Alicia Calhoun: A Successful Leader Shattering Stereotypes and Building a Legacy 

Alicia Calhoun: A Successful Leader | XPT Specialty | CIO Women Magazine

In today’s dynamic business environment, organizations need leaders who prioritize individuals and their development. This is where people-centric leadership becomes crucial, focused on fostering growth, empowerment, and collaboration. People-centric leadership is not just a feel-good philosophy; it’s a strategic approach that delivers tangible benefits for individuals and organizations. By prioritizing individuals, their growth, and their well-being, leaders can create a sustainable environment for success in the long run.

Speaking of portraying a ‘people-centric’ leadership, Alicia Calhoun (Senior Vice President at XPT Specialty) focuses on fostering growth, empowerment, and collaboration within her team. Moreover, her leadership style exemplifies a shift towards a more human-centered approach, creating a win-win situation for individuals and organizations. It fosters a sustainable and thriving environment where everyone feels valued, empowered, and capable of achieving their full potential.

The Sky is Never the Limit

Alicia Calhoun’s journey is a testament to the belief that the sky is not the limit. With 24 years in the industry, her career began in insurance without a college education. However, she did have a strong work ethic instilled by her immigrant parents. From a young age, she was determined to work hard, eager to learn, and always ready to seize any opportunity that came her way. At 22, she needed more challenges while working in a hospital’s billing department.

This led her to discover an intriguing job advertisement for a claims position at an insurance agency—a new field. Driven by her fearlessness and belief in her capabilities, she applied and was hired. She secured the position and was promoted several times within the company. When opportunities continued to present themselves, she always enthusiastically pursued them, especially her desire to excel in sales despite lacking a traditional background and network in the field.

Today, Alicia Calhoun is one of the leading brokers at XPT, having built her client base from scratch. Last year, she was honored as XPT’s broker of the year, and this year, her book has increased by over 50%, with expectations of maintaining this growth. The turning point in her career was her desire to succeed, rooted in her background as part of an immigrant family with modest beginnings. She aimed to be a success story within her family, not just for her children but also to support her aging parents.

Alicia’s journey is characterized by an insatiable desire to achieve without limitations, guided by the conviction that there are no ceilings, and supported by leaders and mentors who paved the way for her success.

Shattering the Glass Ceiling with Skills and Integrity

Having been in the industry for over two decades, Alicia Calhoun has encountered several challenges while rising up the ranks. However, she believes “the biggest challenge is being a female in a very male-dominated industry.” Historically, executive and sales roles were mostly occupied by men. Still, the past decade has seen a significant shift, with women stepping into leadership roles such as CEOs, CFOs, and top sales positions, including brokerage. She credits diversity and inclusion efforts for paving the way for women, especially minority women like herself, to navigate the industry assertively.

Before stepping into an office, the thought of being not only a woman but also a minority weighed on her, especially in the male-dominated fields of Texas’ oil and gas sector, known for its traditional “good old boy” culture. However, that fear has dissipated. Today, Alicia Calhoun walks into rooms confidently, armed with her skill set, integrity, and knowledge, no longer feeling overshadowed by the stigma of competing against the entrenched norms. As a successful broker at XPT, she has asserted her worth and overcome the challenges associated with her gender and ethnic background in the industry.

Distinguished and Selective Approach to Partnership

XPT was founded by Mark Smith, Tom Ruggieri, and Jeff Heath, three gentlemen who transitioned from large wholesale brokers to create a wholesale firm that focuses on serving boutique or niche markets, including transportation, energy, oil and gas, and construction. They embarked on a strategic journey to acquire firms with specialty niche programs. The acquisition of L.P. Risk, where Alicia Calhoun is positioned, highlighted their focus on transportation and energy, oil, and gas programs, contributing to XPT’s substantial growth across the United States, from New York to the Midwest, California, and Texas. The company’s mission centers around being problem solvers, with XPT standing for “expert partner team.” 

They view themselves as an extension of their clients’ E&S departments, tailoring their services and products to specific needs rather than adopting a one-size-fits-all approach. In the face of market challenges, such as transportation and excess capacity property, XPT prides itself on being a solution finder, continuously listening to clients, and adapting to marketplace shifts. Under the guidance of leadership, including Alicia Calhoun’s boss, Landon Parnell, XPT is dedicated to developing programs that address client needs. This approach distinguishes XPT from other brokers, emphasizing boutique, tailored solutions for their partners and reinforcing their commitment to specialized service.

What distinguishes the company from its competitors is not merely the customized and tailored solutions it provides; it’s the company’s selective approach to partnership. Unlike some brokers who may choose to work with any retailer, the company operates on a model of exclusivity and focus. It intentionally works with only a select number of clients, ensuring that these clients do not have to compete for attention or resources. 

This approach prevents market saturation and aligns the company with partners that share similar values and needs, particularly in niche markets. Looking ahead, the company is on a path of strategic growth. Recent expansions, such as opening a new office in the Northeast, highlight its careful approach to increasing its footprint. The company’s acquisitions and talent recruitment strategies are equally thoughtful, emphasizing skill and cultural fit. The company believes its culture is a pivotal aspect of its success and is highly mindful of this in its hiring practices. This careful consideration of partnerships, growth strategy, and team composition sets the company apart in a competitive landscape, positioning it for continued success and innovation in its services and product offerings.

