Q&A: Sharon Ritchey | QBE Insurance Group independent director

The USGA Executive Committee member discusses how women can leverage the game of golf in their careers, how the professional workplace is slowly changing and how sports impacts lives

Sharon Ritchey

Sharon Ritchey, an independent director for QBE Insurance Group, North America, grew up playing sports and being surrounded by males, as in six brothers. Both helped shape the USGA Executive Committee member who discusses with The First Call how golf and business intersect, and how she is helping to empower young women.

The First Call: Give us a Cliff Notes version of key points in your life’s journey to this point, please.
Sharon Ritchey: Grew up one of nine kids in Ohio — with six brothers. Sports have always been a part of my life. After college joined Citibank and financial services with various institutions. Has been a 25-plus-year career. I served on the LPGA Foundation board for seven years rolling off last year, and currently serve on QBE NA corporate board. I provide advisory services to a few other companies while also serving on the USGA Executive Committee.

TFC: Who have been / are some of your mentors within business and golf?
SR: Early career mentor with Citibank helped me navigate the corporate politics. My father was my biggest mentor in life, supporting everything I wanted to do. In terms of golf, I would say the first instructor when I became serious about learning the game. She saw potential and worked with me to realize it.

TFC: What advice do you have for young women who are just now starting their careers either in business or golf?
SR: It is OK to have a plan, but be open to possibilities. If the women are golfers, I encourage them to use their skills to build relationships and to network. If the women are in business school or just starting their career, I encourage them to learn the game of golf for the same reason above.

TFC: What have been some of the biggest obstacles you have had to overcome through the years?
SR: Some may expect an answer to this question being about the glass ceiling for women, but as I grew up with six brothers, I never saw the ceiling. 

For me, work/life balance had always been an obstacle until I finally concluded that it is a choice. I chose work, and for me, it worked out. Choices are individual.

TFC: If I’m reading your resume correctly, you entered the workforce after your MBA studies at Eastern Kentucky University in 1983. How have you seen inclusivity change through the years?
SR: Extensive change over the years, but still significant ways to go. Although I had opportunity to advance in my career, male dominated thinking continues to be pervasive.

TFC: How many years have you been on the USGA Executive Committee and what led you to want to serve on the committee?
SR: I am serving my fifth year on the EC. At the time I joined, the nominating committee was looking for women with corporate governance experience. There is a very good mix of corporate and golf background, but the passion for the game of golf is the common thread.

TFC: What lessons have you taken from your work in the financial sector and applied it to your work on the Executive Committee or vice versa?
SR: I have had the opportunity to speak to graduating seniors — men and women — and talk about how athletics is a tremendous basic skill to take throughout their lives. Playing sports teaches you how to prepare, how to be a team member, how to not give up and, maybe most important, how to lose and learn from it.

TFC: When were you first introduced to golf and what drew you to the game?
SR: First, the beauty and the outdoors. Second, that one shot I hit perfect kept me coming back for more. I have also built lifetime friendships because of having a common passion.

TFC: Favorite movie, book or song?
SR: "Sound of Music," just a classic.

TFC: Care to share your golf handicap? Favorite places to play?
SR: Index is 12.3. I would say the California courses have been my favorite — Pebble Beach, Cypress Point. I like courses with scenery, especially water.

TFC: When you’re not dealing with work, you can be found doing … ?
SR: Playing golf, relaxing on the boat on the lake.

TFC: What strides have you seen the industry take to make the game more accessible or more inclusive for women?
SR: Starting with the young girls, the growth of the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program has grown dramatically. The AJGA has done a nice job with the amateur game for girls, and with the Augusta amateur event prior to the Masters, awareness is growing.

TFC: You’re a big proponent for how athletics and competition instill confidence and leadership skills in women. Was there someone when you were younger who did that for you? 
SR: As mentioned, sports have been a part of my life since I can remember. The confidence built by sports, for me, is priceless. First, my father was my biggest fan, and I think my coaches in the various sports played a key role for me. The encouragement and support to improve drove higher performance and more confidence.

TFC: You supported the creation of the inaugural women’s golf program at the University of North Carolina-Asheville in 2016. What motivated you to do that?
SR: [Janet Cone], the athletic director for UNC Asheville, asked me to join an advisory group to help develop the strategy for the women’s golf team. She is amazing — her energy and passion for the athletics for UNC Asheville. Her enthusiasm is contagious, and I couldn’t say no.

TFC: Has being on the USGA Executive Committee changed how you view the game? If so, how?
SR: Prior to joining the USGA, I enjoyed playing golf, but never realized how much the USGA does for game. They not only put on great Open championships, but the amateur events are amazing. Governing is hard, but they do a great job with the rules, handicapping and equipment standards. Sustainability is not new to the USGA with the work they do in the Green Section of the organization. I view the game in a totally different light now, being closer to the broader mission.

TFC: What is the legacy you would like to leave?
SR: The passion I have for young women engaging in sports to build confidence is one area.  The second is supporting women in leadership positions, and helping women gain skills to create a larger qualified pipeline for leadership positions.

TFC: What is something you would like to add that we may have not touched on?
SR: Nothing more at this point.