Susan Voss is a rabid Beatles fan. She collects funky pens. She can beautifully belt out the National Anthem in less than 60 seconds — a talent that attracts regular invitations to perform at baseball games at Principal Park.
She also used to supervise 103 employees in the state’s second largest industry, licensing 1,600 insurance carriers and 63,000 agents. Her office returned $20 million in fees and $130 million in premium taxes to the state each year. Before she retired in 2012 as the Iowa Insurance Commissioner, she was arguably the most powerful woman in state government.
And yet Voss knows the value in thinking small. Her love of learning propelled her to finish high school a year early, but she quickly realized her continued academic success would depend on a smaller campus environment.
“I went to (University of) Iowa one semester,” Voss said. “I didn’t do very well. I found it very hard to relate to my professors there.”
At Simpson, Voss excelled. She graduated a semester early with a history degree and a teaching certificate. She recalls a campus life where everyone knew each other’s name and professors “held evening court” at the dorms — challenging students to talk about what they were learning and think about their futures.
“There always was this expectation at Simpson that you were paying attention, that you were engaged and thinking and learning,” Voss said. “You were treated like an adult. And you were expected to do more.”
Voss did. After Simpson, she went to paralegal school in Chicago and then law school at Gonzaga University. “I had a bad experience in law school my first year,” Voss said. “I had to admit I wasn’t as smart as I thought I was. I had to remember what I’d learned at Simpson about expecting more from myself.”
She passed the Bar Exam and in the summer of 1981, returned to her hometown of Fairfield and “hung out with my parents until they decided they had to get me out of the house somehow.” Her father knew a state senator, who helped Voss land a job with the Attorney General’s Office in Ames.
“I’ve been in state government ever since,” she said.
Her introduction to the insurance division came in August of 1993, when she was hired to oversee flood insurance mediation procedures. It was supposed to be a temporary position, but Voss never left. As Iowa Insurance Commissioner, she regulated the state’s insurance industry, securities products and services, cemeteries and certain funeral services and other regulated business industries. She managed a $10 million budget.
“My job was challenging and fascinating and rewarding,” Voss said. “And I loved working for this state.”