Women have been trailblazers since the early days of AIG’s history, inspiring each new generation of female employees around the world to make a difference.
Nelle Vander Starr, Cornelius Vander Starr’s aunt, went to China in 1921 to work in his fledging operation there, to which AIG traces its origins, eventually becoming the first female executive in his company.
In 1927, Dutch native Ida Kal joined in Shanghai. After World War II, during which she had spent two years in an internment camp, Kal helped to reopen the Shanghai office.
Kal relocated to the New York office in 1946 and worked there as an underwriter until her retirement in 1957. “You have been one of the most faithful members of the valiant group that started so small and far away,” the company wrote in tribute to her.
Following World War II, Lilo Wiegand helped AIG’s predecessors succeed in Germany. Wiegand, who joined the West Berlin office in 1947, single-handedly ran the office during the Berlin Blockade of 1948-1949. She became famous for her tiny Fiat Topolino, which she drove all over the city, “a sight nearly as familiar…as the Brandenburg Gate.” Customers would simply flag her down to pay their insurance premiums.
The West Berlin office, located only a few miles from the Russian-occupied zone, sold insurance to U.S. military and State Department personnel stationed there. In 1954, Wiegand wrote about the challenges of living in “an outpost” surrounded by Communist forces: “We sit here at present in our solitary isle, and hope for the time when this period of isolation will be over…when our city will bloom again."
After serving for more than 15 years as manager of that office, Wiegand relocated to Frankfurt. In 1977, she celebrated her 30th anniversary with the company.
Other notable women at AIG predecessors during the mid-20th century include Elizabeth V. Doogan, who joined in 1943 and became general counsel, vice president and a board member, and Myriam Niemtzoff, who joined in Argentina in 1944 and wrote the first marine open policy.
In the 1970s, retired underwriter Ellen Herring started her second career at AIG. Known as a leading authority on insuring railroads, the 40-year industry veteran was considered a legend. “She knows the inside story on every railroad, every merger from as far back as the ’30s and ’40s. Even London brokers who've lost business to her say she's the best,” Lexington transportation manager Art Bonnevier told AIG’s Contact magazine in 1984.
Marion Fajen became the first woman elected to AIG’s board of directors in 1984. The company’s corporate secretary and vice president at the time was also “a mentor for many and admired by all,” a former AIG CEO said upon her death in 2006.
Today, perseverance and commitment are integral to a new generation of leaders, who build upon the foundation of AIG’s past while focusing on innovation, products and, most importantly, clients. For 100 years, women have been leading the way.