Pam Blalock – VP Distribution, Individual Business, MetLife

Distribution VP, Individual Business, Metlife

Natural-Born Leader

By Caroline Cox

Pam Blalock got her first job when she was 14. With two younger brothers, a Polio-stricken mother and father working three jobs, Blalock was given great responsibility at a young age. Now, as the Distribution Vice President of Individual Business at MetLife, she works with recruitment, development, services, sales, business objective collaboration and problem resolution. Blalock oversees a team of more than one thousand associates across the nation and uses her well-honed leadership skills to effectively manage, supervise and help them achieve business goals.

Here, she talks to PINK about getting out of her comfort zone, facing gender discrimination as a child and how she measures success.

PINK: What is the secret to your professional success?

PB: My ability to adapt. I adapt to change well and I know how to adapt in today’s market. Senior management asked me to take a new leadership position responsible for creating something I had never done before—no team or staff, no budget and a new boss I didn’t know. This was a test I could not fail and I had to push myself way out of my comfort zone. The end result was a successful organization and program. I learned to adapt and use my skills to be successful. My new boss continued to challenge me and taught me not to underestimate my skills. I have embraced that philosophy and I’m pushing myself to learn and try new things. Getting out of your comfort zone, accepting challenges and having confidence in yourself and your ability to deal with people are skills that are prevalent in almost anything you do.

PINK: What’s the best business advice you have received?

PB: To get out of my comfort zone. When somebody gives you an opportunity and you really don’t have the experience of doing that particular opportunity you have to look at it as a challenge, embrace it and have confidence in yourself that you’ll figure it out. Obviously other people have confidence in you. I have talked to myself many times to say, “Am I just settling in my comfort zone or am I pushing the envelope a little bit?”

PINK: What would you say the biggest concern facing professional women now?

PB: Women tend to question themselves and not have the same level of confidence [as men]. Another issue is balancing life and your priorities and the quality of life. I think the biggest issue is balance.

PINK: What are your best tips for maintaining the Life/Work balance?

PB: I have a philosophy that, Friday night at 7 o’ clock, I shut down until 7 o’ clock Sunday night. I don’t take business calls unless I know it’s an emergency. I shut down one side of my life and make sure I focus on the other side, which is being a mom. Sometimes I’m good at that and sometimes I’m not very good at it, but I try. I’ll see calls come in and I’ll let them go to voicemail.

PINK: How do you effectively lead and manage your team?

PB: I lead by example. I’m a coach, a motivator, a facilitator—whatever I need to be. I manage 16 managers that run sales and marketing organizations for MetLife across the Eastern half of the U.S., as well as 1200 associates. In addition to supervision, my role is to be their advocate and partner to help them achieve their business goals. I try to be a role model and treat people with respect and maintain strong communication skills. I have formal meetings, but I also stay in touch and listen. I try to have face time as much as possible.

PINK: How do you motivate your team?

PB: I’m there to help them do what needs to be done. We try to celebrate them as much as possible, but everyone has different needs and is motivated differently, so you also have to be versatile. The team that I have is half of the United States – they’re all over the place, so different markets need to be led differently. You have to understand what drives each person and what their needs are and then try to manage and motivate them from there.

PINK: How has your background impacted your career today?

PB: I grew up as the oldest of three children. My mom was a handicapped with Polio and was on crutches, and later in a wheelchair. That makes you grow up really fast. With two younger brothers, I took on a lot of the responsibility at home. I’ve always admired my mom and the challenges she faced and raising us. Also, my dad had three different jobs, so I learned very early to work. I put myself through college [at the University of New Hampshire]. My parents didn’t want me to go [an hour and a half] away to school because I wouldn’t be able to help out at home. I ended up making the decision to pay for school and I left, though I still came back on the weekends to help out. I think that had a lot to do with who I am today.

PINK: Did being a caretaker early on help you transition into leadership roles?

PB: Absolutely. When you’re given a lot of responsibilities when you’re young, you develop that commitment of being responsible for others. I learned very young that leading and managing was what I was good at and that I should continue to pursue leadership positions. I was running around at 23 with 45 employees and most of them were older than I was and working 100 hours a week. Then I got into a management development program in business. Three years later I was running that program.

PINK: How do you relax and rejuvenate yourself?

PB: I do outdoor activities with my family. We’re active— we enjoy sports, swimming and physical activity. I also enjoy gardening, going for a walk, bike riding or going skiing for the weekend. The last fun thing I did with my family was going to Boston for dinner and then a Rod Sox game. We also decided to do Thanksgiving in the Bahamas!

PINK: What is one thing most people don’t know about you?

PB: I used to skate. I’d get up and skate at six in the morning before high school and do figure skating, but I always wanted to be a hockey player. They wouldn’t let girls play. My brothers played and my dad was responsible for the program in our town. I did ice dance – I wasn’t very good but I was a power skater and I could out-skate my brothers. I wish there had been different opportunities for girls, and I sometimes have dreams about what I could have done differently.

PINK: What is one personal goal you have yet to achieve?

PB: I married into a golf family. My sister-in-law is a professional golf player and I have never played golf. So, my goal is to learn how to play golf. I was hoping this year, and I’ve started, but hopefully by next year. I’m not ready yet. (Laughs.)

PINK: How do you define success?

PB: Success is getting the balance and quality of life that you want. Having the ability to put your children through college, having the ability to take a vacation and being able to afford to do things that you want to do. My biggest success is my children. I enjoy my career. I need my career and it’s very much a part of me. But my family comes first.

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