40 UNDER 40: HEATHER DUNN
Bean counter? No, she's the 'chief fun officer'
Having a responsible job doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it

By JOE VANDELAARSCHOT - Daily News

August 18, 2017

Heather Dunn, chief financial officer of West Bend Mutual Insurance, poses for a portrait at the company on Aug. 9 in West Bend.
John Ehlke/Daily News


When Heather Dunn began work July 1 as the chief financial officer at West Bend Mutual Insurance, she knew she had a tough act to follow.

“Dale Kent was the gentleman I replaced,” Dunn said. “He was here for 15 years,. It was real fun to work with him for so long. He leaves quite a legacy. He has some big shoes to fill.”

Dunn, as of July, has worked for WBMI for nine years.

“So compared to most of the folks who’ve been here 20 plus years I’m still quite a newbie,” she said. “When I came here I started in the accounting department and kind of worked to help build controls. Prior to this life I worked for a private accounting firm and I audited insurance companies so this job is kind of a natural.”

Dunn said after she had worked for WBMI for a few years the plan for her to eventually take over as CFO was formed.

“But, it happened a little earlier than we all thought it might,” Dunn said. “I did not expect to become CFO quite so soon.”

Dunn said she had gone to school for math and business and was going to be an actuary, but her plans changed.

“I tried that out for two summers and decided I kind of wanted to do something else, but I still liked insurance,” Dunn said. “I got my masters and I passed the CPA exam and then jumped right into auditing and they put me on insurance accounts. I worked for eight years at that firm, Ernst and Young, then I came here.”

Dunn said WBMI and the community are very special and have a strong mutual history.

“I was on Main Street a few weeks ago and I was looking up at all the old buildings that say 1894 and remembering our history of how we started after a big fire in the city’s downtown,” she said. “It’s a little daunting to think about how we are almost 125 years old and a billion dollar company. It’s quite a legacy.”

Dunn said another thing that’s special about WBMI is that despite the large number of employees and the huge volume of business the company generates the leadership team gets along well.

“We know people’s names. I can go around the terrace here and say hi to folks and we all kind of know each other,” she said. “We try to keep that community, family feeling and we are very community focused.”

Dunn said WBMI employs about 1,250 people. In West Bend there are 815 employees, in Middleton/ Madison there are 212, in Waukesha there are 62 and employees working in the field or from their home total 161.

Despite her busy schedule, her husband Brian, and their three children and other duties, Dunn still is involved in the community.

“I have a big passion for the arts so I’ve been a big music person my entire life, theatre and all that kind of stuff. A few years ago (2011) I won the “West Bend’s Got Talent” fundraising/talent contest where I sang in front of the whole company and in front of judges and raised money for charity in the process,” Dunn said. “It’s great that our culture allows us to be creative and support our community in a variety of ways. I also just sang a song for my boss’ retirement party — a bit of a roast, if you will. He said he was probably most proud of being called the “Chief Fun Officer,” and I have every intention of continuing that tradition.”

Through the company Dunn has also helped raise funds for the UPAF (United Performing Arts Fund) campaign which has been around for about 50 years.

“It raises money to ensure that arts are sustainable in the larger community. We need this area to be vibrant, where people can have fun and live,” Dunn said. “I was also recently named to the Museum of Wisconsin Art Board.”

Dunn also has another passion — being involved in teaching business education through Junior Achievement at St. John’s where she her and her husband “pretty much teach all of the grades there.”

“I saw that program when I was in middle school,” Dunn said. “That’s probably where I had my first thought of doing something in that area someday.”

Dunn said people development continues to be a big focus for her and the company. She said they have to make sure they are building the right skills in their people.

“When people come here we want them to be able to retire here,” Dunn said. “We want to make sure they continue to develop the necessary skills to meet the challenges of changes in the field. I think the main challenge is sharing how great of an industry insurance can be and how much opportunity there is to grow in it.”

Dunn said it’s estimated that nearly 50 percent of insurance professionals are over the age of 45, and there’s 400,000 insurance jobs that are likely to be vacant by 2020, with only 4 percent of millennials expressing an interest in insurance as a career.

“It’s a stable career that is far from boring. We’re just on the cusp of a digital revolution in this industry, so there’s a long road to continue to grow in a career,” Dunn said.

Dunn said technology is a large piece of how the industry is changing.

“We have to continue to evolve like the big Amazons in this world. People today expect a little bit different of an experience when they deal with insurance than they used to get,” she said.

As far as any advice she could offer young people, she tells people who are thinking about going into accounting that it is one of the best professions to enter. “The days of counting beans or just booking journal entries are gone and it’s now digging into data, looking at patterns, analyzing results,” Dunn said. “Every company needs an accountant, no matter the industry, so it’s a job that’s about as recession-proof as they come.”

WBMI has $1 billion in premiums and the company is number 74 in terms of property and casualty insurance companies in the country.

“In Wisconsin writings we’re number 4,” Dunn said.