Deb Franklin, MBA, '14
Deb Franklin, the newest member of the advisory board to the University of South Florida’s School of Risk Management and Insurance (RMI), has come full circle in her relationship with USF.
A Muma College of Business Executive MBA graduate, ’14, Franklin was the lone insurance industry executive during her time in the program and, as such, was subject to playful ribbing from classmates from other professions.
Now, however, Franklin is back where she started – and playing a key role in helping to build up the fledgling RMI School.
“It’s a tremendous honor,” said Franklin, who was appointed chair of the RMI advisory board soon after joining in August. “There’s an affinity now. I feel like a Floridian giving back to Florida, which is important for me.”
Born and raised in Tampa, Franklin built on the confidence gained from her MBA experience to pursue higher-level executive positions, eventually landing her in New York and Chicago. But she had long set her sights on returning to Florida, and when Chicago-based investment firm PEAK6 presented her with an opportunity to launch her own insurance company in the Sarasota-Manatee area – just a short drive from where she grew up – she jumped at the opportunity.
What’s more, the move presented another tempting offer, a chance to tackle an issue that’s long bothered her and other insurance professionals: the lack of young, up-and-coming talent in the industry.
Franklin says that not surprisingly many young professionals regard the insurance business as “old and stodgy,” even though in many respects the profession is as modern as any, with openings ranging from data coding and systems architecture to high-paying analyst and actuarial jobs.
“We don’t attract young talent because we’re not good at telling them about the broad range of jobs that are available,” Franklin said. “All of these positions exist within insurance, and we’re missing the boat in not getting enough young people to know more about our industry.”
As it happened, a former professor of Franklin’s, Irene Hurst of the USF Muma College of Business, knew of someone who felt the same way: Steven Miller, director of the RMI School at Muma. And like Franklin, Miller was committed to drawing young talent to the profession.
After exchanging a few emails, the two met for lunch where Miller laid out his plans for the RMI School. The meeting turned out to be fortuitous in more ways than one. Not only did Miller find a kindred spirit in Franklin, but when an opening arose on the RMI School’s advisory board shortly afterward, Franklin was only too happy to put her name forward. It turned out to be the right move; she was as enthusiastic about building up the RMI School as he was.
“Our RMI program partners with industry to serve USF’s diverse, talented and hard-working students,” Miller said. “Scholarships, mentorships and internships will help our students find RMI career opportunities that fit their interests and goals. It’s so rewarding to connect students with meaningful, high-paying career opportunities. We’re in the business of changing lives.”
Introduced as a minor at the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus in 2015, the RMI program was expanded to a bachelor’s degree program in 2017 after employers asked campus leaders to help to address the industry-wide shortage of qualified risk management professionals. The program joined the Muma College of Business as the School of Risk Management and Insurance in 2020.
Miller, who had successfully launched an RMI major at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia and had worked for years in the industry as a consultant, was appointed director the program.
Among his many previous assignments were stints at Aon and Marsh, where he helped corporate risk managers leverage data and systems resources to meet their risk-management objectives. During this time, he gained extensive international experience managing consulting engagements worldwide, which is now enabling him to bring a global perspective to his current role at the RMI School.
USF’s RMI initiative represents a new and different challenge, though, as Miller looks to expand the program, create a talent pipeline and forge relationships with companies to generate endowments and internship opportunities, which is why Franklin’s assistance is all the more welcoming.
Miller and Franklin aim to create an RMI program that reflects the diverse nature of USF’s student body. With 40 percent of USF students eligible for Pell Grants, the university has been recognized nationally as a “Top University for Social Mobility” by “U.S. News & World Report” for providing access and enabling success for lower- and middle-income students as they achieve their degrees.
“Deb’s leadership and energy will help us to accelerate the growth and impact of our program,” he said.
The two see the RMI program not only as beneficial to employers locally, but also to companies regionally as one of only a handful of university-level RMI programs across the southeastern United States.
Because of this RMI talent pipeline, the USF program is expected to attract more and larger employers to the area, further aiding the local economy. As for students entering the program, they’ll find a robust menu of rigorous and challenging courses to prepare them for many career opportunities available in insurance.
High demand and limited supply have made RMI an exciting option, says Miller. The RMI industry employs more than 2.7 million people nationwide and is steadily growing.
Supply of RMI talent is limited with less than 10 universities in the United States graduating more than 50 RMI students annually, according to a “Business Insurance” magazine 2017 survey. RMI majors are highly prized in an industry facing such a large talent gap. Additionally, the industry generates significant demand for workers with a varied skillsets, including business majors, engineering, computer science, data science, law, criminal justice and health.
Franklin says she’s excited to lend a hand to grow the RMI program. She hopes to attract endowments, create partnerships with other executives and provide jobs and internships at her company, PEAK6 InsurTech, a subsidiary of PEAK6 that includes National Flood Services and Team Focus, and with other insurers locally. She’s also open to mentoring opportunities and even stepping into the classroom occasionally as a guest speaker.
Working again with USF has stirred up memories of her grad school days, she says. Having gone through the university’s Executive MBA program enables her to think about RMI education from the perspective as both a student and a successful executive.
“This university gave me the foundation and the confidence to know that I can succeed,” Franklin said. “Going through the MBA program and being able to tell these students, ‘Look at me. I’m an example of what you can do after earning your degree,’ gives them a unique perspective of what is possible.
“These students in the RMI program are on the cusp of phenomenal careers,” she said. “We want to catapult them forward and get them there faster.”