Leader of the Month

Issue: August 2010 by Lynchburg Business in Inside The Magazine, Leader of the Month


Elena Edwards

Job Title:

Chief Operations Officer, U.S. Life Companies, Genworth Financial

Age: 44

Hometown: Born – Pittsfield, MA; Current – Forest, VA

We understand you have a big job, managing a lot of people at Genworth Financial. Tell us about your role.

I have a great job! I serve as Chief Operations Officer for the U.S. Life Insurance segment of Genworth Financial and I am the site leader for our Lynchburg offices. Within Operations are our Service and Technology organizations, consisting of 2,000 of Genworth’s 6,000 employees worldwide. These employees are in Lynchburg and Richmond, Virginia, Brentwood, Tennessee, and San Rafael, California, and others work remotely across the U.S. We are responsible for delivering service and technology solutions to our distributors, policyholders and beneficiaries of Genworth’s life insurance, long term care insurance, annuities, senior supplemental and linked benefits products.

Is there such a thing as a “typical day” for you at work?

What’s typical is that I have a packed schedule every day. I review the company’s progress against our strategic priorities with my teams and leaders. I connect with customers talking about service opportunities and industry insights that inform them of the work we are doing now and in the future. I help remove barriers so teams can be successful in their work. And I focus on building our culture, which is all about serving our customers with passion. Last but not least, communications is imperative. I spend a lot of time telling our story … to our employees, our customers, our board and the community.

What is the most challenging thing about your job? The most rewarding?

My work requires that I shift from big-picture thinking about our strategy to understanding the tactical detail of key initiatives our teams are working on. This requires agility, and as challenging as it can be, it’s also what makes the role exciting.

What inspires me and our associates every day is our belief in the power of a promise. With every interaction, we are making a promise to help millions of people around the world secure their financial lives, families and futures. Everything we do is about being there for our customers and their families when they need us most. One example is that in 2009, we paid more than $3 billion in insurance benefits, bringing protection and peace of mind to our policyholders and their beneficiaries.

Personally, what’s most rewarding to me are the people. We have amazing, passionate employees.

While Genworth is a prominent player in the local workforce, the Lynchburg office is one part of a major global company. With that in mind, what is Genworth’s role in Lynchburg?

We’ve been in Lynchburg since 1955, as First Colony and now Genworth Financial. Approximately 1,200 of the 6,000 employees worldwide are based at our two facilities here—on Main Street downtown and at our Customer Service Center on U.S. 29. Our Operations Center of Excellence and industry-leading technology capabilities are based here, as well as essential support services like HR, Legal and Compliance, Communications and Finance. The Lynchburg site has grown to be the same size as the campus at our global headquarters in Richmond, and we play a prominent role both in the company and in the community.

It’s been well-reported that Genworth had a tough year in 2009 as a result of the mortgage crisis. Would you say the company is in a better place now?

Despite the unprecedented global economy of the past 18+ months, we have stayed focused on our core strengths and maintained our leading market positions in our Life Insurance, Long Term Care Insurance and Wealth Management businesses. We are recognized as a thought leader and innovator in the industry on many fronts. And we continue to introduce new products, enhance service offerings and broaden our distribution network. Most importantly, we have remained financially strong and are positioned for smart growth.

One thing that Genworth has emphasized throughout the past year is a “commitment to Lynchburg.” What does that phrase mean to you?

Lynchburg is an attractive location for our company and will remain an integral part of Genworth going forward. We absolutely are committed to Lynchburg—from both a workforce and community support standpoint. The Central Virginia region offers a great workforce feeding from our very strong educational system of high schools and universities, a cost-efficient environment for our service center, an affordable cost of

living, and numerous amenities, ranging from a growing downtown, arts scene, restaurants, museums, sports, children’s activities, outstanding healthcare and much more.

How does your company give back to the local community and, in turn, how are you involved in the community?

We recognize that, now more than ever, it is important to be actively involved in our communities and help those in need. We have an extraordinary team of employees who volunteer in the Central Virginia communities. Last year alone, we gave 8,000 hours of service in Lynchburg and more than $276,000 to Central Virginia non-profits through the United Way. During our 2010 Global Month of Service, we supported more than 40 local community organizations and the people who rely on those services. This continues our long tradition of giving back. I am incredibly proud of our associates who, each year, give their time, leadership and skills-based talent, financial contributions and hearts to make our communities a better place to live.

Community involvement and making a difference in the lives of others are core to my personal values. I participate in project opportunities through our Genworth Volunteers efforts, and I am a board member of the Genworth Foundation, Amazement Square—the Rightmire Children’s Museum, and the Greater Lynchburg chapter of Girls on the Run.

Tell us something unusual about yourself.

Three stories come to mind.

My heritage is Greek and I grew up in a household with a grandmother who never spoke English, so I had to communicate in Greek. And while I’ve lived in the U.S. my entire life, I actually didn’t learn English until I went to kindergarten.

I have had an interesting path in my education and career. I hold both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in engineering. So here I am, a mechanical engineer working in insurance. One of my most exciting experiences in my early career days was working as a design engineer on the transmission of the Bradley fighting vehicle during Desert Storm. I was very proud to know that it performed extremely well in action.

Imagine this: I was asked to lead a unionized (and formerly self-directed) machine shop for GE Areospace. I was in my mid-20s, a female and stepping into my very first leadership role. The shop was all male and the youngest machinist had as much service as my age. Tough job, but the one I learned from the most!

What advice would you give to future leaders who look to you as an example of success?

Stay passionate about what you do and always believe in what you’re doing. 

Know how important people are. Communicate often and transparently and keep them energized about what they do.

Understand the breadth of your job then figure out what’s really important so you can focus only on the priorities. After you’ve done that, delegate the rest and trust your leaders.

Invest in building your emotional intelligence. In the workplace, it can translate into higher energy, greater satisfaction, improved working relationships and greater success.

Don’t forget to have fun! And be sure to take the time to recognize people and celebrate wins.

Surround yourself with really good, really smart people.

Never stop learning

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