Leadership and Learning Go Hand-in-Hand

Leadership to me is learning from your mistakes. It’s empowering people and just allowing them to see their potential and help them reach it

Alicia Calhoun

Throughout her journey, she has always viewed leadership not as a title but as a commitment to set an example, empower, and instill confidence in those around her. Her story unfolds like a tapestry of mentorship and growth, woven from her own experiences with different types of leadership. She recalls a time when leadership was often equated with instilling fear—a method she found counterproductive, as it eroded morale and stifled potential.

Over the past decade, Alicia Calhoun’s philosophy has been shaped by a vivid image that frequently comes to mind: a helping hand reaching down to lift someone, regardless of their position. This image symbolizes her belief in the power of support and encouragement. It could be extending a hand to the receptionist, an account manager, or someone aspiring to reach new heights in their career. In her eyes, true leadership is about empowering individuals to realize and achieve their maximum potential.

Alicia Calhoun’s narrative includes tales of hiring team members with no experience—fresh from college or other industries—and dedicating herself to their development through mentoring and teaching. She sees this as building a team and investing in the future. By embodying the leadership qualities she values—learning from mistakes, providing opportunities, and revealing to people the potential they may not see in themselves—she cultivates an environment where tomorrow’s leaders are nurtured today.

Her leadership style is a testament to the belief that today’s young minds are the leaders of tomorrow. By leading by example and fostering a culture of empowerment and confidence, Alicia Calhoun contributes to a cycle of continuous improvement and innovation, ensuring that her legacy will inspire future generations to reach their fullest potential.

A Prudent Visionary at the Helm

As an SVP and broker, Alicia Calhoun’s role at XPT is fundamentally based on performance, operating entirely on commission. This structure necessitates that she not only sells but also manages and expands her team, achievable only through consistent growth. Her primary responsibility involves expanding the casualty book of business, supported by her team, and fostering growth within the company.

Furthermore, her role extends to sharing knowledge and insights across various offices and practice groups within XPT, encompassing coverage, market conditions, and relationships. Recognizing the industry’s foundation on relationships—whether with retail agents, underwriters, or colleagues in other offices—Alicia emphasizes the importance of open knowledge sharing. This approach contrasts with keeping intelligence “close to the vest,” which she believes has contributed to the company’s success. Additionally, XPT’s culture, which is focused on hiring top talent and adding value to clients, champions sharing knowledge as a key to success.

In addition to preaching a growth mindset in the work environment, Alicia Calhoun recognizes the continuous nature of change within the market and emphasizes the importance of staying informed. Her approach to staying updated revolves around several key activities:

  • Engaging with others: Conversations with peers, competitors, friends, and underwriters provide valuable insights into market trends and shifts.
  • Extensive reading: Consuming various sources, including industry publications, online platforms like LinkedIn, and company reports, broadens her understanding of the landscape.
  • Maintaining vigilance: She actively listens and stays informed, recognizing that market dynamics can change rapidly, even overnight.
  • Adaptability: Acknowledging that individual underwriters have varying risk appetites, Alicia Calhoun values building strong relationships with carrier partners to gain insider knowledge.

Holistically, Alicia Calhoun keeps abreast of insurance-specific details and broader factors like the economy, political climate, and global events, understanding their potential impact on the industry and her business.

A Mother, Leader, and an Adventurer

Maintaining a work-life balance as a successful broker and SVP is challenging for Alicia Calhoun, especially as a mother of four boys, each active and at different stages. Her role at the company is far from a conventional eight-to-five job; it demands dedication until the work is complete. Despite these responsibilities, she finds solace in travel and scuba diving, having visited destinations like Egypt, Israel, and the Red Sea, and even scuba diving in Cozumel, all while staying connected to her work.

Alicia Calhoun believes balance is achieved by being as present as possible in her personal life while continuing to live fully and embrace new experiences, and hence, she pushes herself out of her comfort zone, planning an upcoming trip to Panama for nine days on a deserted island to learn survival skills with two other people. While adventures as such keep her grounded, challenged, and interested, they also allow her to step far out of her comfort zone. This constant personal and professional evolution, coupled with mentoring young professionals in the insurance industry, forms the essence of her balanced life.

“Go For It!”

As a woman of action, Alicia Calhoun draws inspiration from her mother and looks up to her as one of the strongest people and courageous women she has ever come across. Despite raising four kids and losing one to colon cancer, her mom has always been a warrior. Driven by such massive inspiration, Alicia seeks to take care of her parents as a part of her culture. Alicia sees the pride in her parents’ eyes, saying, “My drive really comes from personal family, and I don’t need any more fuel than that.”

Go for it,” says Alicia Calhoun. She persevered and built a successful career despite many setbacks and rejections. In her own words, she highlights the importance of overcoming fear and embracing the unknown, emphasizing that hesitation can lead to regret encouraging others to take risks and pursue their dreams without knowing the exact outcome. Her advice boils down to one powerful message: be bold and seize opportunities, for only through action can you discover what lies beyond the next door.

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