CAFNR Celebrates Women’s History Month: Q&A with Susan L. Combs

Combs is a recent Executive-in-Residence and CAFNR alumna

Photo courtesy Susan Combs

Susan L. Combs, B.S. Hospitality Management ’01, is the President and CEO of Combs & Company, an insurance brokerage firm specializing in working with entertainment, food and international companies setting up their first U.S. operations, in addition to serving as an expert witness on the Affordable Care Act, and founder of non-profit Pancakes for Roger, in honor of her late father.

She was the youngest national president in the more than 85-year history of Women in Insurance & Financial Services, serving in 2014-15, and has also volunteered as part of the Jefferson Club board and the Mizzou Alumni Association board, both in New York City and nationally, in addition to being part of boards for various insurance technology companies.

In October 2023, she returned to campus, serving as an Executive-in-Residence, meeting with CAFNR students and sharing her experiences and advice.

In honor of Women’s History Month, we asked Combs a few questions about her distinguished career, women who have inspired her along the way, and how she is supporting the next generation of women in her field.

Tell us about your current or most recent role and what you enjoy about it.

Oh man, it really depends on the day on what my role is! I’ve owned an insurance brokerage firm coming up on 19 years. It allows me to help companies protect the things that keep them up at night, whether it be their employee benefits, insuring the product they manufacture or the advice they give. In addition to that, I have worked as an Expert Witness on the Affordable Care Act since 2015. This role allows me to be a strategic in Medical Malpractice, Personal Injury and Workers Compensation litigations. Since I’m a strategist at heart, it truly lights me up intellectually and combines my passion for insurance, with education. Lastly, my most recent role has taken me into the Non-Profit Sector as the founder of Pancakes for Roger, Inc. This non-profit came out of a dying request from my Major General and Missouri Circuit Court Judge father, Roger E Combs, when he was on Hospice. This simple request has served as a reminder to be grateful for all the little things we have in our lives and take a moment to be appreciative. Since 2019, I have personally run the “Pancakes for Roger” fundraiser that benefits the Mizzou Law Veterans Clinic every February. By incorporating as a not-for-profit corporation, this is going to allow our reach for Veterans to grow exponentially. Not only are we going to continue to run an annual fundraiser for the Clinic, but we are also building an endowment fund that will begin awarding grants for Veterans across the country that want to make an impact in their backyards and beyond. 

Share with us a woman who has inspired you in your life/career.

There are countless. I literally could go on all day with a list and stories of different women that inspired me, however I’ll stay in the Mizzou family and go with Dr. Anne Deaton. I know around campus this is a name that is familiar to many, but maybe not so much with current students. Many know her as the wife of Dr. Brady Deaton, former Chancellor at Mizzou, but she’s so much more. She’s accomplished in her own right professionally and has always had a passion for Mizzou and mentorship. Many of your readers may recall her involvement with Griffiths Leadership Society that she was always passionate about. I leaned on that mentorship — and all Anne had taught me — specifically when I was approached to move through the chairs and ultimately be the national president of the group Women in Insurance & Financial Services (WIFS). I’d been on their board for some time, but being the president seemed like a huge jump. At first, I was very resistant. I am more of a “vice president” kind of woman. Even though both roles are important, it feels too scary to be the president because I don’t want to take on too much — even though I end up doing more. This offer scared me and felt like a big deal. I’d be the youngest national president in the over 80-year history of the organization. I’d be the leader of women old enough to be my mother. I called Anne and explained the situation. I didn’t know if I was the right person or what the right decision would be. “You always have to have stretch in your life,” she told me. “If you don’t, you cease to exist. You always need something bigger than you because that’s where you grow and develop character.” When she gave me that advice, it resonated with me and I always take it with me every single time a new opportunity presents itself. 

How do you strive to set an example for the next generation of women leaders?

No one gets to where they are alone, and that’s why it’s important to always remember this and stay humble. I’ve had many doors opened for me, people that have mentored me and supported me during my best days but also during my worst. Always remembering this, reminds me to do this for others. I’m also a firm believer in remembering where you came from. I’ve had many opportunities in my life, I grew up in King City, MO — a town with the population of 986 when I left for New York City in 2001. By coming from such a small town to making a life in the largest city in the United States, I feel allows me to connect with women all over the country. With technology, we are no longer bound by our borders of connecting and having relationships with women throughout the country or even the world. By understanding this, you truly can extend a hand and help to bring the next generation of women leaders up to the next level.   

What advice do you have for women entering your industry?

Stay open. When I reflect on my life, no matter what area of my career path you put a magnifying glass to, when I’ve found the next “success” it has always been when I’ve been open to a new person, place, thing or experience. When I graduated Mizzou at 22 years old, I thought I’d be a corporate meeting planner at my peak of my career, never did I think that I’d own an insurance brokerage, be an expert witness, a public speaker, an author and now the founder of a Veterans non-profit. These were things that were never a blip on my radar….but I’m grateful. I have a life beyond my wildest dreams, and it always has come back to instead of me saying “no” it’s taking a pause, listening to my gut, running things by peer mentors and then taking a leap of faith.