In most other states, a place like Windham, Maine would be considered a minor municipality. But when Sherri O’Donnell moved her husband and three kids away from her 17,000 neighbors in that Southern Maine city to relocate to a community of 9000 spread across the state’s northeastern frontier, she had to revise her expectations for small town life. Luckily for O’Donnell, her family’s migration from one end of the state to the other revealed that there are other benefits to be enjoyed in the remote region so large its called simply “The County.”
Aroostook County may have been new ground for O’Donnell, but it’s been home to her Presque Isle employer for almost 120 years. And though Maine Mutual Group Insurance (MMG) hired her to capitalize on the deep professional skill set she’s acquired during her 15-year career in project management, it was MMG’s appreciation for the relationships O’Donnell has built along the way that sealed the deal for her employment. Both the venture she was hired for and MMG’s focus on social values shed light on how businesses and communities thrive in Northern Maine.
“By nature, most insurance companies are adverse to risk” says O’Donnell, “yet I was hired as MMG’s first program director of enterprise architecture to shepherd a comprehensive transformation of the core technology that supports our business. This multi-year initiative will have us adopting and testing a completely new platform of enterprise-wide software to keep up with our company’s growing needs. That leap reflects faith in both a vision for the future and the people who can make it happen.”
O’Donnell commends MMG president Larry Shaw and the executive team for championing the company’s plan for its next evolution. It’s a strategy that continues MMG’s long journey from its roots as a small, local business focused solely on insuring its neighbor’s protection from fire damage to their potato farms and homes. Today, MMG Insurance writes over $175 million in premiums and has more than 3,200 licensed independent agents in over 450 agency locations throughout Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
Meeting the challenge of revamping the software that supports those operations points to a company poised for the kind of growth that can keep it going for another century. But when asked her opinion of the key to MMG’s string of national awards for its industry-leading service, O’Donnell doesn’t cite technology as the star. “It’s a sense of caring that starts at the top and is shared by everyone I work with,” she says.
That’s made a difference that even the most efficient workflows and advanced technology can’t top, and that’s key to another aspect of MMG’s future. O’Donnell notes that the average employee age mirrors Maine’s median of 43.6 (the oldest in the US), making the hiring of new talent a prime concern for the company. The upcoming retirement of VP of Human Resources, Lynn Lombard, presents a model for how MMG is planning to meet this challenge. Lombard plans to stay on long enough to train the new HR director who will take her place. O’Donnell believes this period will be one hallmarked by a rich exchange of ideas—where institutional knowledge meets a fresh perspective to combine to create an enduring corporate vision for the future.
That shared concern for mutual interest is one O’Donnell finds when she leaves the office to spend time with the other company she now keeps around town. “There may not be as many restaurants and theaters in the county,” she shares, “and the winters may feel a bit colder and longer than they did 300 miles south, but there’s a difference here that makes those things very easy to ignore. I know most people care about those close to them, but that feeling goes farther up here. I get the very real sense that people care not only about their own—but about their neighbors’ families as well.” For Sherri O’Donnell, that may just be what makes the new hometown tucked closed to the Canadian border one of the warmest places in Maine.