Martha Turner Osborne, the Chief Marketing and Social Innovation Officer of Teachers Life Insurance and nowly Insurance, is an award-winning, purpose-driven and multi-passionate leader.
As a seasoned executive with a decade of senior leadership team experience, which includes overseeing the development of strategic plans and initiatives that drive sustainable and profitable revenue growth, she is known for building new capabilities, teams, brands, and digital distribution channels from the ground up.
She also has experience working across all distribution channels including F2F, digital/e-commerce, retail and established agents/brokers, and advocates a collaborative approach to building alignment to a common purpose with the leadership team and the Board.
Martha’s work has earned her many awards globally, for building brands and customer engagement in unique and cost-effective ways. She sits on a number of boards, including a past board member of The Jane Goodall Foundation, EcoSchools Canada and Craft Ontario.
Martha has also served as a member of several industry committees, including the Sick Kids Digital Marketing Advisory Committee, the Canadian Marketing Association’s Executive Direct Marketing Committee, and is a guest author for the Huffington Post.
A love for seeing people shine with their best work
Over the last 15 years, Martha has been leading companies through some major brand transformations that leverage innovative positive social impact programs earning international earned media and global social good awards.
Most recently, Martha has completed a WorldBlu Leader certification on culture transformations, which she believes is a key ingredient to any successful innovation transformation. Many would describe her as someone who strikes the right balance between strategic and hands-on, knows how to take ownership while building upon the unique talents of the team, and loves to see people shine with their best work.
Martha recalls that she fell into marketing when she was working as a social worker and completing her graduate studies at night. When she graduated with an M.A., she knew that she wanted to make a change, but was struggling with what that new direction may look like.
“My graduate studies exposed me to a lot around quant / qual research, and I had someone approach me about consulting, as marketing was just starting to embrace database marketing to help with decision-support of their direct and digital marketing efforts. It seemed like a logical next step and the rest is history,” she says.
Martha affirms that the best recognition she has received as a leader is when she has shared a bold new approach or vision with a marketing team that has (historically) been doing conventional marketing, and they look at her and say “not possible – you are dream scaping. No way can we do that”.
“And, then, of course, we knock what they thought to be the impossible out of the park, and they realize how incredibly impactful this new way of doing marketing is for our customers, our communities, and most importantly, their role in making it all come to life – that’s my greatest (intrinsic) reward,” she declares. “I love seeing people shine and discover a new passion for their work and what they are capable of.”
Helping companies redefine and bring their purpose to life
Martha has been working in Marketing for over 20 years, and over the last 15 years, has been leading the Marketing and Digital functions and departments for small, medium and large corporations. All of her work over the last 15 years has focused on helping companies realign their purpose and discover new ways to embrace social innovation or ‘innovation with purpose’ as she likes to call it.
“I’ve been so fortunate to work with amazingly talented teams and agencies, and together our programs have really had a positive impact,” she states.
When Martha was approached by Teachers Life, she decided to join because of their history as a mission-based company, how they’ve evolved over time, and where she felt she could add value to help take a wonderful brand narrative and elevate it to a whole new level.
“In particular, I was drawn in by their mission statement – to be the premier community-based insurer in Canada. I knew that north star gave me a lot to work with to make a difference,” she says.
Martha is driven by helping companies redefine their brand purpose and ethos, and by helping to bring that purpose to life in unique, purposeful, and impactful ways.
“What I seem rather good at is embracing the challenge of doing this with very limited resources – both human and financial. I definitely love a challenge, and if you strike the right chord on realigning a company’s brand to its authentic purpose – that’s when incredible things happen,” she states.
Transforming the digital ecosystem for individual insurance
Teachers Life is a life, disability, and sickness insurance company in Canada. It is one of the largest insurance companies for education workers and has been around for over 80 years. The company is licensed to sell insurance to all Canadians coast-to-coast.
At the core of its business is a mission to give back to their Members (policyholders) and the communities in which it serves. In 2014, Teachers Life was the first life insurance carrier in North America to launch a fully digital quote and issuance platform for term life, which won a number of industry awards.
