Insurance maven Lupe Erwin aims to ensure women’s success
“No one working in insurance today grew up thinking, ‘I want to be an insurance broker,’” says Lupe Erwin. Yet the insurance industry, which she stumbled into at age 21, continues to surprise and intrigue her. Today, as partner and senior advisor in private risk for Burnham WGB Insurance Solutions, Erwin travels the world, advises ultra-wealthy families on how best to protect their assets, and even testifies as an expert witness in court cases involving fine art.
Erwin’s expertise and tenacity helped make her the first woman to surpass $1 million in revenue at Wood Gutmann & Bogart Insurance, before it was acquired and became Burnham WGB, where she is now partner. That’s a milestone usually only achieved by brokers who represent commercial clients, not private families.
As a founding member of the Women of the Dean’s Leadership Society in the UCI School of Social Sciences, Erwin plans to mentor and advise more women about how they, too, can boldly break barriers in their careers.
Learning to pivot
Erwin’s family emigrated to the U.S. from Spain, living in Virginia before settling in Southern California. Growing up around race horses at Santa Anita Park, she worked as a “hot walker,” helping cool down thoroughbreds after their training sessions. She even dreamed of becoming a professional jockey, until she realized how unwelcoming the field is for women.
After going to Saddleback College, she attended UCI to study biology. But when Erwin suddenly found herself needing to work full time to support her growing family, she accepted a full-time job at the insurance company where she had been a summer intern.
“My life changed and I had to go in another direction that wasn’t what I had planned,” Erwin says. “But that’s life, and it’s important not to be afraid to pivot when your life pivots.”
“I fell into insurance, but it’s a fascinating job,” she adds. “And as my career evolved, I had the luxury of streamlining my practice into those areas I found most interesting.”
Outgoing and inquisitive, Erwin specializes in insurance for ultra-wealthy families. On an average day she interacts not just with her clients, but with a range of professionals who work for them—from accountants to yacht captains. Erwin reviews insurance policies to identify gaps and redundancies in coverage that may include household staff and irreplaceable artworks. She analyzes her clients’ risks and, as a broker, places them with the insurance plans best suited to protect their unique assets.
As Erwin’s practice expanded over the years, and her three sons grew up, she found that she had the freedom to get more involved in the community, too.
Erwin’s community involvement spans the breadth of her interests, but largely revolves around children, the arts and education. She has supported children in foster care and emancipated youth as a board member for the Orangewood Foundation and a member and chair of its auxiliary group, 44 Women. Erwin continues to serve on the board of directors at FosterAll, which helps families navigate the foster care journey in Orange, Los Angeles and Riverside counties. Additionally, she chairs the board for the Arts and Business Leadership Council at Segerstrom Center for the Arts, where she raises money for local schools to attend professional performances and stage their own productions. At UCI, she is also a founding member at the Merage Center for Wealth Management, where she served on the board for nearly a decade. And those are just a few examples.
“These volunteer roles all bring me a lot of joy,” Erwin says. “And everywhere my footprint is, it’s important to me to leave some kind of lasting impact.”
With the School of Social Sciences, she’s focusing her efforts on creating a legacy through the Women of the Dean’s Leadership Society, a group committed to supporting women researchers, students and community members.
Erwin sees the UCI School of Social Sciences as an ideal place to impact the next generation because of the breadth of subjects it encompasses and the array of career opportunities for graduates.
“Anyone can find a home in the School of Social Sciences, because it’s so broad in appeal,” Erwin says. “It’s very important for students to find a passion, and you have so many options and fascinating career paths within social sciences.”
That became clear to Erwin when she first heard Bill Maurer, dean of the School of Social Sciences, speak about digital currency—a topic of great interest to her, but not one she would have expected to be part of social sciences.
“I understood right away that social sciences does so much more than people realize,” she says. “The programs are excellent, the leadership is constantly thinking of how to help students and professors and propel the school forward.”
Anyone can find a home in the School of Social Sciences, because it’s so broad in appeal. It’s very important for students to find a passion, and you have so many options and fascinating career paths within social sciences.
Erwin joined the School of Social Science’s Dean’s Leadership Society, where she met new people and started attending a whole new world of UCI events, including the Lunar New Year Festival held January 17, 2023 and co-sponsored by the School of Social Sciences.
“The School of Social Sciences events are always top-notch with the best speakers, and they always make them fun. Sometimes they’re interesting in terms of culture or society or business, but they always have something appealing to me,” Erwin says. “And the camaraderie is wonderful—I’ve developed relationships with great people I met through the program.”
Alongside some of those connections, Erwin helped found the Women of the Dean’s Leadership Society, which has hosted several community programs that provide research insights on topics of particular interest to women—like the importance of sleep for pre- and post-menopause. Now, Erwin is leveraging the group’s momentum to support more women, including UCI students.
“If I want to reach out to as many women students as possible, Social Sciences is the place for that,” she says, noting that it graduates the largest number of students on campus.
Erwin is helping develop a mentoring program to support UCI students on their transition from college to careers, and applying the lessons she learned as a mentor with the local chapter for the National Association of Women Business Owners.
“I know we can get a lot of really brilliant women to commit to mentoring other young women here,” she says. “It’s always been important to me to uplift other women, especially since women don’t have anything equivalent to the ‘good ole boys club.’”
Her advice to up-and-coming Anteaters is to find their passion, but stay flexible in the face of inevitable challenges. She believes education in social sciences is an ideal way to find both: passion and flexibility.
“You have so many fascinating career paths available through the School of Social Sciences, and I’m all about having options,” she says.
Even if those careers are different than what they previously imagined for themselves, she hopes they can find ways to break glass ceilings, just like her.
- Christine Byrd for UCI Social Sciences