Danielle Guzman, BCom ’94: An International Focus

August 19, 2015 | Hamilton, ON
Contributed by Gordon Pitts, DeGroote Writer in Residence

This article is part 2 of a 4-part series.

Wall Street. Madison Avenue. Broadway.

These legendary streets run through the heart of Manhattan. They also evoke the maddening, thrilling spirit of New York City, the epicenter of global finance, advertising and entertainment.

Success in this city is the crowning touch of a career, the confirmation of Frank Sinatra’s line from his classic tune New York, New York, “If If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere.”

McMaster graduates have made it there, and they have done it by embracing the city — its good and its bad — and riding the waves of change in an intensely competitive world.

Danielle GuzmanThe Globalist: Danielle Guzman was at McMaster, studying for a science degree when she had a change of plans: she wanted a life with an international focus, full of travel and foreign languages, and she couldn’t be sure it would happen in biology, no matter how much she loved the discipline.

“I still remember my freshman year at McMaster, saying ‘Whatever I do is going to be global — I will travel the world’.”

She does that today, as global head of customer insight, in the consumer insurance business of AIG, the international property and casualty giant based in Manhattan.

Her office is in the hectic Wall Street area, but home is amid the brownstones of Brooklyn across the East River. She is a wife and mother, which presents challenges in the hyperactive world of New York commerce and with her busy travel schedule to outposts of AIG’s vast network.

“I love the energy, the opportunity, and this city never stops,” the 43 year old executive says with a sense of wonder. If you wanted to, “you could never stop,” she says. “You could have no work-life balance.” In your personal life, as well, you could be in constant motion — “you could have dinner at 4 am and meet a friend for coffee and then go bowling.” And so to maintain some family life, “you have to make your own boundaries. You must see what you value personally and make that work inside New York.”

Guzman has created her own private world inside this maelstrom. As she grew up in the Toronto area, her mother loved to cook. It created a satisfying home life — and she has replicated that in New York. The city is full of busy people who regularly go out for meals or if they eat in, they order takeout food. But Guzman and her husband like to stay home and cook most of the time.

Food and family are critical pillars in a life of frenetic agendas and demanding travel plans. “I travel 30 to 40 per cent of the year and when I am not travelling, I spend time with my husband and daughter.”

The challenge now is the 24 hour a day global market, which means she could be talking at any hour to colleagues around the world. “You have to be disciplined in how much you allow yourself to be available,” she says. “I do need to be available and I have to strike that balance.”

Danielle Guzman, BCom ’94 is the global head of customer insight at AIG. You can read her leadership advice here. This was part two of a four-part series. Read part one.

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