Getting to Know Yelena La Forgia, Chief Financial Officer, Aspen Insurance and Aspen U.S.

Aspen News

We sat down with Chief Financial Officer, Aspen Insurance and Aspen U.S., Yelena La Forgia to understand her role within the business, what opportunities lie ahead for her team and the skills she considers important to be a finance executive.

Could you please tell us a little about your background and your current role as Aspen?

Originally from Ukraine, daughter of immigrants, a professional ballerina and a race car driver, I came to the U.S. at six years old without knowing a word of English, and we moved straight to Brooklyn, NY.

Submerging myself into this new culture, I became motivated to overcome any obstacles and embrace new opportunities. Throughout college, I worked as a junior accountant at Colgate-Palmolive and was fortunate to work for a leader who broadened my exposure within various areas of the Finance and Accounting world. AIG subsequently offered me a position in Internal Audit, and I became determined to obtain my CPA certification…and oddly enough exit from insurance. However, I quickly learned that I merely scratched the surface of this industry and there were endless avenues for gaining knowledge and a multitude of interesting career possibilities.

Following almost five years in several audit roles at AIG, I joined Liberty International Underwriters, a division of Liberty Mutual, where I served for eight years in increasingly senior roles across various finance and transformation functions. I then joined W.R. Berkley as the CFO of their Product Recall company which, at the time, was a start-up that required both strategic direction and tactical construct and, later, also served in the CFO role for Berkley Small Business.

I joined Aspen in May 2023 as CFO for Aspen Insurance and U.S., where I support the strategic vision and execution for Group Finance, while partnering with the business and providing strategic guidance.

How does your team work with the other segments, support functions and entities?

Collaboration with other parts of the organization is key to our value proposition as a Finance team. Breaking down the cross-functional and cross-regional barriers so that we can collectively deliver optimal results for the organization has been a priority of mine since the day I started.

We regularly coordinate with other teams to align our efforts, strive for seamless collaboration, share expertise and create synergies. Equally critical is being a business partner to the segments, understanding their priorities and supporting their strategic initiatives with financial insights and thought-provoking challenges.

What are some of the skills needed to have a successful career as a finance executive in insurance?

The first and most important trait needed for any successful executive in my view is the principle of extreme ownership and accountability, followed by good communication. Any manager or executive bears responsibility for setting the vision, communicating the mission to the team, developing the plans to get there and then owning the result. There is a leadership quote I came across a while back that stuck with me: “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.”

Critically important within the Finance field is strong analytical skills and the ability to distill complex financial information into business insights to enhance a company’s overall performance.

What attracted you to joining Aspen?

There are three key elements that attracted me to Aspen:

  • It’s a transformative business where I have the opportunity to influence and shape Finance’s vision and strategy.
  • A role that empowers and energizes me to take on a new challenge and be part of the solution.
  • A collaborative, transparent culture and inclusive environment.

Where do you see the greatest opportunities for you and your team over the next 12 months?

First and foremost, supporting and effectively executing on the objectives of the Finance transformation program of work and helping drive the change agenda. Equally important is establishing collaborative business partnerships across the segments and the functions to drive successful delivery of the business plans. This includes aligning priorities with those of the business, managing expectations and influencing where we can add value and help be a change agent that promotes efficiencies and problem solving.

We have a unique lens that provides a different perspective so it’s essential that we leverage that to drive the right conversations. Lastly and extremely crucial is focusing on engagement and our people. People want to feel valued and relevant, so it’s vital to communicate with individuals, and keep them involved and motivated to bring out their best.

Any hobbies, sports or volunteer work you would like to share with our readers that you participate outside of Aspen?

I have 11-year-old twin girls who have just the right amount of smarts and sassiness, so they keep my husband and me quite busy. We also have a one-year-old miniature dachshund named Snickers, who requires an equal amount of attention (if not more).

I love traveling and exploring unfamiliar places, listening to diverse genres of music and attending concerts, especially now with my girls. There’s something about live music that’s soothing, yet fun and exciting. I also very much enjoy good theater and am a bit of a foodie, always searching for the next great meal.

Have you had a formal or informal mentor or someone you looked up to?  If so, can you share your experience and how this relationship was impactful?

I’ve had multiple mentors throughout my career who have guided me and who I can lean on as trusted advisors. One of the best pieces of advice I received was during my AIG days which was: “Make a decision and don’t look back” and is advice I still follow, both in my personal and professional life.

Another piece of advice came from my long-time mentor (and now friend) which is: “When presented with what seems to be a good opportunity, be confident in your abilities, say yes now, and figure out the rest later.” By reaching for more challenging opportunities throughout my career, I have pushed myself out of my comfort zone; each time realizing different and broader perspectives, all of which have steered me toward gaining new skills and expanding on existing ones.

Any manager or executive bears responsibility for setting the vision, communicating the mission to the team, developing the plans to get there and then owning the result.