The Faces of Modern Leadership series spotlights rising directors who are part of Diligent’s Modern Leadership initiative, a network of nearly 700,000 CEOs, board directors and executives. Modern Leadership aims to impact diversity, equity and inclusion at more than 25,000 organizations worldwide, dedicated to building the largest, most diverse pool of highly qualified directors and executives in the world.
Élise Spriggs has extensive experience for a publicly-traded company in senior executive roles including human resources, government relations, and regulatory and community. She has also been a member of senior staff for two Ohio governors. Additionally, Élise has led the public policy practice of law ﬁrms. Élise has a long background in modern governance in legal, legislative and regulatory matters as she worked extensively with insurance departments and other external affairs stakeholders. She serves on the boards of the United Way of Central Ohio, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, and the Community Shelter Board. Élise co-chaired the American Property Casualty Insurance Association's Legal and Governmental Aﬀairs Committee.
In 2021, she chaired the Executives with Heart group within the American Heart Association, helping it to grow to the #4 such program in the country. In 2019, she was named as one of the Elite Women in insurance by the Insurance Business Magazine and as one of the top twelve female leaders in Central Ohio in 2020 by Women for Economic and Leadership Development (WELD).
A Decade in Insurance
Élise currently serves as Senior Vice President of Associate and External Relations for the State Auto Group, a super-regional property and casualty insurance holding company headquartered in Columbus, Ohio. Élise is responsible for directing all of the human resource functions that support State Auto’s approximately 2,100 associates, with a budget of $43 million. As she puts it, “I believe in a team oriented approach and to me it is how you produce the best product.” She leads the company’s strategic human resource planning which is focused on recruiting and retaining top talent as well as the efforts to support associates through the transition to Liberty Mutual.
Prior to Liberty Mutual’s acquisition of State Auto, Élise worked directly with members of the Compensation Committee of State Auto’s boards of directors: “I’ve had increasingly more responsibilities since I started here. From a board perspective, my work with the boards’ compensation committee and working with directors has been a major focus.” She is also a member of State Auto’s Senior Leadership Team, which is leading the transition to Liberty Mutual.
As previously mentioned, she led the public policy practices of two of Columbus’ prominent law ﬁrms: Carpenter, Lipps & Leland LLP and Kegler, Brown, Hill and Ritter, LLP. Additionally, she has a ﬁrsthand appreciation of the intersection of government, the regulatory process, and politics as a result of her serving in senior staﬀ roles for both Governors Taft and Kasich in Ohio. “I understand how government and politics works. I’ve been on senior staff for two governors, and I understand how public policy decisions get made.”
The Secret Sauce for Success
In today’s environment it takes multiple skill sets to effectively lead. Élise finds that she utilizes “Different styles in place for different situations.” Élise’s secret sauce for success is her astute listening skills: “When I started with the company, I was not within the HR department until 5 years ago when I was appointed by the CEO, at which point their employee engagement scores were low. I took the time to connect with people and really listen to what their concerns were and then make appropriate and timely changes.” Élise’s success showed dramatically in significantly higher engagement scores. “When I enter a room or a conversation, it’s more important for me to listen than to dictate what’s happening. This allows me to interpret what needs to get done.”
In Élise’s mind, the business world has just scratched the surface of HR’s value. She sees HR groups becoming involved in the business more as trusted advisors: “HR needs to become adept in the analytics space to identify trends and identify the right candidates, as well as to help sharpen and improve the associate experience. Talent teams need to reimagine the associate experience both internally and externally” says Élise. In her mind, to understand trends and pivot quickly will make all the difference with attracting and maintaining talent.
Creating Space for Diversity of Thought
Now more than ever, boards need diverse skillsets and backgrounds to succeed. “Be the change you want to see and ask yourself and others what are we going to do to make that change happen?” says Élise. In order to truly represent and strengthen any board, we need diversity of thought. This includes different industries and generational backgrounds. Élise has found when a group of people approach one topic all from the same perspective, there’s little innovation or growth: “You run the risk of approaching the topic with blind spots. Having my government and regulatory background, is so important for me. The key is building space for diversity of thought. This allows us to solve problems collectively, not focusing only on the solution.”
Challenging Business Climate
The business climate became more challenging for corporate leaders in recent years. In particular, Élise has seen more of a focus on digital and the interpersonal balance: “We’ve gone through a significant digital transformation. Now we can work more effectively and efficiently. This has caused me to focus more on how we keep people at the forefront. There is a critical need for humanity and the skills to remain personable.” She goes on, “I find there are distinct generational differences in how comfortable employees are interacting in the digital age. With leadership roles often held by those who are older and farther along in their career, sometimes this can cause discord with different styles and comfort levels with technology. We can’t be one-sided and can’t risk alienating anyone.” Finding that interpersonal balance is vital: “Finding that sweet spot across the generational gaps and interacting with all types of perspectives will take the support and collaboration of traditional colleagues and new up-and-comers seeking to create new types of work environments.” Élise’s focus is about keeping people at the forefront and leading by example: “As a board member, I’d focus on culture and work environments to bring these groups together.”
A Passion for Giving Back
Élise also leads the company’s eﬀorts in external relations, which includes government, regulatory, community, corporate communications and public relations. She oversees State Auto’s corporate volunteering and giving initiatives, and has overseen fundraising for philanthropic and/or political candidates, which have raised millions of dollars.