Sunday, May 26, 2024

NC portraits: Women in business

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This year’s Women In Business section profiles four highly accomplished professionals involved in the state’s financial services and healthcare sectors. Each woman prioritizes strong relationships with colleagues and community members, characteristics that have helped them achieve impressive career and personal milestones. Each leader has blazed a path in traditionally male-dominated industries. Each has a compelling story that is instructive for others aiming to make a valuable mark. 



As Melissa Nelson, vice president of employee health and benefits at Marsh McLennan Agency, likes to joke, health insurance was an unexpected destination for her career. The road to that industry often has a few stops along the way. 

For Nelson, this meant an undergraduate degree in biochemistry from N.C. State University where she learned more about what she didn’t want to do than what she did. As a student athlete, she always had a passion for health and wellness. This led her to a master’s program in public health at UNC Chapel Hill, where she found a world of folks who help employers with their insurance benefits. 

Greensboro | 336-346-1353 |

The rest, they say, is history. Nelson found something that kept her in health and wellness, and allowed her to make an impact by helping employers manage their benefits offerings and connecting them with the right health programs for their employees. In doing so, she helps employers attract the best talent and employees by increasing access to benefits that help them maintain healthy lifestyles. 

“They’re putting a lot of dollars [into their benefits offerings], so it’s our job to make sure they are good stewards of the money they’re spending, but also make sure their employees understand that investment and how they can interact with the programs,” Nelson says.

Her days at Marsh McLennan Agency are always different – another reason she loves her job and has been with the company for 14 years. Often, she’s meeting with insurance carriers to learn about new programs, meeting with clients to explain these new programs or consult with them on their existing benefits packages, or meeting with her team for analysis. 

“It’s people focused, and there’s certainly elements of data,” Nelson remarks. 

When asked why she’s passionate about her work, she mentions her employer’s commitment to being one of the best places to work. She touted the strong culture Marsh McLennan Agency has fostered and the example they want to set for other companies. 

“A lot of clients look at us to ask what we are doing [when it comes to benefits offered to
our own employees],” she says. “We are practicing what we’re preaching.” 

Some might get into the wealth management and financial services industry mainly
due to their love of numbers, but not Ruby Jones-Deans. For her, it was also the people, and the connections she built with them, that made her passionate about working
in finance.

Davenport & Company LLC
Raleigh | 800-846-6666 |

Jones-Deans’ professional career began with the N.C. Department of Social Services, but after several years she found a job with a stock brokerage firm which allowed her even more interaction with people. She joined Davenport & Company in 2000.
Over the past 23 years she’s continued to grow in the company and now serves as
the branch operations administrator, a registered client service associate and a
vice president in Raleigh.

“I find that I am at my best when I am helping others,” Jones-Deans says. “In all the jobs I have worked in, I have always been around and involved with people helping people.”

Jones-Deans has over 43 years of experience in the finance industry, and is most proud of the fact that she has no professional regrets. Outside of work, she is passionate about her involvement with her church, with the Children’s Hunger Elimination of Wilson (CHEW) program and with the N.C. Order of the Eastern Star (OES), which raises money for various charities year-round.

When Jones-Deans first got her start in finance, she found herself in a male-dominated industry. She wasn’t daunted, though, and instead went the extra mile to ensure all of her work was top-notch and done on time. It’s an approach she continues to use today, and one she’s passing on to her children and grandchildren.

“I learned at an early age to multi-task and make sure that when tasks were given and completed, they were my best,” she says. “A motto I tell my children and grandchildren today to always follow is, ‘Good, better, best: Never let it rest until your good is better and better is your best.”

Laura Hammond loves a good story.

Whether it’s a novel that her book club is currently reading, the topic of the Sunday school lesson she’s teaching, or the documentation for a new commercial loan, Hammond, First Carolina Bank’s managing director – Commercial Real Estate Banking, enjoys it all.

Raleigh | 919-809-7869 |

“When you look at a new loan request, it’s somebody’s story,” Hammond says when asked what makes her passionate about the work that she does. “You look at what makes the financing work for that asset at that location, and it’s fascinating. And here, with our
four-state market footprint, getting to look at projects in Virginia, Georgia, and North and South Carolina is just fun.”

A native Midwesterner, Hammond got her start in banking during college as a teller
and worked her way into the account and lending side over the next few years, ultimately landing a position as a commercial lender for the Small Business Administration
following graduation. 

After a stint in New Jersey, she moved to North Carolina for a change of pace in 2000 and took about a decade away from banking while her children were young. Once she became
the proud matriarch of a divided house—her children are now students at or graduates of UNC Chapel Hill, N.C. State and East Carolina University—she made her way back into the field and reconnected with Gregg Ferrell, First Carolina Bank’s executive managing director – Commercial Real Estate Banking. 

With Hammond on board, the Bank’s CRE portfolio only grew, as did their team to include a balance of seasoned lenders and younger underwriters learning the banking industry—and Hammond loves to share her experience with them. It’s the dynamic and performance of that team that Hammond is most proud of, and a plaque listing the team members and commemorating the $1 billion in business that they did in 2022 has a spot of honor among the files on her desk.

“You always want to see people take on roles and positions that you’ve had in the past and do a better job,” she says of her team. “That’s leadership.”

Anita Hughes Bachmann sums up her leadership philosophy as a senior healthcare executive with a quote from another native Tar Heel, Michael Jordan: “Some people want it to happen; some wish it would happen; others make it happen.”

Greensboro | 800-349-1855

Bachmann has been making things happen for nearly 30 years in high-profile roles with UnitedHeathcare Group, including the past six as CEO of the insurance company’s North Carolina Community Plan market. She brings a focus on ensuring strong operational and financial results, while maintaining a trusted market presence and brand reputation.

Healthcare is more than just overseeing a 500-plus workforce, the recruitment of physicians or profits and losses, says the Oxford native who now resides in Greensboro.

“Health is impacted by more than what happens in the doctor’s office,” she says. “Our real focus is on the health of the community. Yes, including medical health, but also the growth and vitality of the community from an economic, environmental and social perspective.”

Bachmann’s dream of working in healthcare began in middle school when she volunteered as a “candy-striper” in her local hospital. She earned a master of health services administration degree from the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston and graduated from the Executive Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School in Philadelphia.  

Her first job in health care was in health information management for the Greenville Hospital System in South Carolina. She joined UnitedHealthcare in September 1993, and received numerous promotions, becoming CEO of the North Carolina Community Plan market in June 2017. “I have been with one company for almost 30 years, which is not traditional in today’s society,” she says.

Bachmann is entrenched in the community as a member of the board of trustees at UNC Greensboro, board member of GMA/FirstPoint and past chair and current board member of the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce. Gov. Roy Cooper appointed her as a board member of the N.C. Institute of Medicine and to the N.C. Works Commission. 

UnitedHealthcare is committed to developing innovative partnerships with stakeholders that transform care, with an emphasis on social determinants of health and behavioral health integration. Bachmann spends most of her time with health care providers and those receiving services.

“We achieve better health through building relationships,” says Bachmann. “And that
happens by building trust to create a high-performing healthcare ecosystem.” 

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