(Photo by Glynns Thomas)

Women in Leadership: Maggie Bender-Johnson

Our annual salute to women at the top of their field

Back Article Mar 5, 2024 By Laurie Lauletta-Boshart

This story is part of our March 2024 issue. To subscribe, click here.

Maggie Bender-Johnson

CEO, Bender Insurance Solutions

Maggie Bender-Johnson, the new CEO of family-run Bender Insurance Solutions, has some big, hairy, audacious goals (BHAGs). One is to reach $50 million in revenue in the next 50 years (current annual revenue is just under $12 million). “It sounds huge, but a BHAG should be aspirational,” says Bender-Johnson. “As a company that is 100 percent employee owned, it’s also important to maintain good balance for our team members. It’s really cool to have a long-term vision to get people excited about, but one that isn’t going to totally disrupt their lives.”

After a short stint in a public service agency that served the homeless in San Francisco, Bender-Johnson returned to Sacramento in 2005 and joined her father Stephen Bender in the family’s Roseville-based, commercial insurance business. She focused on being a commercial broker and finding new clients for the first five years. “I had some success there, but it really wasn’t something I was passionate about,” she says. 

“It’s really cool to have a long-term vision to get people excited about, but one that isn’t going to totally disrupt their lives.”

Then the Great Recession hit, and like many companies, Bender Insurance Solutions had to downsize. A consultant advised her father that the timing might be right for Bender-Johnson to step into an operations role and learn the day-to-day business of running the agency. She was promoted to director of operations, and that’s where she found her niche, steadily climbing the ladder to vice president of operations, then president and finally CEO in October 2022. 

“We have planned for this transition forever, but really had a detailed plan for the last six years,” she says. “In the last year, we were meeting regularly — about every two weeks to check in.” Her father stepped down from the CEO role in October 2022 and assumed the chairman of the board position.

Bender-Johnson says the company is doing really well right now but admits that transition in a family business can be hard on relationships. “I’m pretty matter-of-fact and linear in how I see things, which I’m actively working to soften, but my dad is very different,” she says. “He is more artistic and free-flowing, so sometimes there was a clash of styles.” 

During the transition process, she also sought the advice of a local business coach, Leslie Whatley with People and Change Consulting. “She has helped me to look in the mirror and be humble. She also helps me to see what I’ve done and to celebrate, because you set the tone when you’re at the top, and if you’re not stopping to celebrate, how motivating and inspiring are you being as a leader?”

Bender-Johnson is particularly proud of the fact that Bender Insurance Solutions is a women-led organization. All her directors are female. “It’s such a cool dynamic,” she says. “Not only are we able to leverage our individual strengths, the culture we are building from the top down is amazing.” But she’s also quick to point out that her current leadership makeup is unique, particularly in an industry that has been male-dominated, and could change as the needs of the company change.

With so much expected at work, Bender-Johnson has found a way to create balance in her life through daily exercise and meditation. She also likes to travel, spend time with her husband and four dogs, and play with Lego. “I’m fairly nerdy,” she laughs. She also admits to having an affinity for “Star Wars” and “Star Trek.” “I find so much joy in the silliness of it.”

As a longtime family business that has been in the region since 1938, Bender-Johnson believes the confidence and peace of mind clients have in working with a local, longstanding business like Bender Insurance Solutions has made the greatest impact. “They know we are going to be there to support them and that we have a plan if and when they need us.” 

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