“I loved the combination of their mission, give-back, and desire to be an innovation leader,” says Martha. “I joined in January 2019, and when the pandemic hit, we kicked into high gear to accelerate our digital transformation plans.”
Martha and her team saw the pandemic as an opportunity. As a small, mighty team with the enviable ability to act quickly, their size and grit worked to their advantage.
“We very quickly mapped out our plan, which was a wholesale change of our entire digital ecosystem, including the initial point of sale digital platform, new customer portal/app, new products, new reinsurer, new CRM system, new brand, new health and wellness programming, new give-back program,” Martha explains.
In record-breaking speed, Martha and her team developed a strategic plan to transform their digital ecosystem for individual insurance and launch a new, digital-first, purpose-driven brand called nowly insurance (nowly.ca). All digital-first and all partnering with some of the best of breed partners globally, they did this with robust governance and quality assurance.
“We just launched in Feb 2022 and the incredibly positive reception by the media, partners, and Members has been so rewarding,” she states.
Teachers Life also launched a bold new social give-back program called Press Start that supports Canadian youth activists and social-preneurs to connect them with tools, resources, mentors, and industry thought leaders, to help find solutions to some of Canada’s most pressing social challenges. One of the program modules is launching right now called the Press Start Co-Lab Program (nowly.ca/pressstart/colab).
As a result, Teachers Life has received recognition as one of the insurtechs to watch. They were also nominated by Virgin Pulse (Virgin’s health and wellness platform) for a FastCompany innovation award.
“We’re just getting started. We consider our Feb 2022 launch as our MVP. We are in test and learn mode and will make the necessary tweaks as we learn,” says Martha.
She points out that this is all about the needs and wants of Canadians, and ensuring they respond to how Canadians wish to interact with insurance, how they can add value to them, and what is most important to them. Martha admits that it’s a tall order when you’re a product that is commoditized, intangible and low engagement, but they’re up for the challenge.
“Most people who have worked with me would describe me as incredibly focused, purpose-driven and very, very transparent,” she observes. “I am all about communicating the reason why we’re doing what we are doing, asking the team for their opinions, how can we do better, what’s working and what’s not. I think integrity starts with honest and open communication. Once you establish that, trust should follow and create a space for innovation.”
How Fintechs and Insurtechs are changing insurance
Martha points out that, while insurance has always been known as a laggard industry when it comes to innovation, that’s changing. There is a tremendous influx of Fintechs and Insurtechs that are shaking the industry up and creating accessible, affordable solutions.
The key is to be able to sift through and determine which solutions and partners are most relevant to your business model at this particular time and ensure you’re partnering with providers that share your vision, roadmap, and values.
She notes that the Fintechs and Insurtechs are allowing for a much more personalized (UX), omnichannel delivery of their products. AI and machine learning are simplifying customer journeys and optimizing their service delivery models.
“But the pressing need and desire of consumers to do business with companies that have a strong ESG and DEI values is paramount,” she observes. “Businesses that don’t take climate change, social equality, diversity and inclusivity seriously will fall behind very quickly. Marketing plays a critical role in ensuring these are part of the brand promise, and authentically deliver on that.”
What separates different types of leaders is their why
Martha agrees that challenges make you stronger, adding that what is most important is how you approach those challenges. With every obstacle, we have choices on how we respond.
“Perhaps it’s my stubborn streak, but I’ve always been someone who believes (pretty much) anything in life is possible. If you set your mind to something, and it is for the right reasons, then there’s a very good chance you’ll find the proverbial way,” she affirms.
Martha also points out that anyone who has worked their way up the corporate ladder and had professional success is likely adept at grit, patience, and perseverance. Those are the table stakes to success. What separates different types of leaders is their why. Why they are so determined to deliver excellence in their respective field.
“For me, my why has always been to deliver a positive (social) impact. Marketing has allowed me to deliver some pretty incredible social impact programs for companies,” she states. “When you’re driven by purpose, obstacles seem less daunting. You have the ability to put them into perspective and stay focused on the end goal.”
Having said that, Martha admits that, like all leaders, she has experienced the naysayers, folks who may try to undermine your work.
