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Employee Spotlight: Karen Schwartz

Parker, Smith & Feek Employee Spotlight, Karen Schwartz.

How would you describe your role at PS&F?

My role is to help mid-sized employers obtain and manage benefits packages designed to help recruit and retain employees. Benefits are usually a top-three line item for businesses on the expense sheet. You can spend that money in a lot of different ways, but it’s really important that you’re using it effectively for your unique employee population – and ensuring that they understand it as a part of their total compensation.

You joined PS&F after COVID-19 hit. What was it like starting a new job during a pandemic?

It’s crazy to think about – I can’t believe that it’s already been a year. I’ve met so few people face-to-face. I accepted the position towards the end of March 2020, and I remember thinking, “By the end of next month we’ll all be back in the office and the transition will feel real.” It’s been a great year with Parker, Smith & Feek, but I’m definitely missing those in-person connections.

What’s made you so passionate about the insurance industry?

For me, it really comes down to my drive to help people. The core purpose of our industry is to find creative solutions to help companies provide for their employees. During the pandemic, there has been a greater need than usual. Many clients have struggled to keep their employees on payroll or have had to reduce other expenditures so they can continue to provide benefits, especially for folks with ongoing health issues. Finding ways to help people who really need it is what keeps me going. 

Karen's family in front of a body of water in the background.

You come from a family of Washington State Cougars. What’s your favorite part of the Wazzu community?

The kinship. Cougs bond in a really special way – we’re approachable and kind to each other. There’s no sense of elitism. If you want to be a Coug, we welcome you with open arms.

You can see it after college too – Cougs love to support each other. There are tons of organizations that help further Coug businesses and create relationships, or that focus on mentoring WSU students. There’s no competitiveness among alumni and we all take joy in the community’s collective successes.

What is the most valuable career advice you ever received? 

The industry is small, so never burn a bridge. You never know when people will come back into your life in some capacity. People will remember whether you made a good or bad impression, and someone who’s a coworker one day could be a prospective client or referral the next. It’s important to hold yourself accountable and maintain relationships well.

Karen and her son together.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Yakima, on the east side of the Cascade mountains in Washington. It’s a big agricultural community – my high school was in the middle of a hops field. I even have a shirt that says, “Yakima – We grow your beer.”

It’s a great place with a small-town atmosphere where everybody knows everybody, and there’s amazing food, wine, and beer. It’s called the Palm Springs of Washington because it gets 300 days of sunshine a year. My family and I love coming back to visit my parents, especially in the summertime.

We talk a lot about the PS&F difference. How do you make a difference?

I think Parker, Smith & Feek is perfectly sized to serve our clients well. We have a deep bench of resources, but we’re still nimble enough to pivot and make decisions based on individual clients’ needs. Our leadership supports us to evaluate accounts and say, “You know, that worked for somebody else, but this client really needs that program set up differently,” and we don’t have to wait three months for five different levels of approval in order to put that change into motion. We can do it tomorrow, and we have the experts and resources available to do it well. 

This isn’t an organization where people say, “Well that’s how it’s always been done.” We are empowered to do what’s right for the client.

What is something your coworkers would be surprised to learn about you?

I’ve seen every episode of Survivor that’s aired in the last 20 years. My family even does a draft every year of the contestants. It’s got everything that makes for excellent reality TV – alliances, strategy, competition, and backstabbing.

Karen and her husband on vacation w/ the city in the background.

Tell me about your family?

My parents still live out in Yakima. My dad is a water rights attorney, which is a very important role in the Yakima valley with all the farmland. My mom has worked in education for over 30 years.

I have two younger sisters. One is an elementary school teacher, and the other runs the campus recreation program at Oregon State. We always get together for Coug football games and play a lot of board games. Everyone’s very competitive, so it can definitely be a little intense at times.

What is your greatest indulgence?

An excellent dinner – not necessarily an expensive one, but one that’s well done. I love trying new restaurants, ordering lots of items to try, and sampling different wines. Nothing really beats the experience of an above and beyond meal. I have a background in hospitality from college, so maybe that’s where that enjoyment comes from.

PROFILE:

Where are you from? Yakima, Washington

Family? Husband, Andy; son, Owen

Favorite vacation spot? Thailand

Favorite television show? Succession

Favorite food/meal/restaurant? la Spiga

Favorite quote? “You have to show up for yourself if you’re going to show up for anyone else.”

Parker, Smith & Feek Communications specialist and copy editor, Sara Brauchla.
Interviewed and edited by Sara Brauchla, Parker, Smith & Feek’s Communications Specialist and Copy Editor. She is responsible for editing all published materials, including spotlights, which offer a peek at who our hardworking employees really are when not consulting on our clients’ insurance programs. Stay tuned for her next installment, and refer to our blog or articles page for more of her work.

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