Sarah Schwartz Wins Brent Rineck Culture Award

Early in her career, Sarah Schwartz found herself nervous as she prepared her first all-company email at Newfront. Sarah, who is now a Vice President and Corporate Retirement Plan Advisor, was emailing about the brand new women’s employee resource group (ERG) she had co-founded. “I spent hours looking over every letter and punctuation mark to make sure I didn’t mess anything up,” she recalled. 

After she pressed send, she saw a reply come in from the company's then Chief Information Officer, Brent Rineck. She held her breath as she opened the email, sure she had made a mistake. Instead, she found a kind response thanking her for leading this work and asking her how he could support her efforts. “That was my first interaction with a C-suite executive in my entire career,” Schwartz said. “It was just this amazing vote of confidence. Here's the CIO, thanking me for trying to organize this and get it off the ground.”

Three years later, it’s fitting that Schwartz is the winner of the 2023 Brent Rineck Culture Award in January. This award is given in honor of the former Newfront Chief Information Officer, who unexpectedly passed away in December 2021. Brent left a lasting legacy at Newfront, from the seemingly mundane (office spaces) to the critical (company culture). “He was such an advocate and an ally,” Schwartz said. “His passing was such a huge loss for the company and for the world, and we’re trying to continue to live his values every day.”

Recipients of the Brent Rineck Culture Award demonstrate five key traits: generosity, patience, championing diversity, acting as a positive force for all, and treating everyone as if they are the most important person.

“Brent was someone who makes you want to be a better person. Knowing how much he meant to the organization and the industry, this is so unbelievably special,” said Schwartz, who was also recently named a top 20 performer at Newfront and “Rookie of the Year” for her work as a retirement plan advisor in 2022, her first full year in that role.

Schwartz joined Newfront, then ABD Insurance, in 2016 after graduating from UC Berkeley, where she studied political economy with a focus in public policy and socioeconomic inequality. In addition to co-founding NewHER, she remains the co-lead of the ERG alongside life science national practice leader Cristina Varner. “It was our first ERG as a company,” Schwartz noted. “We were very much flying the plane as we were building it.”

NewHER’s work is rooted in intersectionality and allyship, and the group works collaboratively with other ERGs, such as HOLA (the ERG for Latinx team members and allies) and BLACKfront (the ERG for Black team members and allies). “There's so much we can learn about each other, and we can come together through our similarities,” Schwartz said. 

Schwartz’s work with NewHER was largely inspired by her mother, who worked in human resources for Fortune 500 companies. “I saw her going off to work in her pantsuit every day,” she said. “She was incredible. I was encouraged and inspired by my mom for blazing a trail and navigating her career in corporate America, as one of the first women in our family to do so.” Schwartz is also keenly aware that women of all identities face challenges in the workforce and aims to be an agent of positive change.

“Sarah has, and continues to drive deep organizational progress for Newfront colleagues along the lines of diversity, equity, inclusion, empowerment, and career mobility,” said award selection committee member Jake Daly, Vice President and Retirement Plan Advisor at Newfront. “Sarah has been an innovative culture leader for many years and continues to find new ways to create opportunities for women at Newfront.”

Finalists also recognized as exceptional culture champions for the Newfront team include Linde Hotchkiss and Shaneé Malone. Hotchkiss, Executive Vice President and Southwest Regional Managing Director, is the executive sponsor of the emerge ERG for LGBTQ+ colleagues and allies. Malone, Newfront’s Senior Director of Marketing, co-founded emerge.

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