With a communications style based on building networks rather than burning bridges, Diana Ruddick has spent 25 years in growth mode at MassMutual. Now vice president, field relations & communications, Ruddick recently spoke with us about surviving shifts in leadership.

Financial & Insurance Meetings: Talk about your career path at MassMutual.
Diana Ruddick: After 14 years at Aetna, I joined MassMutual’s group life business in 1984. Ten years later, I moved to individual life to build the communications department, and was told, “By the way, you’re also in charge of our conferences.” I’d never even been to one of the conferences. So it was a learning process. But that has characterized my whole career. I took the scenic route; I met a lot of people; I learned a lot of things. I think of it like a liberal-arts education.

FIM: As head of communications, how do you keep up with change in the industry today?
I attend regular staff meetings, my boss sends me things that are relevant, and we talk about the current environment. One threat now is regulation and government involvement. So we talk to our government-relations people about how this will affect us. Information comes in from all sources, and it’s interesting to connect the dots. We are the funnel for all communications from the corporate office to the field of 5,000 agents.

FIM: You’ve done a lot of mentoring. Why?
I think having mentors is very important, especially in large organizations. I never had a formal mentor, but there were people who helped me navigate the political waters. I have a reputation for having an open door and being willing to chat with just about anyone. Mentoring benefits me, too: It reinforces my reputation as someone who can be trusted, it gives me the satisfaction of meeting and helping talented people find their way, and it expands my own influence. At some point, we all realize that a career is not all about making money, but about making a difference, so mentoring gives me a sense that what I’m doing has lasting value.

FIM: You’ve also focused on helping women be successful in insurance.
When I became an officer, there weren’t many women officers or agents. I’ve always had a commitment to helping other women be successful. In fact I’m known here as one of the people who started the conversation about how we could bring more women into the business and help them be successful. I talked to people who were receptive to the idea that it was a business imperative to do this. If you’re not looking at 51 percent of the population, then you’ve got a shrinking market. We’re long past those days now, but when I started, there was a belief among some that women agents couldn’t be as successful as men.

FIM: To what do you owe your own longevity with MassMutual?
Part of it is having survival skills. We just went through a large restructuring campaign and we lost some good people. But I was lucky enough not just to keep my job but to have an expanded role. I believe you must be open to new opportunities and be willing to stretch, be known as a person who will do what she says she is going to do, who will help others get what they need. I have a huge network within the company. This isn’t something that happens overnight, but over time. Also, I love my job. I think I have the best job in the company.

FIM: How did MassMutual view last year’s outcry against meetings?
We didn’t cancel meetings. We’re not a public company, which is helpful. We didn’t take any TARP money, which is helpful. But that doesn’t mean we’re not accountable to our executives and our policyholders for what we spend on conferences. There were discussions at a high level about whether holding our conferences in 2009 was a smart thing to do. And people quickly concluded that the conferences play a role in retaining a stable and productive sales force, which ultimately benefits our policyholders. We don’t do trips in an over-the-top way, but we give people experiences they couldn’t do on their own. It’s all about agent loyalty, which is very high, and, sure, I’ll take some of the credit for that.