“My most valuable lesson in dealing with these obstacles is empathy. Difficult behaviour in the workplace is driven by fear,” she points out. “If you can empathize with their fear, and put it in its rightful place, that helps you to address it in a way that will likely have a much more collaborative, and mutually beneficial, outcome.”
Martha believes that the best leaders are the ones that know there are lifelong learnings. More than any other time, the marketplace, the solutions, and consumers’ needs and desires are changing so rapidly.
“I love learning and never want to stop learning. I just completed a Sustainability Business Strategy course at Harvard Business School,” she says. “I cannot tell you what an amazing learning opportunity that was for me. I had to complete the exercises in the wee hours of the night because I didn’t have any other time – but, I didn’t mind. My mind was on fire, and the course has not only ignited hope for a sustainable future but a sense of urgency for businesses to be a part of the solutions to stop catastrophic climate changes. Whatever I can do to help be a part of that important mandate is top of my list of goals, as an influential business leader.”
The incredible journey of a multi-passionate leader
Describing herself as passionate, Martha believes that success is a very personal thing, and a direct link to one’s personal life goals, which can evolve over time as you gain lived experience, perspectives, and experience different life stages.
“What has been consistent for me is striking a balance among the things that are most important to me – family, friends, a rewarding and purposeful career, being able to focus on my personal interests or passions that give me joy, and my personal health and wellbeing,” she states. “If you were to ask me what is most important – family and friends first and then a purposeful career.”
Martha notes that every day is a different day at work, but what’s most consistent is every day seems to be very fast-paced, always changing, always evolving, with a lot of meetings. She finds she doesn’t get as much downtime to do the deeper strategic thinking as she would like, so she ends up doing a lot of that thinking at night or when she’s driving solo to her cottage.
“My mind never stops moving. It can’t rest. It is always curious. Curious about the why and curious about how we can do things differently so we’re always adding value. That said, my curiosity stretches beyond work,” she says. “If you saw the number of collections I have from art (all forms including fine art, fine craft, indigenous, wearable art, antiques)… the list goes on. What drives me is the curiosity of the artist, what inspires them, their cultural influences, etc.”
Martha’s other personal passion is animals, and she has two adorable golden retrievers that make her life so fulfilling. She is also an animal activist and has sat on the board of The Jane Goodall Foundation as an extension of her desire to bring awareness to animal rights.
“Maintaining a balance between work and personal is easy when you have a need to fulfill an insatiable curiosity, and love for my personal passions,” she says. “And my curiosity is the same at work – it’s not work. I absolutely love exploring and learning new things, both in my personal and professional life.”
On a personal front, Martha and her husband have been married almost 30 years, and have two incredibly independent daughters, who are equally passionate and purpose-driven as they begin their young adult lives. Both share their mother’s focus and determination to make the world a better place through their unique skills and passions – one in biochemistry and the other in clinical psychology.
She admits that juggling a very busy career with two daughters, their dogs, and fixing up their off-the-grid cottage on weekends, has been a very busy but incredibly rewarding journey.
When you stand in your signature strengths, the magic happens
For Martha, keeping a team motivated comes from making sure they share the vision and purpose of what the work represents. If they don’t feel a fire in their belly for the purpose, it likely isn’t a good fit. If the purpose aligns with their purpose, then they are going to do their best work.
“I also believe open and honest communication is key, and being very sensitive to not over-working your team. My work ethic is my own, and I can’t impose what is acceptable to me on others,” she says. “I try super hard to meet the team members 1:1 weekly and have at least one fulsome team meeting every week to ensure we have all our ducks in a row for the week ahead. I also try to spend as much time as possible with the leadership team, our board directors and strategic vendors, thinking about new ways to do things, and improve how we are evolving.”
Martha points out that Teachers Life has a very exciting roadmap ahead and they will stay true to their value drivers – working with the right partners, listening to the needs and desires of Canadians, and taking chances on social innovation.
Her message to aspiring leaders is: Be honest with yourself and what speaks to you. Not what your parents or others want or think you should be. When you stand in your signature strengths – the magic happens, and the rest follows.
Always start and end from a place of empathy. Empathy for yourself (be kind to yourself), empathy for your coworkers, your customers, your business partners. Be kind, because at the end of the day, your greatest accomplishment will be how you make others feel about themselves.