ENTRY FROM: The Top 100 Health Promotion Professionals

Nominee: Mary Starr

Full of Passion and Purpose!

I am the Executive Vice President for The Starr Group. The Starr Group is an insurance, risk-management agency that has served the insurance market for over 50 years. We specialize in advising our clients on everything from business insurance, including group health insurance and corporate wellness, to personal insurance.
I have worked with The Starr Group since 1985, where my responsibilities include overseeing the financial, human resource and strategic needs of the company. I am currently a co-owner with my husband, Tim, who is the President and CEO. We are currently an organization of 34 employees with one location in the Greater Milwaukee area.
I graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in Sociology, with an emphasis in Criminology and Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counseling. I went on to earn graduate credits toward my Masters in Social Work at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and graduate credits toward my Masters in Business Administration at Keller Graduate School.
Our agency underwent significant organizational changes in 2008 when my husband and I took over as the sole owners of The Starr Group. We used this as an opportunity to rebuild a new culture by design rather than one the one that had been previously built by default. It was extremely important this be a culture based upon our core values of I-PREACH (Integrity, Passion, Respect, Excellence, Acknowledgement, Communication and Health & Wellness.) It was also critical that we all shared the same vision and that our purpose was driven by this shared vision.
Our efforts have been recognized when we received the award for Healthiest Employer in Wisconsin in 2012, 2013 and 2014. In 2014 we were also recognized as the 12th Healthiest Employer overall in the Nation! We received the WELCOA Workplace Wellness Award in 2011 and 2014 and have been a platinum Fit Friendly Company recognized by the American Heart Association since 2010.
I believe that walking the talk it critical when it comes to being a leader and a role model. I am aware of my position of influence when it comes to family members, employees, friends and the community. I have been a participant and finalist in Milwaukee’s Fittest Execs Competition since 2010, winning the title in both 2012 and 2013 along with the team title in 2013.

In 2008 during an informal audit of the overall culture within The Starr Group, it became apparent we were not providing support to those individuals who were attempting to make healthy choices.  As a business that cared about the overall wellbeing of our employees, we needed to make wellness a part of our overall business strategy.

I knew very little about corporate wellness so the first thing I did was to join WELCOA and to read and learn as much as quickly as I could.  In 2010 I received my Certified Wellness Designation from the Spencer Institute and in 2012 I became a WELCOA Faulty Member.  It was the knowledge gained as a WELCOA Faculty Member that provided the most guidance on this journey.

I embraced all 7 benchmarks of a successful wellness program and used them as our guide for best practices.   The core of our programming is built around physical activity and proper nutrition, realizing that these two initiatives alone will lay the groundwork for a healthy employee and a healthy business more than any other.  Our employees have experienced significant improvements in their overall health with examples including a 25 point drop in glucose, a 50 point drop in cholesterol, a 50% drop in insulin, minimizing and eliminating the use of tobacco, 50 pounds lost as well as a $2000 per employee drop in our Corporate Risk Burden (pre-disease, lifestyle and productivity).  Our program has experienced 100% employee participation for the past 4 years. 

The key to our wellness programming is our focus on building a culture of trust along with a shared vision.  This more than anything laid the foundation for our overall success.  We designate the majority of our wellness dollars towards providing education and tools rather than incentives.  In 2013 we rolled out a Healthy Eating Policy, in 2014 we added a Physical Activity Policy and a Stress Management Policy.  In 2015 we plan to implement a Medical Self-Care Policy.  We want healthy choices to be the easy choices and we are willing to put corporate policies in place to support these behaviors.

We discuss our wellness programming during annual employee reviews and during initial interviews with prospective candidates.  A culture of trust and wellbeing took years to create and is therefore one we work very hard to protect.  The greatest confirmation for making wellness an overall business strategy came from the comments of our current and prospective employees.  We have a 20-30% higher employee satisfaction rate compared to our peers with the majority of employees commenting that our wellness initiatives are a primary factor as it shows the level of care and concern we have for their overall wellbeing.  I was amazed when these same comments were echoed by job candidates looking to join our organization.

 I am grateful for the help I have received along the way and am more than willing to share my experience and wisdom in return.  I have been a board member of the Wellness Council, Well City and American Heart Association since 2011.  I am a founding member of the Chamber’s Health and Wellness Council whose purpose is to provide education and opportunities to promote corporate wellness for the two cities the chamber serves.  It is my goal that all of the organizations I serve on work together to promote health and wellbeing among our members and the community as a whole.  I know that by combining our experience and wisdom we can make a difference. Wellness is my passion and my purpose.  I will continue to learn, teach and share for the duration of my being.


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Comments 7

Comments are in order of newest to oldest

The employees and families of the Starr Group are blessed to have Mary as our inspiration and leader in finding our individual paths to wellness. She and her committee provide all the tools—the lunch and learns, the challenges, the healthy lunchroom, flash fitness, biometrics, in house TOPS – and she is our cheerleader to meet our goals. Mary recognizes that we all have different obstacles, so don’t look for a “one size fits all” cookie cutter program here! She has crafted a culture of wellness which is inclusive and supportive. We are lucky to have a leader with her compassion and vision!

Mary K. on 11/25/2014

Mary Starr is an excellent example of a true leader. She not only “walks the walk” but brings out the best in setting an example of what a healthy life style can bring to the table. She consistently is sending out e-mails on the benefits of health and fitness, also forwarding healthy recipes. Mary brings in outside health personnel for our “lunch and learn” programs which I have personally benefitted from. At Starr Group we have an annual blood draw which in turn I have forwarded the results to my family physician who has remarked that this report is quite extensive and wishes that more of his patients had this opportunity to have in the work place. With the cost of healthcare sky rocketing many people forgo testing until a problem come to light; which can prove to be rather costly in medical and prescriptions claims.

Terry W. on 11/20/2014

One of the things I really admire about Mary Starr is that she walks the talk with enthusiasm and spirit. She is truly a leader on multiple fronts. It is indeed a pleasure to be associated with her and The Starr Group. Maintaining good health is fun, especially when the people around you (also inspired and encouraged by Mary's efforts) are all enjoying themselves, too! Three cheers for good health, a long productive life, and Mary Starr!

Linda W. on 11/18/2014

Mary is a true leader in our city - driving the wellness movement - and creating opportunities for people to work together under the wellness umbrella. She aspires to be the best of the best and to share that standard with others.

Gail B. on 11/17/2014

Mary Starr is passionate, caring, creative and inspiring! She is a role model within our organization and in the community for living and leading a healthy/active lifestyle. Mary’s passion has inspired me to become more active, making me realize what I am truly capable of accomplishing. This in turn has allowed me to be a positive role model for my family and co-workers. For this, I am grateful for Mary and for her dedication and leadership in The Starr Group Wellness Program! Thank you and Good Luck!

MAUREEN A. on 11/14/2014

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