Big I Legend: Bev Barney
By Melissa Hall
Bev Barney is no stranger to hurdles and hard work. She started in the insurance industry at a time when few women were in leadership. She began in a clerical entry-level job and currently serves as the CEO of Big I Michigan. She rose to that position despite having no college education or background in insurance.
“My father was old school and didn’t believe I needed to go to college to be successful”, she explained. “At that stage of my life, I lacked the belief in myself that I could do it on my own. I entered the workforce, and the rest is history.”
There are a few important factors that Barney says contributed to her success. The first was her willingness to take a risk, even when it was intimidating. The second was the unwavering support from the people she loves, especially her husband, Terry.
Barney grew up in a large family on a farm west of Sheridan in Boone County. Her parents lovingly taught their children about faith, hard work, and perseverance. She credits her strong work ethic to the example set by her parents who always went the extra mile caring for their family.
For someone with less resourcefulness, missing the college experience could have limited her options. But for Barney, it just made her work harder to prove herself. She earned both a CIC and CPCU designation. The experience she gained in the workforce continued to open doors for her. She entered the insurance industry in 1976 at a branch office of an insurance company. Her career took off three years later when she was hired by Meridian Mutual Insurance (now State Auto Insurance).
She was asked to be part of their management training program when she was only 25 and her mentor, Norma Oman, taught her the ropes. They were two of only three females among the company’s 600 employees in the Indianapolis headquarters. In 1981 Barney became a member of the middle management team. “That was the pivotal moment in my career,” she explained. “I learned so much from Norma and others at Meridian who encouraged and elevated my career. “
After 7 years with the company, she took a leap to the agency side and joined Coapstick Insurance Agency in Frankfort. Her daughter was a toddler and Barney wanted to cut out her two-hour daily commute from her home in Frankfort. “I valued my relationship with my husband and daughter, and it was truly a decision for our family,” she explained. She became an agency principal and remained within the agency ranks for 27 years.
During that time, she served on the Indiana Young Agents Committee. She and Mark Bates (Pinnacle Insurance Group) established new bylaws for the group. She earned the Young Agent of the Year award in 1994 and went on to serve on both the Big I Indiana board and executive committee, serving as President in 1999. In 2006 she started her first of two three-year terms representing Indiana on the national Big I board. In that role, she saw a bird’s-eye view of the industry and where it was headed.
“Being a part of the association’s volunteer leadership was one of the best experiences of my life. I can’t think of anything that helped me grow more professionally,” she said of her time serving with the Big I Indiana.
After her second national term ended, she received a call asking if she would be interested in applying for the CEO job at the Big I Michigan. As a lifelong Hoosier, she never thought moving to a new state for a job would be in her future, but that’s exactly what she did. It was her husband of now 41 years who tipped the scales. “Terry was the one who encouraged me to apply,” she explained. “He’s always been my biggest cheerleader. He thinks there’s nothing I can’t do.”
Each time an opportunity presented itself she was willing to dive into the new challenge. That attitude led her to embrace all of her very different industry roles, including many in leadership in the Big I.
“There are very few industries that give people a start no matter what their background is,” she said. “In insurance, they recognize what your abilities are, not just what degrees you have.”
In August, Barney will step down from the position she’s held for the past eight years as the Big I Michigan CEO and retire to South Carolina. She and her husband have built a home there near their only child, JoEllen. She’s looking forward to time with her family, which includes 3 grandkids, and pursuing volunteer work in her retirement.
As she looks back fondly on her 45-year career, she encourages young people in the industry to have confidence and step outside their comfort zones as they build their careers. “I have been blessed beyond measure because others gave me a chance. If you’re willing to work hard, learn from others, own your mistakes and listen to your mentors, there’s not much you can’t accomplish.”
The Big I Legends series will feature individuals who have had a positive impact on our industry through their hard work and dedication. If you’d like to nominate someone, please email Melissa Hall at Hall@bigi.org.