Alumni Profile: Northwestern Mutual’s Clarissa Ortiz

Clarissa Ortiz

Clarissa Ortiz (’11 MBA) gravitates towards business challenges that bring together technical and creative elements.

As Vice President of Risk Product Growth and Market Intelligence at Northwestern Mutual, she finds herself right at that intersection of data and strategy.

Ortiz leads Northwestern Mutual’s Risk Products sales strategy, market and competitive intelligence, insights, change management, and training and communication efforts in support of the 165-year-old company’s insurance products.

Northwestern Mutual is ranked 111th on the 2023 FORTUNE 500 and was recognized by FORTUNE as one of the “World’s Most Admired” life insurance companies in 2024. The company has over $627 billion of total assets under management, more than $36 billion in revenues, and $2.3 trillion worth of life insurance protection in force.

An Illinois native, Ortiz studied journalism and Spanish at the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign. Through her college internship experiences, she realized that she preferred the business side of television, which led to her first job in sales, marketing and advertising as an account executive with Sinclair Broadcast Group (Channels 18 and 24) in Milwaukee.

At the same time, she enrolled in the MBA program at the Lubar College of Business to more deeply explore her interests in business and found she was drawn to a wider range of topics in accounting, finance, and data analysis.

“It really opened my world to the different paths that I could go down professionally and  gave me the confidence to tackle different sets of business challenges beyond just the industry I was in at the time,” she said.

Later, while working for the CBS affiliate in Atlanta, she attended a conference for the National Society of Hispanic MBAs and met some leaders from Northwestern Mutual.

Those chance meetings eventually led to a job offer and “a major leap of faith” when she decided to switch her career from television to the insurance and financial services industry in 2012.

Far from a stodgy life insurance company, Ortiz found Northwestern Mutual to offer an environment with wide opportunities for learning and growth. She was also drawn by the impact she could have in an area that she is passionate about – financial literacy and education.

“Both of my parents are attorneys, and my father specializes in tax and bankruptcy, so I’ve always felt connected to the importance of financial literacy and the impact it can have on others.”

Rising through the company over the last 12 years, she feels energized by the data-driven component of her role and the equally important strategic focus of “bringing it to life” from a marketing and sales strategy perspective, which allows her to also tap into her creative side.

Being in a mature industry requires the company to always be “self-disrupting,” Ortiz said, researching market trends for new products or strategies and driving relevance for each generation or market segment.

She said, “I find joy in the blending of head and heart. I’m fortunate enough to be in a role where I get to do both, while leading a very talented team that can bring very technical, complex topics to life in a compelling way that ultimately drives value and growth to the business.”

This past October, Ortiz was appointed as Strategy Lead for the Northwestern Mutual Data Science Institute, a partnership between Northwestern Mutual, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and Marquette University that is building out a technology ecosystem in the region. The institute seeks to advance southeastern Wisconsin as a national hub for technology, research, business and talent development, while creating an organic pipeline of tech talent in the area.

Here too, she said, her role sits at the intersection of business and data.

“One of the things we are advancing is a formal partnership program so that other organizations and corporations can engage with us on topics we’re all wrestling with in data science,” Ortiz shared.

Ortiz is a member of the Lubar College of Business Advisory Council, a board member for the St. Josaphat’s Basilica Foundation, and a board member of the Elm Grove Junior League, where she serves as grants chair.